Wednesday, June 29, 2022

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Cynthia Good

Cynthia Good is an award-winning poet, journalist, and former TV news anchor. She has written six books including Vaccinating Your Child, which won the Georgia Author of the Year award. She has launched two magazines, Atlanta Woman and the nationally distributed PINK magazine for women in business. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in journals including Adanna Journal, Awakenings, Book of Matches, Brickplight, Bridgewater International Poetry Festival, Cutthroat, Free State Review, Full Bleed, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Hole in the Head Review, Main Street Rag, Maudlin House Review, MudRoom, Outrider Press, OyeDrum Magazine, The Penmen Review, Pensive Journal, Persimmon Tree, Pier-Glass Poetry, Pink Panther Magazine, Poydras, South Shore Review, The Ravens Perch, Reed Magazine, Tall Grass, Terminus Magazine, They Call Us, and Voices de la Luna and Willows Wept Review, Semi-Finalist: The Word Works 2021, among others. Her new chapbook, What We Do With Our Hands, is published by Finishing Line Press.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

              My first book Words Every Child Must Hear improved my life because the research for it and writing of it taught me tons about how to raise my young child. My current focus on poetry is entirely different than anything I have published in the past. My previous and continuing nonfiction work has been externally focused, with specific goals i.e. helping women advance in business, in contrast to poetry, which for me is about interiority and the possibility of expressing and communicating what words alone cannot convey.

2 - How did you come to journalism first, as opposed to, say, fiction, poetry or non-fiction?

              I am a communicator. After graduating from UCLA I set out to find an on-air job reporting the news, thinking I could have some positive impact on the world by shining a light on what was happening.

              Poetry is different. I turned to poetry when I felt bombarded by mainstream media at a time when the structures in my life were falling apart; my marriage of 25 years, my home bulldozed, my children graduating from college and moving on, my mother dying. In five weeks time, I became divorced, was forced out of my home and buried my mother. I realized that many of the belief systems I had learned and relied on didn’t apply any longer. I felt immersed in a media culture that rarely addressed the things that consumed me and tore me apart every day. It was extremely alienating. But then, there was poetry, waiting for me all along, a way to express experiences for which there are no words. I had discovered an entire language and realized I wasn’t going crazy. It was such a gift. I believe poetry saved my life, and continues to save me again and again.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

              It is organic, sometimes fast… words pouring out like a geyser. Other times not so much. Sometimes a poem will take ages to finish; most never make it out of the initial word doc. Others, on occasion, practically write themselves. I carry a small notebook in my bag, if not I will write on scraps of paper, napkins and coffee shop receipts. Ideally I’ll write in a larger notebook I keep at the house and once I move what I’ve written to the computer I cross it out on the handwritten page.

4 - Where does a poem or work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

              For me poetry is not something that is strategic. The work dictates the process. So as themes come together and a larger project takes shape then that’s interesting.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

              Readings are a lot of fun. Poems seem different to me when read aloud because of the sound, as well as the energy and the ears in the room. The poems themselves change a bit and maybe come more alive.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

              For me poetry is about the questions. Sometimes the poem inadvertently may answer a question I have. I may think I know how it’s supposed to end but the musicality of it falls flat… so I have to add something and there you have it.. a poem that says something entirely different than I intended or wanted, which is very exciting.

I have so many questions and somehow the chance to address these questions or just raise the issue, and or find a metaphor, makes it easier to tolerate not knowing the answer. Depending on where I am in my life, the questions are different; where to live, how to live, how to age, questions about death, why we are here and grappling with opposite extremes that often occur simultaneously.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

              In my journalistic work I feel a huge responsibility. For me journalism is a service. When it comes to poetry, it is much more selfish and freeing. I want it to be raw and honest. To me this is not some gift I am giving to the world. While I’ve been told my poems are empowering, this is not the motivation or goal. The objective is to be as truthful as I can, to avoid self-censorship. I think this is the space for the kind of poetry I am most attracted to. We are so good at hiding who we are and what we experience at a deeper level, that sometimes we even lose sight of ourselves. This  happened to me. There needs to be a place to go to read what is unfiltered and true for the speaker. That’s why I turn to poetry.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

              To have a poetry community and an editor makes a huge difference. Usually I’m writing in a vacuum. It’s a very solitary thing. It is easy to lose objectivity. I owe a debit of gratitude to my poetry community and to my wonderful editor Travis Denton.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

              Write like no one will ever read it.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to non-fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?

              It’s still hard to avoid the reportorial default and this is something I worked on during my MFA at NYU and still work on; how to keep the facts and even the truth from interfering with art, interfering with what the poem wants to be.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

              A perfect day begins with espresso, music, reading something and writing for about 30 minutes. I like to save editing for later in the day or in the evening after a glass of wine. But also love to write when I’m alone at a restaurant, and of course whenever particularly moved to do so. I do write something nearly every day.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

              Read anything long enough and I’m inspired. Or just simply wait till life happens, a text from my cousin David telling me that his sister-in-law died and a few days later his grandchild was born.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

              Other people’s colon and weed, because I rent out my home in Mexico and traces of the visitors always remain until the saltwater and mountain air washes them away. Rosemary, lavender and carnitas cooking.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

              I live in Mexico near the ocean so there is the constant inspiration of water, waves, whales, witch moths! and storms, and the rich life and people in this community, the stone roads and sewage that sometimes runs through the streets, the barbed wire, the guava trees and sidewalks overflowing with bougainvillea.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

              Adrienne Rich, Toi Derricotte, Jamaica Kincaid, Camille Dungy, Marie Howe, Catherine Barnett, Deborah Landau, Audre Lorde, and too many more to name. They are important to me because of their honesty, vulnerability and courage, and their exquisite grasp of language and playfulness with words and musicality.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

              Everything. Travel the world, write about everything, and truly enjoy my one amazing life.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

              I love to build, and had the chance to design a house in Mexico and before that a cabin in the north Georgia mountains near a waterfall. It’s a lot of fun to visualize something night after night, then turn it into something tangible. My brother does this too with a home he built on top of a red rock in Sedona, and our mother did it before  us, building on the cliffs in Pacific Palisades over PCH before anyone wanted that land. Oh and I love raising animals, chickens, goats, horses like my great grandparents did when they immigrated to the US from Russia to escape the war and antisemitism years ago.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

              I don’t really have a choice in the matter. My longest and deepest relationship has been with the blank page. Throughout my life the page has been my best friend and confident, never once failing to be there for me.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

              I just read Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility and Katie Kitamura’s Intimacies, which I loved. Last week I saw My Father’s Violin, which speaks to the power of art to transform relationships and lives.

20 - What are you currently working on?

              My first Chapbook, What We Do With Our Hands is available for order in April 2022 and comes out this summer.

              I’m continuing to write, edit and share my poems and taking a look at possible themes for another book. There is a full-length manuscript in the works as well.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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