Glenda Bailey-Mershon

Bailey-Mershonsa-co-ni-ge / blue smoke: Southern Appalachian poems (Jane’s Stories Press Foundation, 2006)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks?

Hm. I have a lot of them, and my favorites vary from day to day. Today, I’m treasuring my copy of Wild Content by poet and jazz singer Linda Mitchell. I’ve recently acquired two more that I love, especially At Each Moment, Air, by Aliesa Zoecklein, and Dive, by Heather Sellers, both from Yellow Jacket Press.

Did these favorites influence your writing or your desire to make a chapbook of your own? How so?

Yes. I have always loved the personal tastes inherent in chapbook-making: the choices of paper, cover stock, spare images. Somehow there is a more intimate feel to a narrow volume of poetry or prose that  has been made to sit so unassumingly, in the hand. Whenever I see one that presents a terrific blend of title, visuals, and content, I get the urge to make a new one myself, an urge I sometimes have to resist, because I do other types of writing, too.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?

“An Incantation for My Grandmothers” appeared in an earlier form in Jane’s Stories I in 1998 as “Great Raw Woman.”

This poem sprang from my pondering the earth’s humming under my feet, its aliveness, its central place in my consciousness, and the connections to it from my own mind through the identities of my ancestors. I was primarily then thinking about my Native American ancestors (Tsalagi, Catawba)  but soon began to consider that the ties between my European ancestors and the lands of the Southern Appalachians were also unbreakably strong, partly because they had turned their backs on the coastal civilization early in the history of the United States, and had moved into a symbiotic, indeed, often a blood relationship with the mountain tribes. So I began to ponder how people from vastly different cultures approach each other, how they coexist, and those concerns became sa-co-ni-ge / blue smoke: Southern Appalachian Poems.

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

My love of history often leads me to examine the roots of current issues and the foundations of family and community. I am Romani, Tsalagi, Catawba, Scottish, Welsh, and English, so my work also tends to delve into ethnicity and prejudice. This particular chapbook examines the ways in which, amid a long, hard struggle for the Cherokee to hold onto their ancestral lands, their culture influenced and merged with the culture of those European settlers who displaced them and sometimes married into their clans, and later became either advocates for or members of the Tsalagi who returned to the Quallah Boundary. How do people adjust to new terrain? How does bitterness become resignation or acceptance? How do a people who have struggled with one another also exist as family? Those are some of the questions I wanted to answer in these poems.

What are you working on now?

In September, my first novel, Eve’s Garden, was published by Twisted Road Publications. It’s about three generations of a Romani-American family and their struggles for survival and acceptance. I’m now working on two more novels––The Man Who Loved Chocolate, an offbeat love story set in Chicago, and Provenance, a novel about a rich girl who questions how her family came by their wealth and what she deserves, set in my native upstate South Carolina.

What is your writing practice or process?

When I’m working well, it’s writing from 10 a.m. to noon every day, followed by a lunch break and another hour or so of editing in the afternoon. Exercise before and after.  I give myself periods off, when I wander or visit or take a break from words. Then I like to visit museums, soaking in new information.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

Check out the chapbook contests, but by all means get your work out there so that you don’t go to readings empty-handed, without something to offer when people say, “I’d love to have a copy of that.”

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