November 5, 2009

iScribe Interview Series - Alas, a Laura!

Name: Laura Tetreault
Major(s): English
Year of Graduation: 2010
Position: Featured Writer (Fall 2009, Spring 2010)

Word on the Creative Writing Street is you're applying to graduate school MFA programs. How is that going? What does your application and portfolio process entail? How is your process unique from other writers'?
Yes, word on the street is correct! It is a long and complicated process because I am applying to twelve schools. It is also terrifying because MFA programs are so competitive (depending on the school, usually anywhere from 0.5% to 5% of applicants are admitted). I routinely have panic attacks about my applications. That said, however, I really want to be accepted into an MFA program. I love poetry, I love other poets, and I love school, so it seems like the perfect thing to do.

I've become obsessed with revising my portfolio almost daily. Eleven out of the twelve schools want around ten pages of poetry, and one of them wants twenty. I don't even want to know how many times I have read those ten to twenty poems...

But I am trying to make them as good as they can possibly be before submitting them. Other than that, the main source of stress is the personal statement and all of the different programs' requirements for it. All I want to say is that I want to write, and I want to be surrounded by writers, so please accept me into your program so that I can do so (a generous funding offer would also be nice). The problem is turning that into 500-1500 words...

I'm not sure that my process is unique from other writers' - we allhave the same requirements. My process probably involves quite a bit more episodes of panic than other writers because I'm a very anxious person - but aren't many writers supposedly neurotic? In writing thestatement of purpose, I wished that I had some super-exciting nontraditional background to draw from, but I really don't, so I'm just writing it honestly and hoping my enthusiasm carries it.

When did you start writing poetry? How has your verse evolved overtime? Did you ever, say, rhyme in your work, or have a momentary obsession with concrete poems?
I started writing poetry when I was sixteen. I had written creatively before that, but my junior year in high school I took a creative writing class with a wonderful teacher who rebelled against the strict by-the-book teaching methods of our Catholic school and encouraged us to think in ways we hadn't been encouraged to think before. This class was my first creative writing workshop, where I really started exploring poetry. I loved the class so much that I took it over again my senior year.

I have always been fond of experimentation, even then, so my earliest poems (while certainly not very good) have a lot of playfulness in them and a sense of trying a lot of things - every time I learned about a new poetic concept I would try to create something out of it. I was actually really interested in form when I first started writing poetry. I would write a lot of pantoums and sestinas, play around with different rhyme schemes, and for a while I was quite attached totrochaic quadrameter... But I always felt a need to experiment beyond what traditional forms could do, especially since my favorite poets were ones who broke traditional forms (I fell in love with Whitman's work in high school, for example). I am still interested in form - I think that meter is important to my poetry, just not strict meter.

My poetry has evolved an enormous amount since I started writing it;it's been helped enormously by taking lots of creative writing workshops (thank you, English department, for letting me take ENG305 five times and keep getting credit). It is also constantly evolving -I have this huge desire to just try things, as I discover poets whose work I didn't formerly know, new ideas.

You're trapped on a desert island with one poet. Who is it? What do you talk about for eternity?
I have a lot of favorite poets so I considered a lot of options for answering this question, but eventually I decided to pick a poet notonly because I admire his work, but also because I think we would have a lot in common. So I chose e. e. cummings. Along with Whitman, he was one of my first poetic influences. His poetry is magical to me; it causes that particular ache that I feel when I read something that really captivates me. I mean, look at this: "until out of merely not nothing comes / only one snowflake (and we speak our names." What can you say to that, other than that it is enchanting? I think that he is one of the best love poets around (I'm frightfully romantic). I also love how most of his poetry can't be read aloud - how things appear on the page is very important to me, more than how poetry sounds when read aloud. I love his use of parentheses so that each poem is ever-unfolding, thoughts and images happening simultaneously and within each other.

While on the desert island, we would probably talk about how "this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart / i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)" and how "the coolness of your smile is stirring of birds between my arms." And about poetry, and our shared transcendentalist leanings, and punctuation. Yeah, we'd have a pretty good time.

