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The Habitual Poet: Laura Madeline Wiseman

Installment #54

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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 prefer to get my books from new and used local book shops, at readings and conferences, and at library book sales. Also, I love to read audio books, which I download as mp3s and check out from the city library. If I’m enamored (which I frequently am) with an audio book, I buy the book as well. Preferences aside, I buy a great deal of books from online sources (author webpages and press websites).


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

A: I own several hundred collections of poetry. Doesn’t everyone? Of these, I’ve read all but the dozen or so new poetry books that are sitting downstairs on the coffee table and of which I’m currently reading.


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

A: I read books and print journals at the office during my office hours, on those lonely hours that I have absolutely nothing to grade from my classes. Alas, this doesn’t happen very often. More often, I read stretched out on the couch in the afternoons and some evenings. Sometimes I read poetry until I’m inspired to write poetry. Sometimes I read cover to cover, but more often I read a collection of poetry over several weeks, a few poems at a time.


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

A: I’m currently reading several books by Alicia Ostriker, is the visiting poet-in-residence at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln this year. For my comprehensive exams, I read her scholarship, Dancing at the Devil’s Party, and her poetry collection, No Heaven. Now I’m reading, The Book of Seventy, The Volcano Sequence, and The Crack in Everything. I’m teaching The Volcano Sequence in my poetry class now. Also on the coffee table are two anthologies, Acquainted with the Night edited by Lisa Russ Sparr and A Formal Feelings Comes edited by Annie Finch, the wonderful book The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux (I love their writing prompts), and several eclectic collections recently published: Ann Bozicevic’s Stars of the Night Commute, Sally Van Doren’s Sex at Noon Taxes, David Allan Evans’s This Water. These Rocks., Katie Cappello’s Perpetual Care, Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda’s River Country, and Lytton Smith’s The All-Purpose Magical Tent.


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

A: Yesterday, I was reading The Writer’s Chronicle. There’s a wonderful interview with Ted Kooser in there, as well as an interesting piece on the de-acceptance of poems by The Paris Review. I’ve also been reading around in the current issues of Poets & Writers and Arts & Letters.

In terms of audio books of fiction, I’ve devoured the four novels by Julia Glass. The book, Three Junes, I absolutely loved, in part because of the character Fenno, who to my complete surprise and joy reappeared in I See You Everywhere. I also recently read two novels by Zoe Ferraris, Finding Nouf and City of Veils. These murder mysteries take place in Saudi Arabia. I found it fascinating to read about the gender norms of women and men and the ways in which Americans who visit the country try to follow those norms out of respect and fear of arrest or social sanctions. I also recently checked out from the library Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, after I read The Time Traveler’s Wife. Without giving the latter book away, I felt haunted by an image in that book for sometime after reading it. I think it’s a mark of a great writer when an image can so disturb and chill. There was something about the way the reader was made aware of the dangers the Time Traveler faced, that made the image perfectly eerie and traumatic.

In terms of other nonfiction, I’m currently reading Annette Gordon-Reed’s biography on Thomas Jefferson’s slave Sally Hemingse, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. Gordon-Reed does an amazing job at placing each biographical detail in the larger cultural and historical context. It’s a fascinating read. In terms of other biographies, I just finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, an engaging mingle of science and family story.

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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: My new chapbook, Branding Girls (Finishing Line Press, 2011), is almost entirely ekphrasis poetry. When I was working on my M.A. at the University of Arizona in women’s studies, I was lucky to gain a second teaching assistantship in the physical education department that taught a class entitled Individuals and Societies 102: Sports, Leisure, and Consumer Culture. The class focused on the interconnectedness of advertising and marketing in sports and leisure. One of the class texts was Naomi Klein’s No Logo. The book explores the ground roots anti-advertising movement alongside the strategies companies use to market and brand their products. I enjoyed teaching the class because it made me more aware of branding. I realized consumer culture was something in which I participated in, and that as a participant, I could actively chose how I wanted to participate. During one of the semesters I was a teaching assistant for that class, the photographer Lauren Greenfield had a show at the Center for Collection Center for Creative Photography, presenting images from her book Girl Culture (Chronicle Books, 2002). The images startle. I was struck by the ways girls and women mimicked the body language of women and girls as presented in advertising, such as hyper-sexualization. Those images haunted me for years.

