Rebecca Griswold is an MFA candidate at Warren Wilson. Her debut collection of poems, The Attic Bedroom, is out with Milk & Cake Press. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Cimarron Review, Superstition Review, Blood Orange Review, Revolute, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel and others. She was a finalist for the River Styx International Poetry Contest. She’d describe herself as equal parts Valentine’s Day and Halloween. She owns and operates White Whale Tattoo alongside her husband in Cincinnati.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
The process of writing my first book, The Attic Bedroom, was transformative for multiple reasons. When I chose the subject matter, I had a realization that there was this experience I hadn’t fully explored or reckoned with, and in fact, I was holding it in the very tissues of my body. Choosing to tackle the subject matter opened pathways for me creatively. I followed those pathways with each poem until I found a way out of the woods and into the wide open. It forced me to look the beast straight in the eyes. Additionally, I’d never written on a subject to the extent that I did for my book. Instead of exploring broad themes at a bird’s eye view, I found myself breaking poems down further and further into the minutiae. This has served my work well. I have absolutely grown as a writer and I am thankful to those poems and to that book.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
My Uncle and cousin are both poets, and I’d pulled their books from the shelves at my parents’ house from a young age. In high school I was the singer in a band, and I wrote the lyrics for our songs. After we broke up, as bands often do, I was left with the desire to write, but without an outlet. I kept a notebook and that practice has remained with me. Eventually I took poetry courses in college which helped me further find my footing in the genre.
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?
This varies greatly. I’d say my work is generally a slower process, however some poems fall from the sky for me and that is always an exhilarating experience. When writing feels like a spirit has possessed you and is writing through you, that’s when the best work comes out in my opinion. I don’t mind working for a poem, though.
4 - Where does a poem 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?
I always saw myself as an author of short pieces that could sit beside each other in a book, but I’ve become the latter. With The Attic Bedroom, I knew the subject the book would deal with and I wrote on that theme. Currently, I have poems surrounding a new theme and I can see the book in the distance. I have pieces that don’t fit into this theme though, and I’d like to find a home for them as well.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love doing readings! I’ve found it encourages me to prepare poems that are close to being ready. It also helps me edit poems that felt ready on the page, but upon reading them aloud I realize they need tweaked. Additionally, I love the community aspect that is inherent in readings: you’re reading with other poets or interacting with attendees. I love the connection as writing is such a solitary act, and I am not a solitary creature.
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?
Do people have answers for this one? I don’t think I know what questions I’m seeking answers to until I arrive at them. Even then, the work often remains a mystery to me.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
We, as writers, are called to different roles. Some entertain, some take on the political, others challenge the status quo. I hesitate to give us a role or a purpose as we often float in and out of these categories. I think a writer’s work has individual purpose, but the writer’s purpose is to write.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I personally like working with an outside editor. I seek the feedback of multiple friends while editing initial drafts, but once I’ve exhausted these avenues, I seek an editor who can look at my work as a whole. I utilized two editors with The Attic Bedroom and it was invaluable.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Leave the self-conscious critic at the door of your writing room. Fear keeps us from writing what we must say, and often keeps us from writing at all. If we can write with complete freedom, we will access our essential work.
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I do my best to have multiple writing windows weekly. As a mom with a preschool-aged child, my day begins after I drop him at school. We live within walking distance, and the walk really activates me. I’m like most in that I also need a cup of coffee. I write best in the morning and early afternoon. I’ll light some incense to center myself. I try to offer myself options when I sit at my desk. As long as I am working toward a writing related activity, I count it as progress. Some days I may write, other days I may edit, or I may not feel creative and will send in submissions instead. Either way, I’ve served my writing in some manner.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Reading poetry is a constant source of inspiration. I have a huge TBR pile that I’m always adding to. Additionally, there are prompts that jumpstart poems for me without fail. One, shared with me in a course by Gerry Grubbs, is “14 first lines.” With this prompt, you choose 14 starting lines from 14 different poems and lay them out on the page. You then write what you think would naturally follow each line, additionally trying to consider what you’ve written already. Once you have these followup lines, you erase the borrowed lines and see what you have. Sometimes multiple poems are born out of this. It usually only takes me 4-5 lines before I end up going down a rabbit hole, never needing all 14.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The smell of a bonfire reminds me of home as we always had wood burning fireplaces.
13 - 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?
Music is such a source of inspiration for me. So many musicians are incredible lyricists and poets in their own right: Joanna Newsom, Sufjan Stevens, Conor Oberst, just to name a few. My husband is a painter and we regularly visit museums, providing another source of inspiration as well.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I would like to publish a novel. I would also like to have a hobby farm. Two very different things, but I want them both!
16 - 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 was a teacher prior to a deeper focus on my writing, so probably that? I did study photography and worked for a photographer for 6 years, so I could see myself wandering further down that path as well.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Writing is fulfilling to me. I find pleasure, joy and gratification in the act of writing. Ultimately, I’m doing what I love. I’m grateful to be dedicating much of my time to it, as it know many cannot.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Billy Collins’ Picnic, Lightning was an incredible recent read. My daughter was in the NICU for 2 weeks following her birth, and that book was a companion to me for some of that time. The Hand of God is the movie that comes to mind for me. My husband will be pleased at this answer, as this was his suggestion.
19 - What are you currently working
My current work surrounds the pregnancy and birth of my daughter, Hazel. This pregnancy was fraught with difficulties as she had a rare condition that required close monitoring. Writing through the experience was the only way I could stay afloat.