Splitting the Soil (Finishing Line Press, 2014)
Interviewed by Emmalee Manes and Hannah Cole
You seem to be very passionate about reading your poems aloud. Do you feel that poetry is meant to be read aloud as well as silently? How do these experiences differ?
Yes, I am passionate about reading poems aloud! Poems are music; poems are lyrics. Good poems are inherently full of sounds that can be musical, sometimes cacophonous. When sound mimics emotion or the subject matter the poem sings. Even free verse should have assonance, consonance, musicality even if not in meters.
You are very right that poems are experienced differently when read aloud and when read silently. To experience the poem fully, one should read it aloud, as the line breaks, the diction, the syntax were selected for a reason. However, the experience differs the most when the poet herself reads aloud. I’ve had many discussions on this — sometimes very heated — with other poets. In the end, I believe that when we read aloud as poets, we need to make sure our audience will clearly understand the meaning of the poem, and this sometimes means reading through a line break in the name of clarity. On the page, the reader may see that the line break actually leads to more than one inference, but when reading a poem to an audience who has not read nor heard the poem, it makes more sense to read with clarity in mind.
What have you been thinking about lately?
What it means to be a feminist. I saw a call for submissions that asked for the poetry to engage linguistically and stylistically with feminist themes, and I’ve been thinking about that call for quite a bit now, wondering exactly what it is that the editors wish to see. I’m pondering how a theme is linguistically or stylistically “feminist” in nature, when the term feminist itself is so wildly loaded. Before I’d submit to this call, I’d have to define these terms in my own words, which I think may be the intent.
What does your writing process look like? What does it feel like? What does it taste like?
Writing tastes like sweet lemon-aide and is the color purple. Writing is always born from the chatter in my head, and I make it a point to write something every day, even if just dribble. I have a friend with whom I share a google doc folder and we both write in it. Most of the time we do not even comment on one another’s work, but we just expect new work to be there. This is the one way I’ve found to keep myself consistently writing. Try it.
What is the most frightening thing about writing poetry?
Revealing intimate emotions and being authentic. When I first began writing I felt as if I were walking out in the world nude. Now, several years into writing as a way of being present in the world, I’m much more comfortable with my naked self. I don’t even notice the stares.
In what ways do you draw inspiration from gardening—especially for Splitting the Soil?
When I garden I become lost in sensory details — the feel and smell of soil, of a tomato leaf when you stroke it. I feel the spikes on the squash leaves; I sweat and stink and ache from hand tilling a small garden. I focus only on the physical act in which I’m engaged, which in turn allows my subconscious or creative side to do its magic without me analyzing or butting in. I imagine gardening to me is what like running is to others. I’m just a terrible klutz, so it’s safer for me to dig and toil in the soil than attempt to run anywhere. (lol).
Do you have a favorite poem from Splitting the Soil? Is it possible to have favorites of your own work?
Oh, yes, it’s definitely possible to have favorites of one’s own work. My two favorites (see, I have more than one!) are “Ben Affleck is My Lover,” and “On the Discovery of Aspirin.” They are each different from one another, but I like the prose poem feel of “Ben” and how it represents desire and tells a very short story. I see “Aspirin” as left brain meeting right brain, as I researched the willow tree, its leaves, and the story I’d heard that aspirin came from such. When I verified it, I got creative and imagined why someone would eat the bark or leaves of a tree. Hence the poem.
In Splitting the Soil, several of your poems have an image of feet on earth (whether dirt or grass). Does this image reflect something deeper in your life or have some sort of emotional ties for you?
This is an excellent question that has been hanging around like a box that refuses to let me open it. I do believe the image of feet on earth has profound meaning for me, yet I do not yet know what it is. Thank you for this, as at some point it will come to me. Right now, I cannot articulate what the earth and my feet on it mean, except that when I was a young girl, my greatest joy in playing outside was to walk through the freshly tilled garden and feel the soil soft between my toes. It was cool and had its own scent. A sanctuary of sorts.
I think your poem “Madness” is very intriguing but has a different feel than the rest of your poems. Did you have a certain purpose for this or mean for it to stand out?
Really? “Madness” came from a prompt that Michael Chitwood gave at a workshop at Mountain Heritage Literary Festival one summer. I rather like the poem and had no idea it stood out. Madness is personified as an angry woman, or “frenemy” to use today’s lingo. I know a certain type of madness that comes in tiny spurts, and this poem gives her a look and attitude, along with lingering perfume (she probably shops at Perfumania – ha).
Even your name—Rosemary—seems to go along with your book. Has nature always been a part of your life? Was this influenced by your family?
Yes, nature has been a part of my life, yet I believe it was quite accidental. My father was a Methodist preacher in north Georgia. That meant that we moved every two to four years, always in the summer. I was/am an introvert. There was no way I was going to run out and introduce myself to other girls or boys — I was way too shy. I also couldn’t stand to stay inside all the time. So I wandered through the woods, to the pond, in the garden. I made mud pies. I swung on a tire swing, rode my bike down country roads, smelled chicken farms and cow manure on a daily basis. My safe place was nature. Even with the black widows and snakes and storms. My mother was a transplanted Yankee; Dad from Oklahoma. Yet we always had a garden, because that’s what you do in the rural South. You grow your own food, at least some of it. And so sustenance became tied together — both food for the body and food for the Self.
What do you delight in outside of writing poems?
I make journals. I once wondered why I was paying for journals when surely I could make one for free! Of course, these early journals were far from aesthetically pleasing, but I taught myself the bare basics. Then I took a class at the John C. Campbell Folk School and learned from a talented book artist, Chad Alice Hagen. Now I make one of a kind journals — books within books or with art in them, always blank pages for the owner. This form of creativity is wildly cathartic and expressive.
What is your hope for someone who reads your work?
That s/he feels less lonely in the world.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
I have the usual: read often and read everything. Think about what you read — what made it jump off the page (or what made it not). Never, ever think that what you have to say is not worthy. Write it. Let it sit for at least two weeks, then revisit. Go to workshops. Read poetry that makes your head hurt; read poetry that makes you cry; take the poems of others that you love and put them in a journal and read them again and again. Write because it makes you present in the world and write because doing so makes you feel less lonely in the world. Write, write, write.
Rosemary Royston is the author of Splitting the Soil, Finishing Line Press, 2014. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in the following: Appalachian Heritage, Southern Poetry Review, The Comstock Review, Main Street Rag, Town Creek, *82 Review, KUDZU, Coal Hill Review, STILL, New Southerner, FutureCycle, Flycatcher and others. She holds an MFA in Writing from Spalding University and teaches part-time at Young Harris College.
Town Creek Poetry, “Why You Should Go Outside at 4:40 am in November”