Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Writers on the Writing Process: An Interview with poet Teresa Schartel Narey

Teresa Schartel Narey
Teresa Schartel Narey's poetry and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in wicked alice, No Tokens, The New Yinzer, Poets' Quarterly, The Mom Egg, and elimae, among others.  She is a recipient of an Academy of American Poets University Prize.  She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband Daniel.

Laura Davis: Describe the process of making a recent poem or story. Lightning? Slow-dripping faucet? How long did you work on it? 

Teresa Schartel Narey: I am not sure what the correct analogy would be here, but I can tell you the last poem I wrote did not come out in one sitting. They rarely do. My husband and I were on vacation in Maine this summer, and I started to think about my family’s first attempt at vacationing when I was kid. That story is ripe with emotion, so like most of my poems, it began as a journal entry (see photo below), also known as “day 1” of my writing process. I tried to recall the event with just basic details—who, what, where, when, why, how—and then when I started to write the poem (day 2), I filled in the rest—emotions, inner-thoughts, dialogue, etc. In general, after a poem is written, I let it rest for a few days, maybe even longer if I struggled writing it. A struggle means I journal again, specifically about why writing the poem is hard for me and what I thought would happen in the poem versus what actually did. Usually this helps with revising the poem. In this case, I finished the poem without struggling, though I still have a phrase bolded because I might want to refine it at some point.

LD: How do you decide that you are finished working on a story, essay, or poem?

TSN: I always have a story to tell with my poems, so when the story is told, I know the poem is finished.  Also, the poem is finished when every word counts, and I have not forced the language of the poem to make a point or ended with a ta-da moment.

LD: How long have you been writing?

TSN: I have been writing since third grade, so about 21 years.  When I was nine, I read a poem in Highlights that was written by a girl my age.  I thought, If she can do it, so can I.  It is also when I learned that “great writers steal,” because I pretty much reused parts of her poem to write one of my own for a school assignment.

LD: Let’s talk about your writing soundscape. Do you listen to music? Cafe rumblings? White noise? Utter silence? 

TSN: When I write, I listen to wordless music and especially avoid recognizable tunes.  I do not want another artist’s lyrics taking over my poems or interrupting my thoughts so much that I am focusing more on the music than my poems.  With that said, I have been listening to Penguin Café Orchestra or Chopin while I write. 

LD: Beverage of choice?

TSN: I am obsessed with tulsi tea at the moment, especially tulsi masala.  It is a spicy herbal tea that has a calming effect and really helps me clear my head.  Definitely a winner in my book, especially when it is time to write.

Teresa Schartel Narey's journal excerpt 

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