The following interview with Holly Wren Spaulding was conducted by Liz Bedell, moderator of the Doing What You Love panel at this year’s WriteAngles conference.
Why did you become a writer? When did the writing bug first bite you?
I arrived in this world with writer’s DNA hidden in my cells, and because I grew up in a home full of books and readers and artists, my tendencies were encouraged. Without a TV to hold our attention, we were encouraged to entertain ourselves by making stuff up, drawing, acting, dancing it and making-believe. This served me well.
I wrote my first full-blown story (with chapters!) at age nine: my mother typed while I dictated an adventure tale about a girl who travels to Moscow to study ballet. In high school I was lucky enough to work with a poet through an Artist in the Schools program. The experience of finding my artistic kin was definitive. He was my first mentor and helped me begin my formal education as a poet
What is the most rewarding part of being a writer?
While there are real hazards to making one’s life in art, I wake up every day feeling so glad that I get to do this all day long. I’m free. I’m not in traffic, and I’m not spending my days in a big climate controlled office building, serving some corporation. As I see it, each day that’s my own, and each day that’s not owned by someone else, is a victory against all of the ways that it’s possible to waste my life.
Then there’s the reward (small, usually private, very quiet and very dear) of the poem itself. And that is another essential freedom. With poems I’m learning to live better by paying attention, by looking close, and by making the time to attend my experience with every part of myself.
The most frustrating?
Working for myself is existentially challenging. The frustration is how much of my life force goes into managing the uncertainty of my economic condition, and into reminding myself that it matters that I do this work. But so far I’ve proven to be constitutionally prepared for the bare knuckling that’s involved in this path, probably because I grew up within an immersive counter culture that critiqued capitalism and articulated its discontents.
Another thing is the pressure to market and promote one’s self and work. I would prefer to maintain my privacy. I would prefer to ignore social media for the most part. And I really and truly don’t care for the hustle that’s so much a part of the business of publishing. I find this not only frustrating, but unseemly and very much at odds with my ethos and sensibility. I’m not a writer so that people will know my name, or take interest in my clever quips via Twitter. I would prefer to read and write and think and teach. But that’s probably how most writers feel!
Can you tell us about your latest release?
This month marks the release of Pilgrim (Alice Green & Co.), a collection of what I’ve come to think of as epistles from the interior life of a solitary narrator interested in where and how the mundane meets the metaphysical. These poems are often under the influence of ancient Japanese poetic forms, and they’re attentive to the natural world, to the senses, to the body and the question of belonging.
What inspired it?
The collection took shape after about a year of writing more or less every morning. I was closing out my thirties and while I’d completed another full-length manuscript, I needed a new project; something that would feel more immediate and satisfying than the process of trying to publish those earlier poems. I’d just moved to Massachusetts and I wrote these poems from a sort of exile, I guess. I wrote them to keep company with myself.
I give my editor, Jill Peek, credit for recognizing which poems out of the many I submitted to her, belonged together. I really wanted to make something clear and intimate and delicate and I think we accomplished that with Pilgrim.
You’re sitting on the Doing What You Love: Sustaining Your Writerly Practice panel at this year’s conference. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re planning?
It’s easy to talk about these things, but to I tend to think that a lot of talk is cheap whereas “direct action gets the goods,” which is an expression associated with the Industrial Workers of the World, and others who organize to change the conditions of their labor.
My approach to this conversation is concrete and practical because I like solutions. I’m planning to bring my best ideas for how to address some of the common challenges we face when we sit down to work, and some suggestions for precipitating breakthroughs. I’ll want to talk about how to act serious if what we’re truly serious about writing. I’ll also bring a resource list and some writing prompts.
What are you working on now?
I’m thinking a lot about how to share this new book in a way that feels authentic and true to the work. I’m hoping to collaborate with a letterpress artist to create broadsides of some of the poems because I’m increasingly interested in the visual dimension of the poem. I am working on an idea for an outdoor installation and reading of the work, and unrelated to Pilgrim, I’m designing a workshop for high school art students in which we’ll create a large scale, collaborative installation using projected text, recorded heartbeats and instrumentation. It’s all related to my wish to find ways of bringing poetry off the page into other parts of life.
Where can we find you online?
My website www.hollywrenspaulding.com and I blog about poetry and teaching at www.thepoetryforge.com. You can find out more about my workshops, retreats and creative mentoring in both of those places.
Is there anything you would like to add?
Where a sustainable writing practice is concerned, it’s helpful to be among those who are similarly serious about their work. It’s helpful to cultivate a few trusted readers—or even one—who will engage you in conversations about what you’re doing. Certain books are especially good companions in the process, and I often recommend Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, and fellow panelist, Christian McEwen’s lovely book The World Enough and Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down. Finally, I don’t know what I would do without the influence and ongoing apprenticeship of the other poets I love and read every day. They show me the way.