I’m Marcie Upchurch, designated interviewer and excited planning-committee member of the 2015 All Write Now! Conference. This year’s event is shaping up, and we are ready for a close-up of the presenters.
We are honored to have Allison Joseph in our lineup of speakers this year. Allison graciously answered a few questions recently so we could all get to know her a bit.
MU: You have published several books of poetry, teach at SIU Carbondale, edit the Crab Orchard Review, and direct a summer workshop for young writers. What is your secret for getting so much accomplished?
AJ: I don't have kids. That sounds rough, and I do love children. But each writer makes sacrifices, and that's been one of mine.
MU: You are obviously successful in working with students. What qualities do you have that help you connect with young people?
AJ: Enthusiasm and respect for the qualities that are unique to younger people. I respect their energy, curiosity, and eagerness to try new things.
MU: Since you have several volumes of poetry published by several publishers, can you give writers advice on presenting an awesome pitch?
AJ: No. Poets don't make pitches like prose writers do. Some of my collections were published as the result of winning a contest; others were selected by a press because of the collection itself. A cover letter for a poetry collection is very different than one a fiction writer would present. A poetry cover letter simply states past credits and some biographical information. The press will decide to publish or not based on the merits of the poems, not on a pitch.
MU: How do you present poetry to the non-poet?
AJ: By using accessible poets such as Langston Hughes, Sylvia Plath (people fear her work because of her personal history but her poems are quite accessible), Sharon Olds, Kim Addonizio, and Edward Hirsch, just to name a few. There are so many contemporary poets who are readily accessible to all sorts of readers, poets who are understandable and also have a relish for language.
MU: What can prose writers learn from poetry writers?
AJ: The power of metaphor and of image. Those are essential to any writer.
MU: How does a poem start out for you? For example, do you come up with an idea you want to explore or get inspired by a photo or phrase, or something else?
AJ: Sometimes with a phrase or a sight—an image. Sometimes I encounter a situation that needs my attention, and I write about it immediately. Often though, I spend a good long while thinking about a subject before that first line emerges out of the mass and swirl of everyday living.
MU: Can you remember the first poem you wrote and whether it has been published? About how old were you?
AJ: I was a product of the Poets-In-the-Schools movement, since I went to school in New York, where the organization started. We had poets come to our classrooms on a regular basis. It was better than doing math! That little anthology the visiting poets put together probably had a poem of mine in it.
MU: Who are your favorite poets?
AJ: The poets listed above, plus Robert Hayden, Gwendolyn Brooks, Dorianne Laux, and so many others. Lately I've been getting more into international poets such as Pablo Neruda and Irina Ratushinskaya.
MU: In your workshop at the All Write Now! Conference you’re planning to speak of different poetry forms, including ode and aubade. What is aubade?
AJ: Aubade is a poet of the morning, often a love poem about two lovers parting at dawn, though not always.
Allison will be a great asset at our one-day conference in July. I love what she said about a line of poetry that “emerges out of the mass and swirl of everyday living.” See? She IS a master of poetry, even in interviews! And she won’t have to do any math at our conference.