One of the things I look for each day on Facebook is an update on Nicole Rollender’s latest submissions – sometimes, she gets rejections (as she discusses below), but more than any other writer, I know, she is also published. For that reason – and because she’s talented and kind – I hope you’ll take some time to read her interview about books and writing below.
I wrote a lot for a few years about my difficult pregnancies and the births of my two children. Those poems resulted in two chapbooks, both forthcoming this year: Absence of Stars, in July from dancing girl press & studio, and Little Deaths, in December from ELJ Publications. Absence of Stars is a small, quiet collection that contemplates the roles of women’s bodies in birth and dying, the afterlife, and what’s beyond the soul’s periphery. There are bones and birds in these poems, and most were written in relation to my daughter’s birth six years ago. Little Deaths’ poems are also about motherhood, the premature birth of my son two years ago, and the deaths of biological and spiritual mothers and how they inhabit and haunt us.
Since last summer, when I completed these two series of poems about my pregnancies and the early, fraught births of my two children, I’ve been working with the aim of putting together my first full-length collection. Lately, I’ve been haunted by a sense of carpe diem, of the afterlife that runs parallel to ours, close enough to reach through the veil and touch. For that reason, I feel compelled to live, live, with the knowledge of an imminent second life. This concern resulted in a third chapbook, Bone of My Bone, which is a long prayer to a God that I’m seeking and want a personal relationship with – this short collection will be out later this year from Blood Pudding Press.
That idea has also been populating my full-length poems, which I feel are personal and narrative-based, but that then veer off into a landscape that’s part dark fairy tale, part monastery inhabited by Catholic mystics. I’m also working on a series of psalms for my daughter, poems about the Polish Black Madonna and a series of illuminations – how female mystics see the world. Of course, the act of birth, midwifing, and mothering still figure in these poems, which are shaping up to be an homage to a woman who is a mother, a seer, a feral figure who lives at the odd intersection of the physical and spiritual worlds.
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
I was, probably like most writers, an avid reader as a child. I’d go to the library and bring home stacks of books and just read late into the night. I remember when I first read Wuthering Heights; it was during the winter, and I literally spent three days in my room reading it. I came out at the end of it, feeling changed, and my parents were making dinner. I felt ready to burst with what I had seen Brontë do in this book. And, my parents had no idea how changed I felt. That’s what it was always like for me, finding new authors, devouring everything they wrote, trying to learn craft from what they did. So, I spent a lot of time with books and authors, internalizing everything.
I also wrote a lot. I started with fiction, and then moved into poetry and creative nonfiction, in the lyrical essay vein. I have boxes of bad poetry. Even with my poetry manuscript that I wrote for my MFA program, only the title and one or two poems survived into my first chapbook, Arrangement of Desire. Oddly, it took me a long time to say, “I’m a poet,” when people asked me what I did. As writer Ira Glass has said, artists all have a certain amount of work to get out that’s not their best, before they really start producing work they’re proud to share with others. In order to get to the good stuff, you have to produce and produce the not-so-good stuff. So that’s what I feel like I’ve been doing, and honing my craft so the poems I write now I’ll still love next year. And maybe the year after.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
I wish I had a set practice, these days, but other than just trying to read and write every day, I don’t have a set routine I follow or a set amount of time I try write. For me, the showing-up-daily part is what’s critical. Between my day job as an editor and being a mother of a 6-year-old and a 2-year-old, it’s easy to let personal wants go. For the past few months, I’ve been really good to myself in that way, carving out the time early in the morning or late at night to be with my latest drafts and to work through them. Like Glass said, by writing daily, I’m getting out lots of work, some throwaway drafts and others poems that I see becoming part of my full-length manuscript, which I’m really focused on this year.
4. Who are you reading now?
I just finished reading (and reviewing) Jessica Piazza’s chapbook, This is not a sky (Black Lawrence Press), a collection of amazing ekphrastic poetry. Piazza engages with paintings from the likes of Van Gogh, Escher, Magritte and other classic and modern artists – the poems do all sorts of wonderful things, rhyme, assonance, alliteration, and this controlled dance in each of the poems is stunning to watch. There’s a lot of beauty and a lot about craft a poet can learn from reading this 17-poem masterpiece. I’ll be reading this again.
I also just started reading Cynthia Marie Hoffman’s gorgeous poetry book, Paper Doll Fetus (Perseus). It’s a collection of haunting poems about pregnancy and motherhood, and the history of obstetrics, from medieval midwives to early doctors who were pioneering the field. There’s an unusual cast of characters who speak in this collection, like a deformed ovarian cyst apologizing to the woman in which it grows, or a phantom pregnancy speaking to a nun who wanted a child. Since so much of my work does center on pregnancy and motherhood, and the role this act of creation within the body plays for women in different time periods, I’m excited to be reading this book now.
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
First, two from Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet and Book of Hours: Love Poems to God. I’ve had several copies of Letters, because it’s been such a constant companion of mine for years; in it, a 27-year-old Rilke writes 10 letters to 19-year-old poet Franz Kappus, who was just about to enter the German military. They corresponded for five years, and the book is a guide on what’s really required to be an artist. It’s one of those books that any page I open to, Rilke grounds me where I need to be in my artistic journey: “Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. … live in the question.”
