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The Habitual Poet: Sandra Soli



Installment #48

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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 visit book sales and old used bookstores; the kind with rickety stairs are best. I ask for many books through ILL at the library. I buy books along the way at book stores, and always at readings done by friends and colleagues, who deserve support for their work.


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

A: 80.  200%, if you count reading almost everything at least twice. No, that’s wrong. I just counted: 112 poetry books.


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

A: Sunday afternoons on the patio, in my study chair if it’s raining, in bed thirty minutes early—feels like I have escaped from something.


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

A:  Too Long a Solitude, James Ragan; Elegy for Trains, Benjamin Myers; Native Son, Ron Wallace.


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

A:  You must be kidding. I read obsessively. Magazines: AWP Chronicle, the new P&W, The Sun, The Missouri Review, Oklahoma Today, Cross Timbers, North American Review—past two weeks’ magazine list.  Books: too many to list here, as I am doing research as well as reading for pleasure.





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

A: Ashamedly, I generally work on the computer, but I work out ideas on the patio, scribble on napkins and the backs of deposit slips and when desperate, on shopping bags in the car. I mull over writing problems en route to appointments, in elevators, and while waiting in lines.


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

A: 2. If I’m lucky. This counts poems, articles, and short stories. I usually finish three letters a week. I love the old fashioned habit of real letters with real handwriting, even though mine is disgraceful.


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

A: I try to wait a couple of days. Sometimes I revise it a dozen times in a single day, then it has the nerve to wake me in the middle of the night and demand attention for another rewrite.


Q: When do you know a poem is “done”?

A:  When I can read it aloud without the internal editor saying “tch, tch.”


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

A:  Yes.



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Q: What is your system for sending out work?

A:  I use both submission managers (online) and the old fashioned SASE methods. I track submissions on a form designed in Excel. I prefer to manually enter submissions and results rather than relying on electronic methods. As the page fills up, even with my disgraceful handwriting, it feels like progress.


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

A:  Both.  And both.


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

A:  A mix, but most heavily in print. I am judicious about where I submit online; Poemeleon is one of a very few places I trust online.


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:  Worst: A journal has accepted my work more than two years ago but has yet to print the issue or respond to my queries. Best: Receiving a letter from an editor saying he loved my work and would accept whatever I sent him.


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

A:  Yes, fan mail--wonderful.  The first time it happened, two dollar bills fell out of the envelope with a note to buy more postage with it so the (anonymous) reader could see more of my poems in print. The happiness of that moment took care of rejection slips for a long time. Eventually, I learned that rejection slips are sent for many reasons, but that takes any writer time to understand.



Practical considerations


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

A:  I now free lance full time at home. I do find it difficult, sometimes, to focus on my next writing project while obligated to someone else’s deadline; I tend to “need” a clear calendar to work on my own writing rather than doing my own work while editing for someone else simultaneously.


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

A:  I am a widow. In past years, I used to apologize when dinner was not ready. I don’t have to apologize for letting time slip away any longer (not that it’s preferable).


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

A:  Yes, following my husband’s death; following a divorce 50 years ago while living hand-to-mouth, and following a serious illness when I could not focus.


Q: Do you have a “poetry budget”?

A:  Yes. I buy poetry books and attend poetry programs as long as I have anything in my checking account. If there’s anything left over, I also visit the grocery store.


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: Alas, yes. But I am now practicing to be an angel in case I still have a shot at the pearly gates.



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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:   Yes. I make the world’s finest fried chicken and a passable okra gumbo. Come on over.


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)

A: d.) Do none of the above; instead you: remind her that poems are fiction.


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’d make a start at getting things in order. But the list will have some slant rhyme in it.


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

A: What a great question!  The vowel I choose is O – for awe and wonder at the universe and everything therein. Second choice: U – to remind myself to keep practicing compassion, because one of these days I will need some myself.


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:   Read more than you now read.  Listen more than you now listen. Love more than you now love. Educate people who think banning books is the right way to protect our young.

On writing: My three rules:  Be exact.  Be unique.  Be interesting. 

A quotation: To prevent sunburn, cover yourself with books.


Sandra Soli was columnist and poetry editor for ByLine Magazine for nine years and in Oklahoma’s artist-in-residence program for a decade. She holds an honors M.A. in creative studies and has published articles, poetry, short fiction for adults and children. She teaches by invitation and by E-mail, and is a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences. Her poems have appeared in more than 50 journals, also featured on NPR and nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. Her article on prose poems appeared in the 2009 edition of Poet’s Market. Sandy is a past author of the month for Highlights for Children magazine. Her second chapbook, What Trees Know, received the 2008 Oklahoma Book Award. Sandra enjoys collaborative projects and has worked with artists, dancers, musicians, and clergy to develop new works. She has been honored for mentoring other writers in the southwest and is a five-time nominee for poet laureate of her state.

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Reader Comments (1)

I don't know Soli's work, but will check it out. This interview makes me want to know her and her work.

Alice Folkart
February 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSandra Soli
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