Rita Sims Quillen

Something Solid to Anchor To (Finishing Line Press, 2014)

What is your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from earlier work?

Something Solid to Anchor To is a weird compilation of two things that are related in my artistic mind: poems about my late father, whom we lost suddenly in 2012, and my interest in ekphrasis—writing poems about photographs, other artwork, etc. The book cover is my favorite photo of my dad—taken by his father who became interested in photography after helping build the Eastman Kodak plant in Kingsport, TN. He built a darkroom in his well house behind his little country house in Hilton, VA, and took very interesting photos of his family, in particular, photographing his four children, making a most unique and revealing portrait of each one. And the poem about the cover photo is the last poem in the book.

I’ve always written about family and family history, but these poems are somewhat different in that there’s more experimentation here with form and shape and tone than is found in the earlier full-length books. Also, this chapbook has more attempts at narrative…. I’ve usually done just lyrics, for the most part.

How did you decide on length, arrangement, & title?

The title Something Solid to Anchor To is a bit long and unwieldy but it had to be the title… because it so resonates with me as a phrase that stands for my dad, and his dad, and his granddad… they were incredibly good, hard-working, responsible, family-centered people who took all forms of duty very seriously, as these poems illustrate. Then I think it dovetails nicely with ekphrasis—where you have this tangible photograph in your hand or in a book and you ‘anchor’ the poem to it. It’s a chapbook because I only had enough decent poems for that length. I didn’t want to wait and do a full-length book because I hope I’m done, more or less, with these poems about my dad. I don’t know. I haven’t written one in several months now, and that’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned. I’ve also stopped dreaming he came back to life—also a good thing.

What have you done to promote or publicize?

Well, that’s kind of unusual, because I’m just about to have my first novel come out, so I’ve been busy doing all the things novelists have to do these days: I made a really nice website, a Facebook author page, set up a Twitter account, and a Pinterest page! It’s exhausting! But a lot more people know who I am these days than before, so I’ve used those things to begin telling people a little about Something Solid, also. I’ve also published a great many of the poems in the chapbook—about half or maybe slightly more—in some good magazines, online mostly.

We’re just getting ready to start the pre-sales of my book, and we’ll do postcard mailings; Finishing Line uses Twitter and Pinterest quite effectively, I’ve noticed, to get your name, face, and title out there and make it part of the ‘buzz.’

I’ve got several readings and workshops scheduled already, and I’ll read from both the novel and the poetry book, even though it won’t be out until summer, in hopes of generating some interest.

What is your favorite prompt and revision technique?

This book contains a couple of poems that are part of a larger group of poems that I call informally “Trees I Have Loved” — it grew out of an exercise I did with KY poet Leatha Kendrick at the Hindman Settlement School Appalachian Writing Workshop many years ago, where she had us draw a “map of our childhood.” When I started drawing mine, I noticed that I kept drawing trees—lots of trees. So I immediately seized on the idea of writing about all those important trees. So I love that idea of drawing a map of your childhood–it’s just brilliant. Whatever your imagination focuses in on when you start doing something like that—it’s coming straight from your heart and your right brain—the meat and potatoes of poetry.

As far as revision, one little trick I always use is to go back through the poem –first thing after I get a whole draft down—and circle every article and preposition and verb. I try to remove the articles and prepositions when I can, and then really hone in on the verbs. They have to be muscular, hefty like a crossbeam, if possible.


Rita Sims Quillen’s novel Hiding Ezra will be out in March 2014; a chapter of the novel is included in the scholarly study of Appalachian dialect, Talking Appalachian, just published by the University of Kentucky Press. Her new book of poems, Something Solid to Anchor To, is due in 2014 from Finishing Line Press. One of six semi- finalists for the 2012-14 Poet Laureate of Virginia, she received a Pushcart nomination as well as a Best of the Net nomination in 2012. Her most recent collection Her Secret Dream from Wind Publications in Kentucky was named the Outstanding Poetry Book of the Year by the Appalachian Writers Association in 2008. She lives and farms on Early Autumn Farm in Scott County, Virginia.




Something in That Winter Light

I thought of you today
When brown leaves rained from racing clouds
And the sky burned through, fierce blue.
Rushing air hummed and droned
Like an organ bass pedal.
Trees jerked and bowed in amber light.
I placed you among them
A paper doll on a bright page
Just beyond the fence
Letting you lean on your shovel or rake or hoe
And look long and longer
At what you’re missing.

I thought of you today
Your back to me, head down
Walking away to some other place
Where light is all golden.
Just as in life,
You are somewhere else
A slow moving figure in the garden
Parting a mountain meadow far off
Fixing, mending, digging
Salvaging whatever you can.
You never speak in these visions.
You would think I wouldn’t bother
To dream without gifting us
All those missing words.
The wind rushes along, one sound
And syllable, whispering “See.”

I thought of you today.
When brown leaves rained from racing clouds.


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