I recently received a forwarded email, by way of my editor, from a person wanting to interview me about my first book, Flood Bloom. I couldn’t find anything out about this person through googling and was a little skeptical of both him and the interview, but decided to give it a shot. Sometimes I struggle to reflect on my work, and I often get a lot out of interviews—when people ask me questions I think very deeply about my work and sometimes I grow quite a bit from this process.

If only that were the case this time.

I received the following first question: “Let’s start with something simple, characters. I love how much range your book has with them. The scene can shift from girls at the beach eating burritos in Only We Don’t Know Why, to the fight for survival, in the Big Adventure sequence. My question comes back to the girls at the beach though. Sun tanned, bikini clad women, show up quite a bit in the book. How do you feel about utilizing characters with stereotypes behind them, and using those so called, “clichés” to really show the existence of these people?”

I read this and felt a little stunned. I wasn’t aware that “bikini clad women show up quite a bit in the book.” I make it a point to avoid reading poetry that objectifies women and felt horrified that I might do that in my book.

Then I thought a little more. I have written quite a bit about the beach, as I grew up in South Florida and then lived there for two years after graduate school. But, the thing is, I wrote Flood Bloom while in graduate school. In Massachusetts. And while Flood Bloom includes some Florida poems, the book’s most prevalent landscape is woods. And the particular poem mentioned in the question, “Only We Don’t Know Why,” describes the characters in the poem as wearing “lamé leggings / and fur-lined cardigans” and also includes the place word “courtyard.” Not to mention that the girls don’t even eat burritos; the “we” in the poem eat the burritos. Bottom line, this is not a poem about “girls at the beach eating burritos.”

I reread the entire book and found one poem that references girls who are likely wearing bathing suits. The poem is set at a pond and the girls are described as reposing on rafts. So, the bathing suits are implied, I suppose. But that’s a big distinction to me. These girls are not objectified. Their bodies are not the focus.

Now I felt angry. Angry that someone would read my work in a cursory manner and then ask questions based on non-existent content. Angry that someone would ask me why I use “stereotypes” and “clichés” in my writing; whether or not the content is there, this question itself is insulting. And ultimately angry that I then had to question if my author photo contributed to this line of questions. After all, I’m a young woman and in my photo I’m wearing a spaghetti-strap top. In my bio I divulge being from Florida.

Given the nonexistence of this content in my work, I have no choice but to read this question as a response not to my work, but to me.

My sister was in town when I received this email and she, my husband and I spent a lot of time talking about how to respond. I could ignore it entirely, which felt appealing. Or I could write him back, pointing out his mis-readings, which would hopefully challenge him to assess his own assumptions. I’m a teacher, so I chose the second one. My sister is a badass, so she encouraged that.

I responded with this: “I’m curious as to where you’re reading ‘sun tanned bikini clad women’ in this book.  For example, in the poem you referenced, the only setting word is ‘courtyard’ and the twins are described as wearing cardigans and leggings.  And flipping through I can only really see one poem that suggests women who are likely in bathing suits (“Ultraviolet”) and their bodies (tanned or not, bikinis or otherwise) are not focused on or specified. I’m struggling with answering a content-based question when I don’t see that content as present in the writing.”

His response began with the following sentences: “Thank you for outright saying that, those bikini clad stereotypes are not in the reading for you, I know some people would dodge around that and try to answer the question anyway. I must have committed the reader’s sin and read the author biography midway through the book, I saw Florida, and having never been, all the media portrayal, and my own personal thoughts of the state flooded in.”

Did you catch that? The content is not in the reading FOR ME.

Subtext: It’s there; you just don’t see it.

Subtext: Regardless of the care you take in your writing, the specificity of language that you employ as a poet, I will persistently read your work through my own lens, which, given the particular content of this question, means the lens of your appearance + your bio + how I choose to read that.

Oh, and also I get a big old pat on the back for being straightforward.

Subtext: That ‘a girl.

At the end of all this, I feel a little ashamed of myself that I initially questioned my work, that I looked though my book for potentially objectifying language or imagery. When I lived in South Florida between 2012-2014 I did write a lot about the ocean and the beach, and even some about the objectification I experienced as a woman on the beach. But, of course, I don’t see women as objects so I could never (even unintentionally) write them that way.

I look back at the interviewer’s question, particularly the phrase “these people” and I don’t quite understand it. People who wear bathing suits at the beach? Would that not be all people? I suppose wearing bathing suits while at the beach is cliché, the way that, say, wearing spacesuits while on the moon is cliché.

