Carrie Oeding's collection of poems If I Could Give You a Line won the Akron Poetry Prize and was published by University of Akron Press (2023). She is also the author of Our List of Solutions (42 Miles Press), and her work has appeared in such places as Bennington Review, Sixth Finch, PBS NewsHour ArtBeat, DIAGRAM, and Denver Quarterly. She was the recipient of the 2020 Rhode Island Council on the Arts' Fellowship in Poetry. She received her PhD in creative writing from Ohio University. She is an instructional designer and educator at Johnson and Wales University. She lives with her husband and daughter in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
In my first book, Our List of Solutions, I tapped into a voice, through reading other voices that surprised me. I figured out my associative inclinations. The book ultimately came from grad school, and I had learned what to listen to and not listen to when making the book. When published, it felt like an achieved milestone, and I was/am very happy that I made the book I wanted to make.
My second book, If I Could Give You a Line, is wild to me because it feels like an impossible work I made, that I am still surprised I wrote, that nobody cared if I wrote, and it was completely felt out in the dark in an exciting, difficult way. It taught me I can leap into uncertainty and write a future book that I also don't think I can write. My voice is still present in book two from book one, but in my first book, the voice felt more pessimistic. This new book is not optimistic, just more interested in art-making than anything, and that art-making makes me think a lot about my relation to others in dailiness.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I wanted to mine voice in the dark and tunnel out spaces with that voice that felt like I could, in some ways, do whatever I wanted to do as long as I let that voice keep unfolding in a certain way. I do not know how to describe what that "certain way" is, other than knowing when it feels flat or limiting and that I need to keep kicking over rocks or But I needed to figure out what kind of container or room was allowing that freedom in others' and then my own work. At the time I didn't know writers actually lead with voice in fiction and nonfiction, too. That edgelessness. But fiction writers like Claire Louise-Bennett set my brain on fire with their lyrical understanding/being.
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?
My writing is embarrassingly slow. The more I try to embrace that, I hope, the less painfully slow it comes. I don't finish a draft of anything until the poem is actually done. Meaning, I can't write a draft then revise it. I revise while writing and it never is a finished draft until it is finished. I like this messy feeling, because I jump around the poem in progress and work on different parts at different times. Although my partner would say I sound completely frustrated and lost while working through this mess, and that is also true.
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?
My poems usually begin with the title or the first line. It feels like a frame or just one piece of material handed to me, and I can sense there's a lot there to explore with that title or first line. There is a lot of tone and concept at once in the line that I don't try to control but try to keep surprising myself with. I will have to figure it out, but to be successful I also have to let go and know I am not "capturing" but doing something else by developing the poem from that first line or title. For instance, in If I Could Give You a Line, one of the poems is titled "At No Time in Your Life Can You Just Be Near Something," which I started writing the poem with. I liked the tension I felt between distance, closeness, longing, and annoyance. A tension between object, others, and self. Time in experience and time outside of experience. Anyway, when I start with a title or line, I like the feeling of possibility in the line, yet the necessity to let go and swim through it.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Readings don't seem to be part or counter to my creative process. My poems' speakers are very present and gesture to an audience that feels close and far away at once. I like that feeling while working on a book, but reading in public doesn't factor into that feeling. I like feeling alone when working at the peak of a book, but I also feel lonely. Sometimes an audience laughs during a reading and is surprised by some of the dry humor, which is fun. At this point in my life and with this recent book, I like reading in public but don't do it a lot.
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?
I think so, but I wouldn't be great at explaining this. This comment would probably disqualify me from answering any further, for some people. I have to crack something open.
Some direct questions in If I Could Give You a Line are “What materials are used to make distance? / What else could you live without, me?” which are from the poem I Would Give You a Drawn Line. I question the freedom and limitation of the desire to make something you want others to encounter, while pushing back on the restrictions I feel that others can have on artmaking. I think the book overall is always wondering what is poetic “space.”
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?
I don't know if I can say they have a role other than a culture has a role to allow writers to succeed, thrive, and be plentiful and diverse.