Fast-forward: as I began working on my Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I made it a point to spend time writing new work as often as possible. One way that I did this was by looking at art, specifically books by women artists. I wrote several poems in response to individual photos in Lauren Greenfield’s book Girl Culture, as well as poems in response to photographs in Collection: 92-06 by Camille Solyagua (Nazraeli Press, 2006), White Casket by Miwa Yanagi (Nazraeli Press, 2004), and High Fashion Crime Scene by Melanie Pullen (Nazareli Press, 2005). The images in last are particularly terrifying. Pullen staged murder scenes of women in expensive, high-end fashions. My chapbook Branding Girls is the result of all those mornings writing and responding to American, French, and Japanese women artists and their work.


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

A: It depends on the week or month. When I was a poet-in-residence at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts this past summer, I wrote a poem a day. Most of the poems were taken through several drafts on the day they were written. It was amazing to write so many poems in so short of time!


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

A: It depends, but usually several months.


Q: When do you know a poem is “done”?

A: When I pull it from a drawer after sitting there for months, read it and it surprises or chills me on the first read. Even so, I often still revise it. For example, when I was putting together the chapbook poetry manuscript Ghost Girl (Pudding House, 2010), one particular poem “Ghost Girl Attends a Haunting Seminar” became a vastly different version in Ghost Girl that the version that was originally published in Blue Collar Review. Conversely, the poem “Ghost Girl Watches Senorita Extraviada: Missing Young Woman” went through very few revisions, ever. It was a poem I wrote in one sitting. It, sort of, fell out of me.


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

A:  Of course.


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Q: What is your system for sending out work?

A: Submit. Submit. Submit. I read literary journals to see what type of work they publish and I examine the acknowledge page of poetry books. This system often gives me a sense of a journal’s aesthetic.


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

A: A rejection. I expect to be rejected. You can’t be a serious writer and not be okay with rejection. Though I don’t gamble, I often think it’s like playing the slots in Vegas. You put in your coins and pull the lever or press the button again and again and again. Randomly you’ll get lucky and win.


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

A: A mix. My preference is a mix.


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: Best: working with Dancing Girl Press for my chapbook My Imaginary, Pudding House for my chapbook Ghost Girl, Finishing Line Press for my forthcoming chapbook Branding Girls and now, San Francisco Bay Press for my forthcoming book Sprung have all been amazing. In terms of the latter, my series on “my imaginary cock” was an interesting series to write, in part because I didn’t feel I was writing them. The series began with three poems. While writing the third poem, suddenly a character, my imaginary cock, seemed to speak, seemed to drive the poem’s narrative forward. I’ve written some fiction, and certainly there have been characters in those stories, but my imaginary cock felt like my first real character. Rather than seeking inspiration (e.g. today I’ll try to write a poem about X), my imaginary cock seemed to spring into my head, at the oddest moments, and insist that I write a new poem. For example, in my introduction to poetry writing class, one assignment I had involved students working in groups to review a book of poetry and engage the class in a timed poetry writing prompt based on one of the poems in their book. I always write with my students in class, and do the activities I ask of them, as well as the activities they ask of each other. The prompt from one group was to write an elegy. Suddenly, I knew I had to write an elegy about a vampire cock. The final version of that poem, a sestina no less, is collected in my forthcoming book, Sprung.

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

A: I enjoy it when I get fan email or comments on my blog.


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 Practical considerations


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

A: My day job is finishing my dissertation. I have a teaching assistantship that provides me with the opportunity to teach two classes each semester. Both positively influence my writing. For example: my first chapbook My Imaginary (Dancing Girl Press, 2010). If I had a different day job, I know I would not have been able to ever have a first chapbook, let alone a forthcoming first book.


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

A: Absolute support.


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

A: No.


Q: Do you have a “poetry budget”?

A: No, but maybe I should.


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 family and friends have always been supportive of my work.

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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: I can gleek.


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


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 don’t have any affairs. Who has the time or energy for affairs?


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

A: The letter “u.” I’ve always felt more like a “u” than an “i.”


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: Advice an English teacher gave me in high school: When given the choice, choose both.



Laura Madeline Wiseman is a doctoral candidate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where she teaches English. She is the author of the book Sprung, forthcoming from San Francisco Bay Press, and three chapbooks of poetry, My Imaginary (Dancing Girl Press, 2010), Ghost Girl (Pudding House, 2010), and Branding Girls, (Finishing Line Press, 2011). Her poetry has appeared in Margie, Permafrost, Poemeleon, and The Spoon River Poetry Review, and prose in Blackbird, American Short Fiction, Arts & Letters, Prairie Schooner, and 13th Moon.

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