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The Habitual Poet: Juleigh Howard-Hobson

Installment #59

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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 vastly prefer to get my books in dimly lit antiquarian bookshops in odd villages scattered throughout South-Western Australia, Southern England and Northern Europe. That said, I tend to purchase most of them these days at local estate sales or via eBay....


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

A: Hundreds, honestly. All of them read, some over and over. I’ve been building my library since 1979, when I began to seriously read and write poetry. (FYI: I was 16 years old—punk rock was just about to hit Australia where I lived at the time; it was a strange era for me.... John Keats and Ian Dury...)


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

A: I read during the day, directly after lunch typically. I also read (sad to say!) during lunch if I can get away with it.  If the rest of the family is off camping with the scouts, I will read late into the night.

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

A: Aleister Crowley Clouds Without Water; portions of Shelley’s Complete Works, William Morris’s Selected Poetry, Poetry is Dead, Cadeuceus (these last two aren’t books per se, but are perfect bound journals of poetry...)

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

A: The First Line (perfect bound journal), Yukio Mishima Death in Midsummer and Other Stories


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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: Longhand at the kitchen table, or electronically at the keyboard on my desk. Never a set time, but that said, I rarely write on spare pieces of paper as inspiration hits me....I usually decide (for who knows what reason) to sit down and write, and then I do. Often it is early evening. Never ever in the morning...I am not a morning person.


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

A: I write about 2 poems a week, which makes about 8 a month...if I average it, I guess. I tend to write in waves—some weeks I will write a half dozen pieces, some weeks nothing at all. That’s poetry. Prose is different...perhaps one or two first drafts on a very good month. I don’t focus on prose as much as on my poetry. Yet I end up writing a lot of prose, all in all, somehow. I don’t know where it comes from.


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

A: I know instantly if a poem needs revising and don’t hesitate at all to begin then and there. Some poems, of course, don’t need to be revised at all, they simply stand as written and are published as written. Those are always a delight. Other poems are very revised--first second third and fourth drafts are written. There might be years between a third and a fourth revision. A poem recently accepted was originally written in 1982 and finally revised to my liking late last year. Those are more craft than delight—which is as finally satisfying, but in a different way, than those written in the white light of sudden inspiration.

Q: When do you know a poem is “done”?

A: When I can’t correct it anymore for anything.


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

A:  Never! I love going out and doing things. I can stay home and write any old time, and I know how that will be (good, soul building, industrious)—but going out, who knows what inspiration, image, idea or person I might come upon. I appreciate bolts from the blue.


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Q: What is your system for sending out work?

A: I keep 18 submissions sent out at all times. I have a hand written log of: work out, where it has been sent, when it was sent, how it was sent.... I like technology but prefer to keep things where I can lay my physical hand on them at any time. I keep hard copies of everything.



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

A: Just got an acceptation from Prime Number Magazine. I always expect to be accepted.



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

A: I publish in a mix of places. I prefer print, because I expect that print shall survive long after electronics have bugged out...but I like online venues very much, too. They have the instant and universal aspects to them that print magazines and journals can’t. I print out the pages my cyber work is on.



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 once submitted a piece to an upcoming anthology with a big name editor who was working for an even bigger name publisher. I waited and waited and never heard back about my submission, eventually enquired to no avail.... and so after a year, I wrote and formally withdrew the piece (I like to keep my ducks in tidy rows). Then I moved away to a whole new place, new address, new phone number, etc.   One day, out of the blue, I got an acceptance call from the big name editor. Two years after I had withdrawn my piece!  No mention of my withdrawal, the three year lapse in communication or anything..... (or how he got my new contact information). Naturally I was intrigued, so I let the piece remain...the anthology went on to sell tremendously, and made the N Y Times top 10. With me in it. Yay.


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

A:  I have gotten a few pieces of fan email. And I truly appreciate each and every one of them. It is so hard for writers, I think, for we are the shadowy ones, the dimly perceived artisans—we don’t perform per se—so sometimes we aren’t noticed. Liked, admired, enjoyed: yes...but not noticed. And it is so nice to be noticed. I am overjoyed to be contacted!



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Practical considerations


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

A: I am a radical traditional housewife. Children, chickens, kitchen garden, house! I can’t imagine that any other lifestyle would be so conducive to contemplation, or inspiration. I am completely me at all times.


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

A: My husband is a publisher, a metal smith, and an artist. We co-exist wonderfully.


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

A: Yes. Just emerged from one. They always feel like the end of the world for me, but I continue making dinners, feeding rabbits, pulling weeds and revising old poems....and it all eventually works itself out. Agatha Christie once said that she plotted her stories while washing dishes...that always makes me feel better and aims my focus inward while doing the same.


Q: Do you have a “poetry budget”?

A: I don’t even know what that is.


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:  When I was younger (before children!) I suspect that I did almost all of that. All in the name of art, and all that sort of thinking. Of course, looking at what I’ve produced, perhaps it was what had to be done. I am me and I write what I write because of all the things I’ve done—both rotten and noble—in my life.


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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 hold sensible conversations with rabbits. They listen and obey.


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.) I don’t have a mother—I sprang completely formed from a book of Keats’ poetry in 1979.


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 wouldn’t consult medical specialists anymore and go on to live and write my poetry for another couple of hundred years.



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

A: U  It’s the first vowel that is a runic stave as well. Very powerful magic there.


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: Never falter. Always keep at it. Don’t worry. That’s the whole trick of it. Never stop, never never never.



Juleigh Howard-Hobson is a widely published essayist, short story writer and formalist poet. Named a Million Writers Award "Notable Story" writer, she has been nominated for both the Pushcart and the Best of the Net. Her work has appeared in The Liar’s League, The First Line, Danse Macabre, Sein und Werden, The Lyric, Able Muse, The Alabama Literary Review, Poemeleon, Switched-on Gutenberg, qarrtsiluni, Caduceus: The Poets at Art Place Vol 8 (Yale University), and Poem, Revised: 54 Poems, Revisions, Discussions (Marion Street Press), along with many other venues--both in print and in pixel.


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