In Book of Hours, Rilke basically goes to this inner monastery and converses with a God who’s lonely without him, who needs Rilke to be happy. It’s a departure from a God of fear – and I love Rilke’s self-discovery in these poems: “I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world.” There’s a deep, contemplative peace in these poems. Like Rilke’s Letters, when I’m preparing to write, reading this work helps me move into a more meditative state to consider this life, and also the next.
Then, almost everything from Louise Glück, because I love her narrative style mixed with her darker imagery reality. My favorite lately has been Ararat, which I return to again and again. This book is an unflinching look at her family: her father’s hollow life, her mother’s inability to express emotion, the death of a sister in infancy, sibling rivalry with a living sister, and learning to forgive her parents and love her son. The book is searing and bares her private dramas in a bold act of self-confrontation. This is what I’d love to be able to say that I do in my work, so watching a master do it is key.
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
Building a platform is a pretty new thing for me, something I’ve loosely focused on in the last year. For me, that was focused on becoming more involved in the poetry community – last year, I joined Minerva Rising Literary Journal as its assistant poetry editor and media director. Via social media like Facebook and Twitter, I’ve also connected with lots of poets and editors, and learned about journals and presses I’ve come to really love. I also launched a writer’s website and blog at www.nicolerollender.com to create a place in cyber space for people who might be looking for me to learn more about my background, see my publishing credentials, read some of my work and have a way to contact me. The primary thing though is my work, and focusing on writing a stellar first full-length collection.
7. What is a typical day like for you?
I don’t have a typical day because of all the other moving parts in my life. What I will say is that I try to carve out time to first do the business end of writing, like writing book reviews or reading poetry submissions or posting contributor blogs for Minerva Rising Literary Journal. Then, I read some poetry and try to either crank out a new draft or go back and do some revising. Plus, if I receive a rejection, I try to send out work right away to another journal or two to keep the momentum going.
8. Describe your dream writing space.
My dream writing space is to have a literal room of my own for reading, reflection and writing. Since this is a wish-list kind of thing, I’d want the room to hold my many book shelves, a comfortable chair near a roaring fireplace, a big, primitive table as a writing desk with my new laptop on it, and of course, a window with a view onto some type of water, whether a stream, a lake or the ocean – and I’d be able to open the window and hear the water, the wind, the water, and birds.
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
I was in a writing group with women poets who were really into found and erasure poetry. Most of the work that I submitted was heavily critiqued and rewritten so it didn’t feel like mine anymore. It really shook my confidence. Then, funnily enough, two of the poems that received that treatment got outside accolades – one was included in the Best New Poets anthology and one won a feminist literary magazine poetry prize. The point is, I took the critiques really personally, and looking back, I think I needed to have more confidence in my work and take just the suggestions I felt were helpful. So I’ve tried to really love my work, even in draft form, and take what I need from my early readers without being shaken to the core. Also, it’s key to exchange work with people who value your work and aesthetic. I have writing partners I regularly share work with, and I get the kind of feedback that helps me move it forward.
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
To realize that rejection is really part of the process. I send out a lot of submissions to increase my acceptance rate, and by doing that I get way more rejections. There’s a two-fold thing you need to be able to do: to be able to accept how you feel about rejection, that it can burn, especially if it was a journal, chapbook publisher, fellowship, whatever it is, that you really wanted. It’s OK to feel upset. But then, you do need to move past it, and send out more work. Many writers, myself included, use receiving a rejection as an opportunity to send out more work. Rejection in, work out to two new journals. One other thing I do is keep a running list of journals that I’ve researched and read and love. So then when I receive a rejection, I’m excited to send work to a journal on that list. I view rejection as an opportunity.
Nicole Rollender is assistant poetry editor at Minerva Rising Literary Journal and editor of Stitches. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Harpur Palate, Radar Poetry, Salt Hill Journal, THRUSH Poetry Journal, and other journals, along with the Best New Poets anthology. She’s the author of the poetry chapbooks Absence of Stars (dancing girl press), Little Deaths (ELJ Publications) and Arrangement of Desire. Her chapbook, Bone of My Bone, is a winning manuscript in Blood Pudding Press’s 2015 Chapbook Contest, and is forthcoming later this year. She is the recipient of poetry prizes from CALYX Journal, Ruminate Magazine and Princemere Journal. Find her on Twitter, Facebook and at www.nicolerollender.com.
On a completely different note, I have entered Mosey in a photo contest because 1) he’s adorable, 2) I’m trying to understand pageant moms, 3) I’m trying to spread the word about God’s Whisper Farm, and 4), I’m slightly sleep-deprived. If you are so inclined, we’d appreciate your vote. He’s up against some pretty stiff competition – a pick-up truck full of labs and a bulldog that is “MeMaw’s little baby.” Help a guy out, if you will. You can vote here – http://moderndogmagazine.com/photocontest/entry/mosey. The contest ends Monday. Mosey would thank you, if he wasn’t asleep. 🙂