This week we catch up with Alarie Tennille, author of Waking on the Moon. Her poem Still With Me was featured on Dying Dahlia in October 2016.
What inspires you the most?
I’m inspired by many things, from family memories to quirky news, but looking at art is my surest cure for writer’s block. I’ve learned that art without a strong narrative works best for me, even abstract works I don’t understand. It’s easier to create something new when I’m not rehashing a Bible story or Greek myth that the painter has already told. Reading is also a great inspiration.
Since I retired five years ago, I honor my biorhythm and stay up to the wee hours when the house is quiet. My cats and I commune with the moon. My latest poetry collection, Waking on the Moon (Kelsay Books, April 2017) pays homage to Luna for her help, even though it also contains my usual art and family poems.
Who is your favorite woman writer?
I adore so many women writers. A few of my favorite poets are Jo McDougall, Jane Kenyon, Andrea Hollander, Maryfrances Wagner, Margaret Atwood, Lucille Clifton, and my critique group, Tina Hacker and Teresa Leggard.
What does your writing process look like?
Because I’m a night owl, I write mostly after 10:00 p.m. I don’t pressure myself to write every day since I did that for almost 30 years on the job. Retirement gives me more leisure. (Leisure means reading.) I do look for ideas every day. If I go more than a week without writing a poem, I force myself to sit down with paper and at least try. That rarely fails me. My critique group tells me I’m prolific. They wouldn’t be happy if I brought in 30 poems each month.
What advice do you have for fellow women writers?
My advice to all writers is the same. READ. Too many people fancy themselves as poets when they don’t read good poetry. By reading, you learn a lot about the craft and what you may be doing wrong. When you discover poets who write the way you want to write, cultivate them. Often the journals where they publish will also like you.
My second piece of advice is to join or start a CRITIQUE GROUP or at least find a couple of readers willing to tell you when a poem goes astray. It’s important that you find a group that suits you. They should be honest and offer helpful suggestions without making you give up hope. My group has only three writers, which is the ideal number for me. Too many poets can cause more confusion than help.
Women are more likely to feel all the family organizing and nurturing falls on their shoulders, so they often have trouble carving out time to write. Set aside some time twice a week if every day is too difficult. The good news is that most writing happens in your head. You can plan what you want to say between errands. If I think about a poem for a few days before I get to paper, the writing goes more smoothly.
What are you currently working on?
My next poetry collection started before the last one was published. Each new book begins with poems published too late to go into the previous book. Once I collect 20 or so, I inspect them for common themes to see how to direct more writing to the project. I’m also going to try publishing some poetry reviews in 2018.