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The Habitual Poet: Daniela Elza

Installment #41

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The Habitual Poet is an ongoing series of contributor interviews. If you are a Poemeleon contributor and would like to participate copy & paste the Q's from below and e-mail your answers to: editor@poemeleon.org.

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Q: Where do you prefer to get your books?

A: I look for some—buy them, or get them from the library. Sometimes they are handed to me by friends saying you must read this. Recently, one came through my door from a neighbor.  


Q: How many poetry books do you think you own, and what percentage of these have you actually read?

A: I have currently at least about 100 poetry books on my shelves. From time to time, for practical reasons I go through and donate/give away, the ones I am not likely to go back to. Most I have either read through, or have partly read. A handful are waiting for me to read. 


Q: When, where and how do you usually read? (i.e. at bedtime under the covers, cover to cover, etc.)

A: Everywhere. Library, home, bus, on the computer, cafés, in the car (while waiting for my kids to be done with karate, or guitar lessons). Time is precious. And poems are short. They fit in small scraps of time.


Q: What books of poetry have you read this month?

A: This past month: Book of My Nights (by Li-Young Lee, 2001), The Crow’s Vow (by Susan Briscoe, 2010), Red Nest (by Gillian Jerome, 2009), Seeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu, (by Arlene Ang, 2010), The Nights Also (by Anna Swanson, 2010) and currently reading Behind My Eyes (by Li-Young Lee, 2008) and Turning Left to the Ladies (by Kate Braid, 2009).


Q: What other books/magazines/backs of cereal boxes have you read recently?

A: Other Voices Journal, School forms and Newsletters, Poetry is Not a Project (by Dorothea Lasky, 2010), blogs, and emails.


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Q: When, where, how do you write, and why? (i.e. at dusk on a dock, longhand in a notebook, because...)

A: Always long hand, in a journal. Mostly, these days I try to make time for it. Invite it. But sometimes the muse keeps odd hours. To accommodate that I always have my journal with me. and a book of course, for the days she takes off. 

Why do I write? To tease out something fresh and new. To stop time. To find out what it is I know, that I do not know I know.:-) For fun. To learn. To surprise myself.


Q: How many first drafts do you think you complete in a week? A month?

A: It varies. Depending on the phase I am in. When there is not much writing, I focus on submissions and reading. Sometimes writing comes in a flood.


Q: How long do you wait before revising a poem?

A: When a poem comes (if I am excited) I can go back to it as soon as the next day. When I get to a place where I know it needs more work, and I cannot figure out what it is, I let it sit. Come back to it occasionally, ‘til I figure it out.


Q: When do you know a poem is “done”?

A: When I am happy with it. When it has been around for a while and I have not managed to change anything to make it better. 


Q: Have you ever given up an invitation so you could stay home and write?

A:  Yes. I guard my writing time. I guess I could say, only occasionally would I accept to do something else during my writing time. It has to be important enough, without the option to reschedule.


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Q: What is your system for sending out work?

A: As I read or surf the web I come across calls for submissions. I write down the places I would like to send to, and the deadlines, on the different months of my planner. Then, I work my way through them. I had a goal set of sending on average three submissions a month (which is about 36 per year). This year I notice that I am averaging five. It gets easier the longer you do it.


Q: What have you more recently received: a rejection notice or an acceptance? Was it what you expected?

A: This month I have received two rejections and one acceptance. The last two were rejections. They came on consecutive days. I think I expected them.


Q: Where do you generally publish: online, in print, or a mix, and do you have a preference?

A: I like to publish everywhere. Each has its joys. Print, online, literary, academic, small, and big. The more diverse the better. I try not to discriminate. Each acceptance is a found home for a poem. Speaking of diverse: I just heard an excerpt of a poem from 4 poets (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2009) and it will be part of the Poetry in Transit Program for 2010  that will be on buses.


Q: What is the worst (or weirdest, or best) experience you’ve had with a journal/magazine/press & its editor(s)? (No names, please!)

A: The worst is when a publisher mangles my work or does not honor the form. Like once when they took all the page breaks out. And the poem in the form of a ship had the mast on one page and the bottom half of the hull on the next.  Yuck!

The best is when I see the care taken to keep the work intact. When I look at it, I recognize my work. I am glad to say, that is more often the case.


Q: Have you ever received any fan (or hate) mail? If so, what was that like?

A: It is a bit freaky, when it comes from total strangers. It is fine if it is just an exchange, and an acknowledgement. It is annoying when they insist on sustaining contact. I do not have that kind of time.



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Practical considerations


Q: What is your day job, and how does it affect your writing?

