Stevie Edwards currently resides in Ithaca, NY, where she is working toward completing an MFA in creative writing at Cornell University. Her first full-length collection of poetry, Good Grief, was published by Write Bloody Publishing in April 2012. In 2013, her latest chapbook, Atomic Girl, will be released by Tired Hearts Press. She is the editor-in-chief of MUZZLE Magazine, editor of 4th & Verse Books, assistant editor of EPOCH, and a proud alumna of Chicago’s Real Talk Avenue. She has work published and forthcoming in The Fox Chase Review, Verse Daily, Rattle, Indiana Review, Devil’s Lake, Southern Indiana Review, PANK, Vinyl, and Aim for the Head: An Anthology of Zombie Poetry.
Interview by: g emil reutter
GER: You are currently an editor at three publications, tour and are working toward your MFA at Cornell. Where do you find the time?
SE: It’s a very complicated juggling act all hinged together by insomnia, endless dark coffee, and weeping.
GER:Your first full length collection, Good Grief, has received wide critical praise. Share with us how the book developed and your experience in getting the book published.
SE: Most of the poems in Good Grief were written while I was living in Chicago from 2009-2011. Quickly after moving to Chicago in 2009, I got involved with a fantastic writing workshop, Vox Ferus After Dark (VFAD). Through VFAD, I became much more confident and braver in my writing. I can’t imagine the book ever coming about without the encouragement of members of that workshop, particularly the head honcho of the project, the incomparable Marty McConnell.
Actually, about half of the poems were originally drafted as part of NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) thirty-thirty projects (where a group of people write a poem each day for a month) in April 2010 and April 2011. Even when I don’t have a specific group I’m working with, I try (but don’t always succeed) at writing a poem a day. Many of them never become anything/ are very terrible, but I think it is important to keep my poetry muscles taught and limber.
As far as the process of the poems becoming a real book, I might have a very disappointing story. I actually only ever entered one book contest and won it. I have a lot of friends who have entered contest after contest, but I got very lucky with Write Bloody Publishing. Well, partially lucky, partially strategic; I knew that aesthetically my work would make a lot of sense on their press and was familiar with many of their authors.
SE: Most of the readings I have traveled to have been organized by members of the Poetry Slam community. Some of them have been for featured slots at Poetry Slams (often a Poetry Slam will have an Open Mic, followed by a featured poet, followed by a Slam) while several others have been for separate reading series (like the New Shit Show in San Francisco and Poetry & Pie Night in Rochester, NY). I feel very fortunate to have had poetry organizers in many cities across the country be willing to set me up with readings and take the lead in promoting them.
Overall, touring has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for me. I am just getting back from featuring at the Loser Slam and Jersey Community Slam (both in New Jersey), and I feel very blessed for all the kind words and support I received after my features. I think it is very powerful to be able to see people’s faces as they are reacting to your poems and to hear them tell you how they have been affected by your work because writing can often feel like such an unappreciated, isolating process (especially living in Ithaca, NY, where there is not a large poetry scene).
GER: Atomic Girl will be released soon. Tell us about this collection and does it differ from Good Grief?
SE: Atomic Girl is a chapbook-length collection that was largely inspired by the essay “No Apocalypse, Not Now” by Jacques Derrida. In his essay, Derrida addresses the unknowable, looming threat of nuclear apocalypse. Atomic Girl addresses both Derrida’s notion of the fabulousness of nuclear disaster (thinking of fabulousness as derived from fable, as opposed to as an adjective for gaudy displays of sequins) and the potential fabulousness of more personal disasters, like suicide and other bottomless losses. While there are similar aspects to Good Grief (ie: both books are confessional and voice-driven), I think Atomic Girl is more lyrically ambitious and the subject matter is largely different—much of Good Grief is about negotiating identity and coming of age, whereas much of Atomic Girl is about dealing with mental illness.
GER: You are a page poet and performance poet. Do you discern between the two and are there any performance poems that you do not publish on the page?
SE: If there is a spectrum of poetry ranging from work that only can be appreciated on the page to work that only can be appreciated on the stage, I’d like to hope my work ends up somewhere in the middle. Most of the poets I admire also end up in that space (ie; Roger Bonair-Agard, Rachel McKibbens, Marty McConnell, Patricia Smith, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Yusef Komunyakaa, Lucille Clifton…I could go on). I am concerned with aurality, with aboutness, with emotional resonance—these are things that can be powerful on both the page and the stage. That said, I have always felt more confident in the craft of my written work than I have in my capabilities as a performer. At the end of the day, I just want to write good poems that move people. I do not read poems in front of people that I don’t think work on the page, and I do not try to publish poems that I don’t think work when read aloud.
SE: In my first round of reading poems, I look to eliminate poems that are poorly crafted, rely heavily on clichés, or are in other ways amateur. Once I narrow the field down to the 5%-10% of submissions that are competent, I really want to be moved and surprised. The question I always have in mind is, “Can I think of a good reason busy people should take time out of their days and read this?” I look for language that does things I haven’t thought of before. I look for emotional resonance. I really just want something to make me weep.
GER: Why are you a poet and what poets have inspired you in the craft?
SE: As far as why I am a poet, I go back and forth on that quite frequently—I have an economics degree; it seems that I ought to have figured out a more reasonable career for myself. But I seem hopelessly devoted to poetry. Poetry has been an important part of my life since I was around twelve. While some people turn to religion or therapy (which I am not knocking as reasonable, valid options) when they are struggling to understand something about the world or themselves, I turn to poetry. My patron saints are probably Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, and James Wright. As far as more contemporary poets go, I am very inspired by Eavan Boland, Lynda Hull, Lucille Clifton, Philip Levine, and Yusef Komunyakka.
SE: For the most part, I submit to magazines that have published emerging poets that I fancy. When I first started submitting, I found Duotrope to be very helpful. I also sometimes look at the acknowledgements pages in recently published poetry books that I like to see where the poets I admire are publishing their work. Also, as much as is possible, I try to read the most recent issue of a magazine before I submit.
GER: You describe yourself as a Teaching Artist. Share with us your activities in teaching.
SE: Often when I travel to give a reading in another city, I will also provide a poetry workshop in conjunction with those readings. I also teach at Cornell University.
GER: When not writing, teaching, attending class, editing and traveling what does Stevie Edward do?
SE: I like to drink hot toddies wrapped in a blanket reading poetry books or watching trashy reality television. I also like to go out dancing and/or consuming libations with friends on the weekends when possible. I’ve recently been getting more into going to the movies. During the four or so months of the year when the weather is nice in Ithaca, NY, I also enjoy spending time outdoors. Sunlight is really awesome.
You can read the poetry of Stevie Edwards in The Fox Chase Review at this link: http://www.foxchasereview.org/12SU/StevieEdwards.html and for everything Edwards visit: http://www.stevietheclumsy.com/
– g emil reutter