But I look back at that word “girl,” the words “bikini-clad” and “sun-tanned,” and realize “these people” are those whose bodies are so apt for objectification. Those young women whose bodies are read as sexualized even when they just want to cool down at the beach, read a book, chat with friends, eat burritos. The lovely women reposing on rafts, who I admire for their friendship, will always be objectified by some, by virtue of their existence. It turns out I know a lot about “these people.” I am one.

Writing Habits / Writer’s Guilt


When it comes to writing habits, I always throw myself headlong into the one that’s working, knowing that it will only work so long.

I find a habit (going to the same coffee shop for a set amount of time each week, getting the same drink and treat and writing until I work through them, people watching all along OR writing only at my kitchen table and only on paper OR writing right before bed, while actually lying in bed and then waking up and editing last night’s writing in the morning OR whatever) and I fall in love with it, but I know deep down, that our love is doomed. As much as I want to write, as much as I love writing when I’m doing it, I still, somehow, try to avoid writing. A new routine excites me; it gives me a sense of purpose; it keeps me focused. Until it doesn’t. And I’m people watching more than writing, or writing at the kitchen table, still, but also while eating, or writing before bed, but going to bed so late that I’m too tired to scribble out more than a few incoherent lines before falling fast asleep.

I once wrote a whole book-length manuscript by tricking myself into sitting down and shuffling cards before writing. That worked for a while, but soon I found myself playing a game of solitaire before writing. And that was fine, until I became intent on winning a game of solitaire before writing. At which point, a lot of solitaire was happening and not a lot of writing. See what I mean? I trick myself, but I can only stay tricked so long.

I do not know if other writers have this problem.

I am coming off a good nearly two-year run of waking at 6am to write. This habit seemed like one that might stick. It worked for me and I worked for it. I felt a sense of pride at typing away in the dark—the same pride I got from taking long early morning runs and then grabbing coffee from a coffee shop with the superior smug face of a person who has already finished their run while others wander sleepy-eyed into the day. There is a long history of poets waking early to write. The whole process has a monastic—nearly ascetic—appeal. For nearly two years I could count myself among the solemn and hard-working dawn patrol, the serious writers who put in the time.

I find myself now in the unfortunate space that comes between writing habits. The 6 am routine has stopped working but I have yet to settle on what’s next. This is the unavoidable mullet phase that happens when you grow out short hair.

When I think of writing as a relationship I understand the trouble: I neglect and take it for granted, like the others I love most. Always, I have felt, have known, that at any point I could sit down and write. The other annoyances of the day must come first—they must!—because if I neglect them and write first, write is all I will do.

That has become less and less true as my life becomes busier. Or perhaps more true? Either way, the writing has become less inevitable, more pushed off. This makes the impending uselessness of a once-workable writing habit a sad death. It is hard and uncomfortable for a relationship to change. To meet someone where they are with their new needs. To ensure clarity: I don’t suffer from any illusion—writing is the constant. I change. Writing is loyal and I am a scamp.

Because I know I am a scamp, I must question my own motives. I see the convenience in determining that the 6am thing is NOT WORKING ANYMORE because I desire to sleep in. I wonder, without any alternative to turn to, how can I justify the begging off that is stopping it?

But then, to whom am I justifying?

And here comes the crux of it—writer’s guilt. Constantly I feel wracked by writer’s guilt—the terrible feeling (knowing!) that I have not written enough, have not challenged myself enough, simply have not made enough. The guilt follows me everywhere like an overeager pet.

I have talked to many other writers about this guilt—the condition seems universal.

I know I am a writer because I have this guilt.

I know I am a teacher because I lesson plan, teach, grade, hold office hours and my name is on a door. Also, I get those paychecks. Even during a summer when I don’t teach classes, I still know I am a teacher, but writing is a much different vocation. Maybe because we don’t get financial feedback? Because we’re doing it for the good of it? Except when we’re not. Because it gets hard to call yourself an artist when you mostly grade papers and watch the Gilmore girls and make new soups.

At any point one is either writing or not writing. While writing one can identify as a writer. While not writing, we need this guilt to remember who we are and what we want. The guilt makes us writers or at least helps us remember to identify that way. Maybe I should go back to speaking only for myself.

However, the writing guilt can feel very unproductive. Can make it seem like my writing energy gets drained on all this not-writing. I need to know (now and always): what of all this will facilitate me making the best shit?

I’ve arrived again at a cataract where I spin and spin for a while before shooting myself out on a new tributary. In the meantime, during the spinning, here I am writing about writing, waiting for the actual writing to kick back in.