A: Right now, finishing my PhD in Philosophy of Education is part of my work. Writing and publishing is part of my work. Looking after my kids and making sure they are where they need to be each day is part of my job. Looking after the house, the finances, the bills, paperwork, and the family is also part of my job. Volunteering in various capacities with organizations like the Federation of BC writers, and Pandora’s Collective etc. is part of my job. Taking on more that I can do is also part of my job. And last but not least, taking care of myself and my friends is part of my job. In the midst of all this, I have to find time to write. So it is a balancing act.


Q: How does your significant other’s occupation affect your writing life?

A: We are fortunate that we have been able to live on one income. It allows me to take on so much that is not paid, but valuable to do. So much of what we need to do in society has minimal or no monetary compensation. But it does not mean it is less valuable.

Another thing I cherish is that from time to time we collaborate. Here are three collaborations we have done:

Qarrtsiluni blood alley interstitial syntax, In earth dreams, and an iphone application book: Words for Crows

Dethe also helps with computer issues, my blog, sometimes with editing, and he is a master at coming up with titles for my poems when I get stuck. We met through poetry and Dethe was (and still is) very supportive of my poetry career.


Q: Have there been periods in your life when you couldn't write?

A: When I was steeped in academia, where the currency of transaction was the academic paper. Poetry seemed to keep to itself then. Only occasionally showed up. I guess that does not mean I did not write. But what I wrote was not poetry. 


Q: Do you have a “poetry budget”?

A: The goal is to cover what I spend on poetry or doing poetry, publishing etc. with what I make from it. The rest is added bonus.

Another thing that can go under “poetry budget” is to look at how much I send out a year, how much of that gets published, and the ratios of acceptances to rejections. This year for every two rejections so far, I have received an acceptance. That is inspiring.


Q: Have you ever suffered (or made someone else suffer) in the name of your art? (i.e. picked up your kids late from school so you could finish a poem, forgone lunch to buy a book, left a relationship because the other person just didn't understand, etc.)

A: I suffer when people that are close to me dismiss or do not believe in what I do. This is not the case anymore, but it used to. We are fragile creatures. Poetry is fragile. It needs a lot of support.

As far as others are concerned, I may not be the best person to answer. I try not to let my poetry commitments take over the commitments I have made in my family. I do tend to lose track of time. Like, I regularly forget to eat lunch to extend the uninterrupted time and focus that I so much crave. My day is easily broken up in too many fragments.


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Random nonsense

Q: Do you have any superhuman abilities? (i.e. can you tie a cherry stem in a knot with your tongue, or write a double sestina with both hands tied behind your back?)

A: Finding four leaf clovers.  Even in passing, as I walk.  I also feel everything is possible for the 2 hours after I have my coffee. But I am so busy doing it, that I do not know what it is to name it.


Q: You write a scathing poem about your mother and she learns about it. You:

a.) Move to South America and leave no forwarding address

b.) Delete the poem and insist it never existed

c.) Show it to her (she’s already written you out of the will anyway)

d.) Do none of the above; instead you: _

A: I will never write a scathing poem about my mother. My mother is the epitome of love.


Q: If the best medical specialists in the world told you that if you didn’t give up your poetry habit today you would die in six months, would you get your affairs in order or would you leave that up to your family?

A: I would get a second opinion. It is because of poetry that I find life bearable.


Q: If you could be a vowel, which one would you be and why?

A: I already am a vowel. I am I. But then if I could chose, Y is a good one. It is curious and deviously crosses boundaries. 


Q: Finally, what piece of advice would you most like to share with our readers? (This can be on writing, the writing life, or anything else...)

A:  Poetry is everywhere. It is inside of us. It is a certain way of attending to the world. The work is how to bring it out into the word, and lay it on the page.  It is a commitment. It is both full of effort and effortless. It is transformative.

So write, write, write. Fine-tune your process to what serves the writing best.

Never shy away from paradoxes, uncertainty, and complexity. Poetry lives there.

Trust in yourself.

Focus on what nurtures you and inspires your writing.

You cannot squeeze wine out of an empty jug. So, allow time to recharge, refill.

Treat the writer’s block as the block the writers live on. When in doubt, go for a walk around the block.



Daniela Elza is a non-medicated poet and a free-range scholar of the poetic consciousness. She has released more than a 140 organic poems into the world in over 42 publications. Her interests lie in the gaps, rubs, and bridges between poetry, language, and philosophy. She is currently collaborating with fellow poets as a pleasant distraction from her doctorate thesis in Philosophy of Education at SFU. Daniela is the recipient of this year's Pandora's Collective Citizenship award.  

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