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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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Q: Where do you prefer to get your books?
A: Micawber’s Bookstore in St. Paul. They have an awesome selection of poetry. I also like Sixth Chamber (also in St. Paul) for used books. I’ve found some incredible gems at both places, things I wouldn’t find elsewhere.
Q: How many poetry books do you think you own, and what percentage of these have you actually read?
A: 209…I counted last month while dusting. I’ve read three-fourths of them. I think it’s important to have a few new-to-me verses on hand just in case.
Q: When, where and how do you usually read? (i.e. at bedtime under the covers, cover to cover, etc.)
A: I’m a cover to cover kind of girl (starting with pub date, acknowledgments and table of contents). I read in bed at night. I also carry my books with me, so I read when I’m waiting for my friends, when my boyfriend is checking his email, when no one comes to my office hours, when I show up early to an appointment..
Q: What books of poetry have you read this month?
A: The True Keeps Calm Biding Its Story (Rusty Morrison) and Then, Suddenly (Lynn Emmanuel) and Ghost Fargo (Paul Cisewski)
Q: What other books/magazines/backs of cereal boxes have you read recently?
A: The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen), Don’t Ask (interviews with Philip Levine), Evolve Your Brain (I’m obsessed with Joe Dispenza), Mother Jones, the Writer’s Chronicle, Glamour Magazine, and lots of posts from online students. I’ve eaten a surprising amount of fortune cookies this month, so I guess that counts.
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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: I keep a dream journal. I remember 2-4 dreams a night…most of them are either disturbing or hilarious (I inherited these dreams from my Nana). My dreams feel image heavy to me, and although those images rarely show up in poems, the action of recording my subconscious’s creation exercises my poetic brain and gives me a stronger connection to it. As far as writing poems goes, they’re all drafted entirely on the computer, and during the school year, on Saturdays. I spend the week days tweaking them, but I devote Saturdays to creation (or recreation).
Q: How many first drafts do you think you complete in a week? A month?
A: Normally, I do about 5 poems a month. I usually have a hard time getting started. However, a couple of months ago all of that shifted. I feel like there are all of these poems. I don’t know where they’re coming from. I’m not questioning it; just enjoying the gift.
Q: How long do you wait before revising a poem?
A: It depends on the poem. I usually start about 2 days after the first draft, but lately, I’ve been coming back to sit down with them an hour or two after they’ve reached a first draft. I have one poem that I didn’t look at until three years after I wrote the first draft, but that’s an exception. I know as a human, I’m always changing. For me it’s really important to let those changes happen and not let my past process dictate my current process.
Q: When do you know a poem is “done”?
A: When I stop being drawn to its individual parts.
Q: Have you ever given up an invitation so you could stay home and write?
A: I spent all of AWP in Chicago passing up invitations so that I could write. Everyone seemed really cool about it, though.
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Q: What is your system for sending out work?
A: I go through phases. I actually just sent out my first batch of poem in about a year. I have one of those big databases. It’s very organized; it just looks intimidating.
Q: What have you more recently received: a rejection notice or an acceptance? Was it what you expected?
A: A rejection. I totally expected it. It was a long shot, but you have to try for those every now and again.
Q: Where do you generally publish: online, in print, or a mix, and do you have a preference?
A: I love print journals. I love seeing my work in a font I didn’t choose. I love how the work changes based on whose work is on the facing page; it feels right that the work would do that. The pieces together give off a different interpretation than my individual piece did when it was alone. But I also love online journals. Print journals cost money (it’s basic economics), but because online journals can be read by anyone at any time for no charge, it feels more political to me. The work gets to stand on its own and you can find it pretty much anywhere you end up in the world. The online poem feels more vigilant or rebellious in that way when it’s not sharing the screen with any other work. I think it’s great that we get to have this option. It’s very American: we like being together in a community and we like being special and individual. We always want the option to have both.
