Author Archives: Faith Thompson
In the latest interview in our series, Ampersand, we spoke with Robert Campbell about literary influences, reading one’s work aloud, and dreaming. Robert Campbell’s poems, “Labor #12″ and “Greek Rush,” appeared in Issue 33.
A&L: Who are some of your literary (or non-literary) influences?
Robert Campbell: I love Brigit Pegeen Kelly. Song is probably one of my favorite books. Also John Berryman, Dean Young, and Elizabeth Bishop. My favorite poet is Emily Dickinson, whose work, I believe, is still being taught to young people everywhere in a pitiful, belittling way that is really unworthy of her. Mary Ruefle writes about Dickinson really beautifully. Occasionally, I find myself influenced by folklore, landscapes, and horror films. All kinds of things. I’m drawn to images and topics that feel strange and lonely.
A&L: Describe your writing space. Where do you write most often? What is your routine?
RC: I do have a dedicated home office, which is an incredible privilege, but I can’t say I write there regularly. Honestly, I have written on my phone, on receipts, in the margins of junk-mail, anywhere. I usually begin a poem with an image or a line, and I try to keep a running “pool” of these self-prompts so that I can draw them out when I have sustained time to write. Some folks really benefit from regularly scheduled writing time, but it has never worked for me. In the early stages of a poem, I rarely sit down to write. That probably sounds strange, but I rarely write the first couple of lines of a poem until I’ve rolled them around in my head and in my mouth for a little bit to see how they feel.
A&L: Do you enjoy reading you work aloud? Centuries ago, poems, and stories were most often sung, not read. How’s your singing voice?
RC: Honestly, I usually do not enjoy reading my work aloud. I’m not sure why that is. I often feel as though my presence and voice lessen the impact the work might have without me. It’s unfashionable to admit to a lack of confidence, but there it is. My voice is kind of nasal, and it has a slight Southern drawl, sort of like drunk bees. As a gay man, I do worry about being perceived as having an “effeminate” voice and that affecting how readers hear my work. I don’t hear a lot of folks talking about this, but I think male poets with deep, burly voices are more confident as readers. Is there a service available to poets who want someone else to read their work for them? (Joking.) Seriously, though, there are some fantastic readers out there, and I’m often envious of people who shine in that way and enjoy performing their work. I feel that I have a lot to learn from them.
A&L: You seem to be interested in exploring dreams and the dreamlike in your poetry. What is the role of dreaming in the creative process?
RC: Wallace Stevens would say that the imagination is integral to the experience of phenomena, and I agree. I think we are always dreaming, by which I mean, we perceive the world in an associative, disjointed way. In that sense, to write in what we would call a “dream-like” way is really just expressing our actual, lived modes of perception, which are disruptive and non-linear by nature. By accepting ourselves as creatures who are, in a sense, always dreaming, I think we arrive at work that is not only interesting, but revealing and true, often truer than the “true” stories we tell about ourselves and our world.
Robert Campbell is the author of the chapbook In the Herald of Improbable Misfortunes (Etchings Press, 2018). His poetry and criticism have appeared in Tupelo Quarterly, Columbia Poetry Review, River Styx, and many other journals. Robert holds an MFA in poetry from Murray State University and an MS in library science from the University of Kentucky. He lives with his partner and animals on a winding country road in the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky.
Announcing the Winners of the 2018 Arts & Letters Prizes in Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, & Poetry!
Winners receive $1000 and publication in the upcoming Fall 2018 issue of Arts & Letters.
Arts & Letters Prize for Fiction:
R. M. Kinder, “A Common Person”
Judge: Melissa Pritchard
“I found much to admire in ‘A Common Person.’ The story’s clever premise, the crosscurrents of humor and suspense in a well-paced narrative, the quiet, sophisticated use of language, and above all, the author’s compassionate but fierce portrayal of a woman who finds her life turned upside down because of a flippant online comment rescinded seconds too late. What ensues…brilliantly depicts the vague, ominous sense of surveillance under which we all live today.”
Finalist: Antonia Angress, “Pilgrim”
Susan Atefat Prize for Creative Nonfiction:
Megan Harlan, “Mobile Home”
Judge: Joni Tevis
“I appreciated the writer’s skillful weaving of personal narrative, architectural history, place detail, and Wizard of Oz material, and I found the narrator’s voice to be clear and compelling throughout.”
Finalists: Bettye Kearse, “Visiting”; Jill Logan, “The People’s Exhibit”; and Keith S. Wilson, “Parable of the Lobster”
Rumi Prize for Poetry:
Keith S. Wilson, “letter begun to my future niece” and “Long Tail”
Judge: Alfred Corn
“Invention, passion, subtlety, thought, melody: these are the qualities I look for in poetry, and they are all found in Keith Wilson’s poems. Congratulations to him.”
Finalists: Jennifer Elmore, Justin Hunt, Mariana Lin, and Brandon Rushton
Many congratulations to all of our winners and finalists. 2019 Prize submissions will open in February. Look out for the announcement of the winner of the Drama Prize soon!
In the latest in our Ampersand Interview Series, we spoke with Shawndra Miller about writing to women, creative spaces, and “madness.” Miller was the winner of the 2017 Unclassifiable Contest for the piece “Bleeding the Butterfly,” which appeared in Issue 36.
A&L: Describe your writing space. Where do you write most often? What is your routine?
Shawndra Miller: I write in a corner of our guest room, which is ground level with a nice view of our small back yard. I have my research books and notebooks right there for easy access. My desk faces the window so I can see my little garden and watch neighborhood cats traipse through the yard. Usually my big poodle Opal sprawls on the floor and my cat Edgar either provides entertaining distraction or curls up behind me on my chair.
As far as routine, I tend to work on my writing projects in a very nonlinear fashion, but in a framework of committed time. Mornings seem to be best for focused output in my case. So I will tell myself: This week I’m working on the manuscript 90 minutes a day, right after breakfast. Then my goal is to stay in the chair and keep at it—without distracting myself through email or social media. (I use a blocking program that keeps me from wandering too far into Internetville if I need to check a historical detail or word choice.) What I do during that 90 minutes can vary widely, from generating new scenes to smoothing structural problems to polishing and editing. But it all adds up to consistent work that, over time, yields a book-length work.
I also keep a small notebook handy when I’m out and about, for jotting ideas as they come to me, and a pad of paper for those nocturnal surprises (which are sometimes indecipherable in the morning!).
A&L: In blurring the boundaries of genre and form, how are you able to excavate your subject in ways that a single genre would restrict?
SM: I’m intrigued by the intersection of what we would consider known reality and the felt realities that are harder to quantify. So much truth lies buried, even in what we think we know for a fact. For example, how does a chronic illness arise, what are the reasons for it, and what role might the mind’s unseen workings play in sustaining or ameliorating illness? My book project, of which “Bleeding the Butterfly” is a part, imagines the lives of late 19th-century women who were largely hidden away in the mental institution, in a building that was buried under ground after its demolition. To develop the fictionalized portrayals of “inmates” (yes, they were called that back then), I reviewed intake records from the state archives. From the sketchiest information, I let my imagination roam, informed by contextual research. This gave me the freedom to explore themes that connected to my personal history. The interplay between their fictionalized stories and my own true one created a different kind of tension and a broader window on women and “madness.”
A&L: Do you write with a lot of conscious audience awareness during your first drafts?
SM: Generally, I write to figure things out for myself. If there’s an audience in mind, it’s “women like me”—encompassing all the women I have been so far: the sick women, the impassioned women, the ones who feel “different” in some way, the geeks and lesbians and seekers, and women in midlife coming into their own.