These days I wonder about pointlessness. Pointlessnesses? The delight I get from something I read or see that is pointless in a way that feels very alive and engaging with the world at the same time.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
At this point, so many poets who publish a book of poems today must make a book that is so publishable and beyond ready, in order to be accepted for publication, that for a lot of us not much is changed after acceptance. Nothing was changed in my latest book besides small copy edits. But a series editor or judge has an important role in selecting who to publish. When writing an article or essay on something poetry-related, working with an editor has been wonderful and humbling and I am grateful for it.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
I am not sure at this point. Advice always reads flawed and partially true, except for read a lot. When I find myself giving advice, I am talking to myself, or I am in a moment where I should be listening instead.
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?
There was such a hard insistence for a number of decades to be the writer who writes every day at 5AM. I block out 1-2 hours here and there during the week, that land maybe on 3-4 days and then I also get time to write on Sunday afternoons. I have a seven-year-old daughter and my husband is a poet and professor, and our lives are in hour-blocks, routine trade-offs to make everyone happy, but it works. I think becoming a parent helped me get my act together. I would block like 5 hours at a time to write before which is silly in terms of how I write. I would waste most of that time in those large blocks.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I am trying to figure out what stalled means for me. It's hard when feeling stalled leads to avoidance or being too forgiving to myself, but I have to relax and get in a certain mindsight. While reading helps me write, I can too often pick up a book and think okay maybe something like this, when all of my movement forward on a stuck poem ends up coming from me. Yet it didn't, really.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Very dry rectangles of baled alfalfa remind me of where I grew up.
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?
One of the opening poems in If I Could Give You a Line begins with my obsession with artist Richard Long’s A Line Made by Walking. Visual art is a major influence in If I Could Give You a Line, and this particular work excited me for how much it said and proposed about the physical line. The brilliant simplicity of thinking about mark making and the line in this way. It prompts me to think about the line and art making in the eight-sectioned poem.
In If I Could Give You a Line, I play around with the traditional triangular relationship between artwork, poet, and reader. I don’t think my relationship with the reader is as traditional as a lot of ekphrastic poems. The book started with my envy of contemporary visual art and the immediacy I feel when I walk into a gallery or museum and experience that engagement with something made. I like that it’s a little impossible to be that immediate to my reader, but still be gesturing to them. I am exploring what it means that a moment of looking, as in a museum or as speaker in a poem, can feel both public and private at once. That tug and pull also connects to some of the speakers as mothers who want to be heard as artists but feel limited. What is the value of making something when they often feel ignored. Making art as a parent changed in something for me, and I am trying to figure that out, even though I am not always directly writing about motherhood. I am always writing about artmaking. I guess I can’t shake that every poem is an ars poetic, for me.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
For If I Could Give You a Line, so many contemporary books of poems were important to the creation of the book. It took 7-10 years to write it, based on how I look at it, and reading books that kept me exploring and excited by new forms and voices like Bridgette Bates’s What is Not Missing is Light, Mary-Kim Arnold’s Litany for the Long Moment, Stacy Szymaszek’s Journal of Ugly Sites, Diana Khoi Nguyen’s Ghost Of, Sherod Santos’s Square Inch Hours, Sarah Vap’s Winter, Cole Swenson’s On Walking On, Yanyi’s My Year of Blue Water, Darcie Dennigan’s Palace of Subatomic Bliss, Renee Gladman’s Calamities. I know I am just listing and I go keep listing. I am so happy to be reading and writing in 2023.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
If I'm just thinking about making things, I'd like to finish my third book of poems. I'd like to write nonfiction about art exhibits. I'd like to collaborate with a visual or sound artist on something I can't imagine right now. I'd like to spend time in Berlin.
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?
If it was in a realistic way, maybe something with translation or secondary languages, which I have no background in. If I could fantasize, I would study studio art with a focus on video and sculpture/installation.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
It seemed like the most accessible art form, given where I grew up, in rural Minnesota, and books and the library were always an option.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I recently loved Niina Pollari's Path of Totality, Valerie Hsiung's The Only Name We Can Call it Now is Not Its Only Name, and Cynthia Arrieu-King's The Betweens. I am starting and loving Endi Bogue Hartigan's oh orchid o'clock.
19 - What are you currently working on?
A third book of poems. So far, I feel good about the collection's title.