WW: How do you approach your work? How do you create?
SB: These days the organizing has been crowding out the creative work far too much. In addition to coordinating DC Poets Against the War, I'm planning a major poetry festival, Split This Rock, for March of next year; I host a monthly series at Busboys and Poets, Sunday Kind of Love; and I have a part-time job at The Arts Club of Washington, administering their new National Award for Arts Writing.
So, I have to force myself to take time, even when/though it feels like there is no time. And I've been going away some on writing retreats. I was lucky to go to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts last December, for example.
WW: When you do sit down to write, how does the process happen for you?
SB: I like to read. So, I am often responding to, or jumping off from, something I have read. But, I never know where I'm going when I start to write. I have carried Pat Schneider's process forward into my regular practice, and try to let my unconscious lead me, at least at first. Of course it doesn't always work. Sometimes nothing comes except whining and worrying.
WW: How much of it do you end up recycling and what actually makes it?
SB: That percentage changes, but I'd say at least 80% doesn't make it out of the notebook. And some stuff that does get typed up withers on the vine.
WW: I can't remember the person, but I used to often see a quote, "The personal is political." Would you agree with that?
SB: Yes, that's been a slogan of the feminist and gay rights movement. I agree with it absolutely -- all of our interactions are influenced by social and political factors: race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and ability. That doesn't mean I believe I am only a white, middle-class, well-educated woman, but that's a huge part of who I am. I can't help that. I once wrote a little poem:
is a white poem
because I am white.
It is not a white poem
because it is a poem.
WW: What is different about your writing now that you didn’t expect when you first started? Would it be this consciousness about where your writing comes from and the socioeconomic influences that impact the writing?
SB: Certainly that's part of it. And the willingness to be so personally vulnerable in the writing. As I said, that was very scary for me 15 years ago.
WW: How did becoming published transform your life?
SB: I remember the first time I had a poem published in a literary journal -- these tiny magazines that may have a very modest readership but are the lifeblood of poetry. It was an incredible affirmation. Someone besides my sweet, supportive parents telling me I'd made the right decision to put writing more at the center of my life. And publishing a book is an incredible thing: exciting, scary, intensely vulnerable.
WW: At Weirding Word (SM), we believe that “language creates reality.” How does language create reality in your life? In your writing?
SB: I think as writers we always have to struggle to maintain an authentic language, especially in a culture that is drowning in the language of commerce, the language of propaganda, the language of subtle coercion. These are dead, artificial languages. We have wrestle with language, keep it on its toes, keep it alive. That's what gives me the greatest shot of pleasure -- when I feel like I'm engaging the language, and if I'm lucky, and working hard, maybe, just maybe, doing something a little bit new.
WW: What's next for you?
SB: I'm trying to get the book out there as much as possible, planning a number of readings. Focusing an enormous amount of energy on organizing Split This Rock. I hope folks will check it out at www.SplitThisRock.org. And trying to write new poems, revise poems that always, always need more work. Sometime next year, I hope to have a new manuscript. But I don't want to rush it…
WW: Sounds like you keep busy.
SB: My poetry productivity is pretty light these days, with everything else going on. So I'm just trying to be patient with myself. And at the same time, take myself to my writing notebook on a regular basis. It's the appointment I need to keep.
WW: What's your advice to new/budding writers out there?
SB: Read, read, read -- all kinds of writing, all kinds of poetry. Write frequently -- remember that most of it won't make it into published form. Find a community of like-minded writers and support one another: read each other's work, offer suggestions, arrange readings for one another, call up to complain when you get YET ANOTHER REJECTION from a literary journal on a piece of paper smaller than your thumb.
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