Lori A. May: I was working on a small series of poems that was observational, I guess you could say, in that I spent some time thinking about ‘the other’ in a voyeuristic sort of way. This led to thinking about how we fill personal voids, how we cope with disappointments or emotional injuries.
Retail therapy is a tactic passed down to me from my mother, sure, but it’s also a familiar one; and while men use this form of coping mechanism, too, I’ve noticed this poem touches a nerve with women, in particular, when I read it in front of an audience. There’s something about making a purchase that gives control to the buyer, even if it’s an emotional and spontaneous experience that results in regret or buyer’s remorse. There is, after all, only so much that money can buy. All of these thoughts combined informed this poem and, in turn, my upcoming collection, Square Feet, which zeros in on the emotional and psychological spaces in a challenging domestic space.
DL: You write in multiple genres—fiction, poetry, non-fiction—in what ways does your work in each speak to and influence one another?
LAM: On a good day, my appreciation of poetry—the use of language, image, and sound—influences my prose. My drafts are always very loose, but when I go in to finesse and revise I do like to consider syntax and form in my literary prose. I enjoy playing with language and subtext, particularly in creative nonfiction. For poetry, I most often tell a story and so characterization and setting feeds my verse. When working on a collection of poems, those elements of prose work toward creating a narrative arc, too, where each poem leads to another turning point or chapter, if you will.
DL: You travel, a lot. Will you discuss how a few themes that you have found on highways or in airspace have made their way into your work?
LAM: I do travel quite a bit. I’m usually on the road about 30,000 miles per year, not including flights, which means I get to experience all kinds of places and all kinds of people. I really do enjoy people-watching and I’m always asking questions, which has naturally led to some creative prompts. While on the road, I’ll draft a poem about a scenario I come across—whether it’s in a restaurant, along the shore, or driving through a ghost town, for example. More often, my travel results in essays.
Right now, I’m working on the final round of editing for a book-length collection of linked, mostly lyric essays. I’m a bit of a newcomer to the US and my immigration experience combines well with my curiosity of American towns, exploring the country, and getting to know the people and landscape of my new home. My collection, American Drive, parallels my personal experiences with those I observe from around the country, and I hope readers will discover little known facts and curiosities through my exploration and exposition.
DL: Are there certain topics that you know you must write as poetry? Some that must be in essay form? Fiction? What factors lead to your decision?
LAM: Poems, for me, often stem from a seed of an idea, usually from an image that comes to mind. I’ll be doing some mundane task, like the dishes or laundry, and an abstract image will reveal itself to me, perhaps in a tiny little phrase that piques my curiosity. That’s the beauty of mundane tasks; I think there’s a state of mindfulness in completing chores around the house that lets the creative mind work while our hands perform tactile busywork. When those phrases or /images come to mind, I’ll usually turn to verse, but if the questions linger, and if the idea turns into another idea, then another, I probably have the beginnings of an essay on my hands.
I’d say most of my projects stem from some organic discovery, rather than an intentional direction to write a story, essay, or poem. My fictional ideas often come while behind the wheel, when I’m stuck in the car and on the road for a few hours, when my mind can play with what-ifs and possibilities. I have one piece of short fiction, in particular, that was basically written in my mind during a two-hour drive home. It’s still one of my favorite short stories as it’s so woven with poetic devices—allegory, alliteration, figurative language, symbolism, and rhythm—and I have no idea where it came from, apart from listening to my mind wander while in the car.
DL: You wear many hats as a self-employed person—writer, editor, reviewer, social media maven, marketer—how do you balance time for each?
LAM: I long ago gave up the idea that multi-tasking works for me. Yes, I am often working on multiple projects, but I have come to understand that in order for any of them to be completed with some dignity—let alone enjoyment—I need to focus on one thing at a time. It’s easy to get carried away with to-dos, but my brain needs quiet time and balance more than anything else. I think, and hope, that we’re gradually recognizing the madness in the glorification of busy, and giving some thought to what that really means to us as individuals, and as a society.
Although I am self-employed and thus have to manage multiple projects, I don’t like feeling overwhelmed. So, I break my day into workable sections to channel my focus and give each task its own schedule. In the mornings (and after naps) I use that time to create new work, as that’s when my mind is the most fresh and free of other demands. I tend to external assignments—editing, revising, reviewing, and marketing—in the afternoon. More and more, though, I am cutting myself off earlier in the day. I used to work until 8 or 9pm and then have only a few hours to relax, but I want to enjoy what I do and also feel like my life exists away from my desk. Writing is so much a part of me, but it’s not everything. I enjoy travel and food and watching movies with my spouse. I love our walks around the neighborhood and catching up on good books. That’s living. That’s balance for me. Creating a low-stress environment, particularly when working from home, is important and within my power. And, when I’m free to unwind and recharge, I’ll be that much better for it the next day at my writing desk.
Dawn Leas‘s chapbook, I Know When to Keep Quiet, was released in 2010 by Finishing Line Press. She earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. Her work has appeared in goldwakepress.org, Literary Mama, Willows Wept Review, Southern Women’s Review, Interstice and elsewhere. In past lives she was a copywriter, freelancer, admissions director and middle-school English teacher. Currently, she is the associate director of the Wilkes University M.A./M.F.A. Creative Writing programs and a contributing editor at Poets’ Quarterly. For more information, please visit www.dawnleas.com.