While readying your submission to our 2015 1/2 K Prize, read our interview with 2014 winner Amy Woolard. Here she discusses her good friend David Lynch, the absence of poetry in the law, and her experience with returning to writing after a ten-year dry spell.
Amy Woolard is a public policy attorney working on foster care, juvenile justice, poverty, and homelessness issues in Virginia. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the University of Virginia School of Law. Her poems have appeared/are forthcoming in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Ploughshares, Gulf Coast, Court Green, Fence, The Journal, and Best New Poets 2013, among others, while her essays have run on Slate, Pacific Standard, The Rumpus, Indiewire, and elsewhere. She lives in Charlottesville, Va. You can also find her on Twitter @awoo_, and on her website, www.shift7.me.
What was your inspiration for the character of the girl in “The Girl Next Door to the Girl Next Door”?
I’m going to pass the mic to my good friend David Lynch on this one & hope it doesn’t come off as pompous of me:
“It limits it,” Lynch said, when asked why he’s reluctant to talk about his work in detail. “It stops people from intuiting and thinking on their own. Nothing should be added. Nothing should be subtracted. A film, a book, a painting—it’s done, and this is it. There’s a comfort when your ideas are realized. You’ve worked so that all the elements are working together and it feels complete and correct. Then you say it’s done. Then it goes out into the world but it doesn’t need any more explanation. It is what it is. In cinema, cinema is such a beautiful language—as soon as people finish a film, people want you to turn it into words. It’s kind of a sadness—for me, the words are limiting. Whereas this language is the language that you love. The language of cinema. It’s about love, is what it’s about.”
Seriously: I tend to write about two girls in various scenarios. They’re two actual girls at the same time as they are amalgamations. The poem is just a scene I’m shooting of them. It’s also about love.
The line, “A girl turns teenage on the back of a motorbike” seems to refer to the girl’s transition from child to adolescent. Why on the back of a motorbike? What, in your opinion, does this image lend to the experience of adolescence?
Because being on a motorbike is amazing.
Edit: Because being on a motorbike is what a poem should feel like. Breathless, terrifying, blurry, and going who-knows-where. I don’t necessarily think the girl has to be getting older in a literal sense. I suppose I think of it more as a kind of letting-go. A selfishness, and I don’t mean that as a pejorative.
Edit: I don’t have a good answer for this one, either.
Has your work as an attorney influenced your poetry? How? What about the reverse?
Try as I might to keep those lives separate, I’m sure there are ways both have affected each other. I hope my writing self has amplified my persuasiveness as an attorney and advocate. There are ways the personal is so important in legislative advocacy, for example, and I’d like to think my strengths as a writer help me to convey that. On the other hand, I’ve said before that there is no poetry in the law, and still believe that. One exception: criminal law has some of the most beautiful words in the English (and Latin) language: inchoate, larceny, mens rea, treason, exculpatory, nolo contendere. Stunners.
Is there anything you’ll never get tired of writing about? Why?
Sometimes I think the question for writers like me is “Is there anything you probably should get tired of writing about?” Charles Wright, my former writing professor and a longtime mentor of mine (I often call him my “poetry dad”) always talks about his poems as one poem, a thousand times. I’m always cautious about dead horses & whatnot—but I mean for me, a poem is a kind of come-on, a seduction. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that.
In an interview with The Atlantic you reveal that you stopped writing altogether for about 10 years. What motivated you to pick it back up? What advice would you give to others wishing to return to writing but struggling to do so?
There are times in my life when I’ve been fortunate to be able to step forward into my own health. Though I had some major accomplishments during that decade of non-writing (like finishing law school), I’d also been wrecked by grief over the sudden death of my closest friend, and nearly wrecked by a seven-year relationship I sometimes thought was out to end me entirely. Towards the 10-year mark, I was also finally diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and began to respond to treatment. The accumulation of all this—at times it felt like I’d just bled out. But turns out, for me there was life after wrecked-life. I’m very fortunate. The night before the actual day I wrote my first poem in 10 years (“Get Lost,” in VQR’s Spring 2013 issue), a friend had taken me to see Justin Townes Earle perform at The Mockingbird in Staunton, Va. That show—it changed me. For the first time in what felt like forever, I had that in-the-gut feeling of what language and music can do to a person, and made me want it again for myself.
Advice is easy to give, but really has to be couture to be meaningful, not ready-to-wear. I can say this: if it’s in you, it doesn’t go away. You don’t have to be writing to return to writing. Try returning to thinking, reading, absorbing first. See how that goes.
What was your process for putting together your ½ K submission last year? What advice would you give to potential entrants?
I’m a terrifically slow writer, so I didn’t have many free poems from which to choose. I also tend to write enough couplets to fill a page and no more (although I’ve been trying lately to write longer poems). And I’d already had a great experience with the Indiana Review staff a year prior. Given that trigonometry, the whole process became nearly automated.
What I’d say is this: submit the poem you’d really like to see in Indiana Review and know that contests can be wonderful, but can also be much more than that. The year before I won the 1/2 K Prize, I submitted to Indiana Review’s Poetry Prize. I didn’t win, as many people didn’t, but the editors did accept the poem for publication regardless. Get your work in front of people, is what I say.
Thoroughly enjoyed the interview and what Amy Woolard said about writing after a hiatus, proving that who we are and what we do well is always with us and that life experience autonomically feeds the artistic process when we choose to actually put words on paper or paint on canvas. And I appreciated her advice to just put your best work into the world and be pleasantly surprised with the outcome. Congratulations, Amy, and Thank You.