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: I’ve had a couple of horrible experiences with editors who acted like they cared about the work but they really just cared about their own careers. However, I’m happy to say that those experiences stand out because I’ve had only a couple of them. Overall, I’ve found editors to be really professional and lovely folks who are genuinely excited about and committed to the diversity of poetry. There is one magazine that’s rejected my work three times, but I submit to the editors anyway because their rejection letters are so beautiful and encouraging. I was published in an international anthology where the editors and the contributors got so excited about the anthology’s vision that they formed an online community so we could stay connected. Most of the experiences I’ve had have made me feel inspired to connect with other writers and editors. They’ve made me feel like publishing is just one way to be in a conversation about the way we use words.
Q: Have you ever received any fan (or hate) mail? If so, what was that like?
A: No…oh God, is this what I have to look forward to?!
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Q: What is your day job, and how does it affect your writing?
A: I teach at two community colleges. I teach the core composition classes, so it feels like something really different than my writing. I love teaching. I love my students. I think if I had a job where I was unhappy, I would write really different poetry, but teaching and writing are different beasts to me. If anything, I think my writing influences my teaching more than the other way around. Usually, when I’m researching something I want to write about, I find an aspect of it that I can bring into one of my classrooms.
Q: How does your significant other’s occupation affect your writing life?
A: My boyfriend also teaches and writes, but they are just interests we share. It affects me in that we get to connect with each other about those things too. I feel good when I get to connect with him. However, if he did something different, I think he would be very supportive. There are many things we don’t have in common, and we talk about those things just as openly. He’s an excellent listener. Actually, right now, I think he might feel more ambition for my career than I do, but that’s because he believes in me, not because he has this career too.
Q: Have there been periods in your life when you couldn't write?
A: Yeah. The year after I graduated from grad school I was paralyzed. I think I expected that when I graduated, I would hit the ground running, but all I wanted to do was cook, knit and read about Judaism. I would sit down to write, and I felt like I wasn’t living in my own body. I tried to write for a couple of months, and then I decided I would just take a year off (even though I got really inspired and cheated on the break a couple of times). It felt really good to take a vacation, and now it feels really good to be back. I think I needed to step away to prepare for a new way of being in the literary community.
Q: Do you have a “poetry budget”?
A: No. I can always find enough for poetry.
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: My cat was lost for a week because he ‘fell’ off the roof of my house a couple of hours before I was supposed to get on a plane for a writer’s workshop in California. I hear that he spent the week in the neighbors’ bushes. He has been a little shy of rooftops ever since.
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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: I have a disgusting memory for actors. When I saw Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects, the first thing I said was, “Hey, that’s the guy from the limo in Working Girl.”
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.) A: Do none of the above; instead you: Don’t write a poem about my mother to begin with. I almost never write about my family…I have two poems that are exceptions. I’d like to keep it that way as much as possible.
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’ve had my will in place for five years now. If poetry was going to kill me, then I would do a quick edit to the will and get on with whatever poems and living I could before the inevitable hit.
Q: If you could be a vowel, which one would you be and why?
A: I would be “e”. It’s the little black dress of the vowel world. It’s elegant, it goes with everything and it makes whatever surrounds it look like the main event. (Okay, I didn’t mean for all of those words to begin with “e.”)
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: I miss the ghazal question. Well, you snooze, you lose, right? (Does that count as advice? Just kidding. It should be something I follow, yeah?) The best advice I can give anyone at any given time is this:
It’s okay not to be in control. It’s okay to do what you know, you can and learn from the rest. It’s okay to trust in yourself, in the people you choose (and don’t choose) to surround yourself with. It’s okay to trust god.
I think at some point, I was lead to believe the opposite was true. However, more and more, this is what I come back to, and when I can stay here, it’s when I feel most confident and connected to my life.
Haley Lasché has her MFA in Writing from Hamline University. Her poems and creative nonfiction have appeared in many lit mags, Web sites and anthologies such as Not a Muse, The Furnace Review, The Crab Creek Review, Dossier Journal, etc. She has performed her writings at the Soap Factory Art Gallery, Magers and Quinn Bookstore, The Hexagon Bar, in friends’ living rooms and on top of tables among other venues. In addition to writing, she is a college instructor, a post-modern dancer and a punk-rock fashion model.