'Write Because You Love Writing'
On February 12, 2014, the Wick Poetry Center hosted the first reading of the spring semester on the third floor of the Kent State Student Center. Earlier that morning, Luna Negra editor Angel Mack met the two featured poets in the Kent State University Hotel lobby.
Allison Davis' "Poppy Seeds" was a winner of the Wick Poetry Chapbook Competition for Ohio poets in 2011. Her poetry has been featured in journals and anthologies including Verse Daily, The New Republic and The American Dream.
Daniel Carter is the author of "Here Both Sweeter," which won the 2011 Wick Chapbook Competition for Ohio poets as well. Carter's poetry has appeared in publications such as Crazyhorse, The AWL and The Offended Adam.
Luna Negra: Tell me about yourselves. When did you start writing?
Allison Davis: I did my undergrad at the University of Cincinnati, and I have my MFA from Ohio State. I started writing when I was probably 16 [years old], at Boardman High School in northeast Ohio. Until then, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, and then I changed. [laughs] And now I'm writing in California with the Stegner Fellowship at Stanford.
Daniel Carter: I did my undergraduate at UT [University of Texas], and then I got a master's in English lit from Ohio State. And now I'm back at the University of Texas doing a Ph.D. in information studies. I wrote short stories for a long time, in my undergrad, and then during my MFA, I started writing poetry because it kind of worked better for what I was doing, or it made more sense.
LN: What made you want to begin writing creatively?
AD: My sophomore teacher at Boardman High School … She was a poet, and she would talk about poetry in class, and she just made me so excited about it. And if I didn't have someone at my high school … talking to me about poetry, I never would have found out about it. I never read it growing up, but she really gave me stuff to read, encouraged me to write, and it kind of went from there.
DC: I remember in highschool … I wrote this really trashy short story—some post-apocalyptic New York, and there were, like, talking bears and things—and I showed it to my English teacher, and I think she called it "very well-written trash." … And I remember sometime after I got out of my undergrad, I had been writing short stories, and I just really wanted to start writing looser, shorter pieces, so I kind of transitioned through prose poems into verse. I think it was just kind of what my writing needed at that time, but it's been nice, just kind of bouncing around these forms, whatever fits what's going on in my life right now.
LN: What's your writing process like? Do you have random napkins with things written on them, or do you have to sit down and really focus?
AD: When I was young, I had a whole system and was organized, and now it's all over the place and very chaotic. And, usually, I write it and I love it for five minutes, and I hate it for many, many drafts, then, eventually, I'm happy with it at the end. But, mostly, it's a lot of anxiety.
DC: It changes a lot depending on what I'm writing. If I'm writing kind of associative lyric stuff, I have to block off a day when I can sit down and work. It's really hard to do. It doesn't happen very often. But the other stuff … I'm writing lines at different times of the day. I've been writing sestinas a lot over the past couple years, which is a good form for me because it has its own propulsion built into it. So, I kind of bounce back to constraint when I'm having trouble writing the other stuff.
LN: What was the editing process like before submitting or after winning the Wick Chapbook Competition?
AD: I didn't think much about how I put the book together. Back then, I think I thought there was an arc, but I think, until I worked with Catherine Wing on it, I wasn't exactly sure what I was doing. It felt right, but I didn't really understand why it made sense until after I talked to her a lot about it, and we talked about the order. … I revised, even after I turned the book in. I ended up revising a lot for the published version, and I still need to revise them now. [laughs] A lot.
DC: Yeah, I think I was lucky at that point to have had a chap book's worth of consistent material because my stuff changes so often. It's kind of rare that I get a series of poems that works, even at 20 pages. And then working with Catherine was great. [She] made me take out all the ampersands. I fought and kept a couple in. But, that was a really good process. I don't know that I would have wanted to print it without that editing process afterwards.
LN: What advice do you have for young writers?
AD: … Just to believe in yourself because there's so many times when, like—that sounds dumb, but seriously—there's so many times when it wasn't looking like I was ever going to have any kind of chance to really write poetry, and then I just kept getting opportunities, and I kept lucking out, honestly. But, definitely, you need to be really, consistently dedicated, even when it seems like there's no point to be, and you have to write because you love writing. It's a rough road, but a very rewarding one.
DC: Read and write what you like. Read whatever you like. I don't think there's good prescriptions on what to read—other than, you know, what your teachers tell you, and then listen to them and say "yes" and read it. I've done a lot of that. Yeah, if it's poetry, then you're going to be doing it because you, for some reason, enjoy sitting down and doing that, and not because it's some sort of strange career that you dream of doing one day, [laughs] so get used to that. Find whatever that joy is that works for you and do it.