You were the 2nd place winner of the Academy of American Poets contest last Spring. What was that like? Your winning poem appearsin this upcoming edition of The Independent Scribe. Tell us a little bit about this poem and what it means to you.
It was very exciting! I was grateful to get the recognition and to be in the company of the awesome writers who also won awards. It was also pretty neat that the Academy gave me a year-long free membership; they sent me a copy of the latest American Poet Magazine the other day,which I've been enjoying very much. The poem that won, "The Noise Behind Locked Doors," is very important to me. It's about a friend who was very dear to me as a teenager - she also wrote poetry, and my first experiments and investigations into poetry were shared with her. "The Noise" is quite a sad poem because it's about how this friend has had many struggles with mental illness and substance abuse, and it broke my heart - since she was always such a beautiful person, creatively. She moved across the country and I don't even know where she is or what she is doing anymore. But the poem is about this magical unique connection that we had as awkward sixteen-year-olds madly scribbling poetry in our notebooks in the backs of classrooms, and how this connection was unfortunately destroyed.

What is your writing process like for poetry? For other genres? Do you situate yourself in any strange places, need to be sipping any particular beverages... what really gets your writing juices flowing?
I always have ideas for poems floating around in my head - an image, a word or phrase, a rhythm, anything really. Usually the ideas are kind of in the background, but then invariably one of them starts jumping about and yelling at me and that's when I have to sit down and write apoem. I usually write at home at my computer desk. One thing I'm particular about is that I hate writing by hand - I have to type. This is because I think must more quickly than my hand moves, so the only way I can keep up is by typing. When I have an idea that I don't want to forget (and I will forget, being very absent minded), and I don't have access to a computer immediately, I scribble it down - usually on whatever's handy, like an old receipt. Then I get myself to a computer and try to discern the scribbles. I'm so annoyingly particular about needing to type rather than write by hand that I bought a mini laptoptop take around with me... Oh and also, I'm very fond of drinking hot wintery beverages while writing - hot chocolate, chai. Even in summer (but I like to pretend it is always fall or winter).

A crazy poetess has offered you a million dollars to stand on a soapbox in Times Square and read extremely loudly, over and over, one poem for one whole day. Do you take the money? If so, what poem would you read over and over?
I would do it! The crazy poetess sounds like my kind of person. And Iwould be getting rich while exposing the world to poetry (something that poets sadly do not usually get to do...). I would read "What the Living Do" by Marie Howe. In addition to being one of my favorite poems, I think it's a poem that many people walking through Times Square would connect to and benefit from. I would love to have someone read this poem loudly to me while I'm walking around, because what it's about is just what the title says - what people do daily, the small routines, the mundane, the ordinary - but it's really all a celebration of being alive. Go read it, it's beautiful.

If you could rewrite any famous poem and make it your own, which poem would it be and why? Would you alter a title, change one word, or hack apart the whole thing?
Yeats' "The Circus Animals' Desertion." After all, doesn't every poet wish they had written this: "Old kettles, old bottles, and a brokencan, / Old iron, old bones, that raving slut / who keeps the till. Nowthat my ladder's gone, / I must lie down where all the ladders start /In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart." I know I wish I had written that. I am tempted to say that I would redo it in free verse, but that feels kind of sacrilegious - Yeats is sacred and part of that sanctity is in the meter. I don't know if I could rewrite any famous poem - I admire them too much.

While we know you submit to contests and publications on campus, what other activities do you participate in that keep you involved in the URI writing community?
I try to go to the Read/Write events as often as I can - I really love getting the chance to attend readings given by visiting writers, andthey also bring the writers at URI together. Also, I have very recently started to get involved in the Pier Poetry Project, which was started by some URI alumni and other local residents who want to bring together a community of poets in Rhode Island. I went to a reading given by them last week in Westerly. Other than that, I am a writing tutor in the URI Writing Center. I wish I could be even more involved in starting a strong creative writing community at URI. I'm not really a leader type and I lack initiative, though (aka I'm lazy). But I really love the activities that I do participate in, and I love the community that is growing at URI.

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