Archive | July 2014

Emily Mae Stokes on Writing “Dinner Time Without You” and “Vows of Silence”

Both of these poems are—in my mind—tied very strongly to a location and longing. They were written during my time as an M.F.A. student outside of NYC, where my desires to be a writer were becoming intricately linked to my experiences with new spaces and architecture, both in and beyond the city. Buildings hold the perfect metaphor for the self—having a unified exterior and a vibrant, more active interior. I was meeting new people, spending time in their kitchens and living rooms, and learning how expansive and full of life even the tiniest spaces could be. I returned to my own space with this new perspective and found that even the moments of stillness and silence were full of color and possibility. Like with people, if you spend enough time with any space, stories and tensions reveal themselves to you. In the case of these poems, the stories that arose were partly mine, and partly shared. Both poems function a bit like snapshots, attempting to capture the happy discomfort of being young and yearning for the imaginary future.

•Besides being a writer, Emily is Managing Editor for a new start-up literary magazine called Madcap Review.

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Jan Zlotnik Schmidt on writing “Kentucky Hill Wife”

This short work has an interesting history. I taught a women’s memoir class in Kentucky for many years and had the opportunity to observe Appalachian women and listen to their stories. Later, a student at New Paltz told me a story about her Appalachian grandmother, a silent, strong woman. When they went to clear out her house after her death, they found that she had written poems on the insides of her wooden cabinet, which no one saw or knew about. No one knew she had this secret life as a writer!

That story haunted me for years. I tried writing it as a poem several times and wasn’t happy with the outcome. Then I did an exercise in a creative writing class, asking the students to do a freewrite based on the word “flood.” As I put pen to paper, I started seeing an Appalachian woman standing at the threshold of her home, thinking about the rising waters of a creek and river. I realized that she could be the figure of the secret poet.

Suddenly I found the form for this poem/work that I had been trying to write for years. That was the genesis of the short fiction or prose poem work–however, you’d like to classify it. I am working now in these hybrid forms–prose poem, micro-memoirs and essays, monologues, micro-fictions. The boundaries are getting very blurry. I usually start with an image or moment, object of memory, write in my journal, and then experiment with form and genre, often trying out works in both prose and poetry.