I’ve had the privilege of reading some of Nicole’s poems at various times, and her work is haunting and beautiful and hard and lingering. I definitely recommend you check out her interview below, and then order her new book. Enjoy!
1.Tell us about your book.
More than anything else, Louder Than Everything You Love is about transformation. The narrator in these poems is many: women who talk to the dead, women who mourn dead mothers and grandmothers, women suicides, women who’ve been raped/escaped rape, women who cradle premature babies, women who suffer depression, women who prepare the bodies of the dead, women who exist between their children’s bodily needs (“this body-psalm of need the only holiness I know”) and saints’ incorruptible bodies.
These women also live inside themselves, contending with the wolves within, asking: “How do I measure the body’s gardens form within its bone fences?” The dead, the living and the divine inhabit this collection – they’re looking for kinship, remembrance, for some kind of communion. The poems in Louder Than Everything You Love are about the struggle of living in a body, being a parent, trying to find the balance between what our lives on earth mean/what it means to come to terms with dying.
2. What stories, themes, motivations do you find yourself drawn to in your work and in the works you read?
Good question. I mentioned that I’m a magazine editor, and I find that I’m an odd bird. I’m highly creative, hyper and strung out, but also super logical and organized, which isn’t the norm in my field. The disciplined part of me forces my chaotic self to write, to work out the inner kinks that twist me up inside. I often feel that there’s a woman in me trying to get out, you know, climb up my throat and part my mouth and step out into the world. It’s that woman who writes me out of the chaos, who writes from my fears. One of my biggest concerns in my writing is mortality — I have a constant sense that we’re walking alongside the afterlife. I have a constant sense of being in the current moment, but feeling such a deep sadness that it’s so fleeting. There’s a tension between wanting to stay on earth and mother my children, and knowing that I will have to die. I imagine myself kneeling next to my own grave and throwing flowers down the hole. The one who writes my poems wears black, roams fields at night and talks to the dead. But she’s also a mother who has found an unexpected tenderness for her children, who have mended her heart.
3. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Well, my day-job is editor of a trade fashion magazine called Wearables, and by night, I’m the poetry editor for ELJ Publications, so I spend time reading poetry collections and chapbooks in the queue. I’m also a mother to two children, 7 and 3. In whatever time I have left, I like to read (even one poem at a time) and work out, especially with weights – there’s something very deliberate and calming about being able to sculpt your body. One thing I don’t do is sit still and relax – which I probably should do more of, and meditate. Being in motion constantly and having a to-do list a mile long definitely can cause anxiety – since it’s hard to slow down, I do have an indoor fountain that burbles all day, and the sound of the water moving is very soothing.
4. What made you believe you could write a book? How did you dispel doubt as you wrote?
I’ve yet to meet a writer who stopped struggling with self-doubt, since we’ll always continue to have our work declined in some form along the way. That being said, after publishing four poetry chapbooks, I felt ready to move onto a book-length collection. I just wrote a lot of poems around similar themes, and then wrote two series – five burial poems and six psalms for my daughter, which appear between the four sections of the book. My publisher at ELJ Publications, Ariana D. Den Bleyker, reviewed poem drafts with me along the way, and helped me with ordering the manuscript. Having that voice of support really helped me – for sure, there were days when I questioned why I thought I could write a book. But I will say that publishing a lot of the poems that ended up in Louder Than Everything You Love in journals did give me confidence.
5. Describe the first 2-3 steps of your process in writing your book.
As I wrote new poem drafts, I kept them in a long Word document. Eventually, I had something like 100 pages of work, and then I started to cull through them, pulling out the strongest poems and revising them. The early process was really feeling themes and a story through the poems I was gathering, and making those poems really sing. It was also finding them homes in journals. A hard part closer to the end of process was removing poems I really liked from the manuscript because they didn’t fit the arc. But the good news is that I’ve kept those poems in new file that I’m growing for the next manuscript.
6. Which is more difficult – drafting or revising? Why?
Drafting, for me, oddly. It’s hard for me to write “shitty first drafts.” When I write, I want something to come out semi-formed, although that’s clearly wishful thinking. Revising to me feels easier, at least at the start of the process. It’s like cleaning up your house after a crazy party – it’s easy to sweep the tables clear of bottles and plates. But as you get closer to the end, looking for that one word or turn that will make the poem sing, that’s when revising gets hard.
7. What is your favorite part about being a writer?
The act of creating art, a world, a space of encounter, a pinhole, an experience, with words/image. And how, every time you finish a poem, you don’t know if it will be your last. And then the grateful wonderment when you do write another. The other aspect I love is when someone you don’t know from halfway across the world emails you to say your work has touched them. One poem in particular that I wrote, “Necessary Work,” about my daughter’s time in the hospital after her difficult birth seemed to resonate with people—one, a teenage girl who said reading it helped her after the loss of her mother.
8. What is your least favorite part about being a writer?
My least favorite part echoes an answer I just gave – every time you write a poem you don’t know if it’ll be your last. Writing isn’t like running – I mean it is in the fact that you know how to do it. But you can just run. Writing is also about mood, inspiration, trance, etc., so while I know the craft, there’s something other that happens during the process. A state of being that I need to be in to write, something I don’t necessarily know how to conjure or harness. I’m lucky enough that I’ve been able to keep writing poems. But it’s the fear of not being able to write anymore.
9. What are some things that get in the way of your writing? How do you move them out of the way?
Time is my biggest obstacle. Because my actual life is happening all the time, work, spending time with my spouse and children, etc., it’s difficult to find the time to get into the space where I’m able to write. I used to write late at night after a long day, but lately that’s been harder on my body and mind, so I’ve started waking up an hour earlier, usually at 6 a.m., to grab a cup of coffee and read and write.
10. What’s the best writing advice you ever received?
I don’t know if this is the best, but it’s relevant to comments I’ve already made. Even great writers get rejected. If a journal has 10 spots and 20 great writers submit work, half of them are going to get rejected. I joined a writer’s forum on Facebook where writers talk about their acceptances and rejections, and it’s all over the place. Someone gets six rejections in one day, and then an acceptance at their dream journal the same day. Newbies get in top-tier journals. Seasoned pros get rejected by fledgling journals. If you focus on your work and the craft of writing, and you send your work to journals that are a good fit, you’ll succeed. Even if your poems are great, acceptances are still subjective—you need to find the right editor at the right time. So the advice is to focus on writing well and to submit, submit, submit. And don’t fear rejection. It’s part of the process of getting your work out there.
Nicole Rollender’s work has appeared in The Adroit Journal, Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets, Memorious, Muzzle Magazine, The Journal, THRUSH Poetry Journal, West Branch, Word Riot and others. Louder Than Everything You Love is her first full-length poetry collection (ELJ Publications, 2016). She’s the author of the poetry chapbooks Arrangement of Desire (Pudding House Publications, 2007), Absence of Stars (dancing girl press & studio, 2015), Bone of My Bone, a winner in Blood Pudding Press’s 2015 Chapbook Contest, and Ghost Tongue (Porkbelly Press, 2016). She has received poetry prizes from CALYX Journal, Ruminate Magazine and Princemere Journal. Visit her online at www.nicolerollender.com or www.facebook.com/nicole.rollender.