Details of the Day: September 27

– sun shining directly on porch, looks inviting but too hot to sit

– sky looks like fall, air feels like summer

– pangs for the ocean and autumn in New England

– talked with mom about Steinbeck, Vonnegut, dragonflies, eugenics and the Jim Crow South

– leftover risotto for lunch + a plum that feels too firm but tastes ripe

– snapdragons dying on the table

– Library books from last week’s trip stacked like a brag: Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen, Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner, The Artist’s Reality by Rothko, U. S. ! by Chris Bachelder, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by Eliot & This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

– reading a little of everything + Kelin Loe’s These are the Gloria Stories

– pre- meeting-an-old-friend-for-coffee nerves

– wearing favorite dress like security blanket

– ran out of polish remover, one hot pink toe

An Unfortunate Series of Event, or That is NOT a Compliment


Roughly two years ago I experienced an odd series of events that has been itching at the back of my mind ever since. More than odd, it was pretty irking and more than “events” it was the same event, three times, in slightly different contexts. So, an unfortunate series of event? We’ll work on the name.

The event was this: on three separate occasions males told me, in a complimentary tone, that I looked like a Barbie.

First off, in case there’s anyone reading this who doesn’t actually know me (unlikely) let’s just clear up that I don’t look like a Barbie doll. There are those women who spend a lot of time and surgery trying to look like a Barbie and I am not one of those women. I am a much more typical woman, fairly unremarkable looking, albeit tall and on the thin side with long, blondish (bronde—I’m told that the color is bronde) hair.

So, I resemble Barbie as much as, say, any guy with brown hair resembles Jon Hamm, which is to say, they resemble each other in that they are people. Except wait, no, because I don’t even resemble Barbie that much because she is not a person. But she is person-shaped? Except, no, she’s not even truly person-shaped. So I resemble Barbie the way Jon Hamm resembles a GI Joe. Except maybe even less than that, now that I’m google-image-searching “Jon Hamm GI Joe.”

I think I understand what these gentlemen meant. I understand that they were saying something like, “you resemble typical beauty standards.” I understand it was meant as a compliment. But my brain won’t let me process it like that, because it’s not that simple.

The first time this happened a teenage relative of mine said it—Someone who speaks his mind fairly freely, undeniably has no attraction to me, and typically makes no comment on my physical appearance, period. It surprised me to hear him say anything about my looks and I thought, what a funny kid and didn’t follow the thought much further. Until it happened twice more in a three week period.

The other two times were more the scenario you’d imagine—grown men I don’t know giving what they think is a killer compliment.

The thing is, I don’t think being anything like Barbie is a compliment, and I think many women would agree with me. First off, we all know about her unrealistic measurements and the fact that the first Teen Talk Barbie said “Math class is tough!” We all know that the term “Barbie” is basically a synonym for bimbo.

When I think of Barbie I remember a time when, as a college student, a female friend and I discussed a third female friend, whose body we thought was perfect. One or the other of us said, “her breasts are so perfect they look fake, but they’re not.” As that sentence came out, we both felt a little strange about it, both realized how screwy it was. Now, I’m certainly not saying that plastic surgery is wrong or bad. I’m certainly not saying that women (or men) should or should not have plastic surgery. What I am saying is that a beauty standard being set by something seemingly unachievable in nature is pretty effed. And that, further than that, beauty “standards” in general are effed, since one of the beautiful things about the human race is its capacity for variety in forms.

However, in the context of being compared to a Barbie, more troubling than her simple appearance is her mechanism: Barbie is a doll. She cannot move on her own. She cannot speak, even, unless the right button is pushed. And the full range of what she might say has already been programmed.

I am reminded of a strip joint I walked by in Key West years ago, called “Living Dolls,” and how that name has haunted me. How not all—not even most—but some men want not real women as companions, but living dolls, who act, move, dress, speak and screw like they want.

I am reminded of a past relationship where my boyfriend told me how to dress, how to dye my hair. I remember him writing an essay for a creative nonfiction class where my character was not even given a name. I remember his petulance when I was accepted to a competitive study abroad program and he was not. I remember being shocked that this came as a surprise to him; I had always been the better student. I remember thinking, he wants me to be smart enough to make him look good, but not so smart he feels inferior. I remember that right before we broke up he gave me a list of graduate schools where he wanted me to apply. I remember that he did that in the library, right in front of a friend, and how humiliating it was. That the friend and I walked outside and she told me it was like he wanted a porcelain doll and not a girlfriend. That I said, I think I have to break up with him and she said, you do.

I remember how when I cut him out and changed my hair he laughed and said a haircut wouldn’t change anything. I remember that it took weeks to actually break up because he didn’t listen to me, didn’t accept what I was saying. I remember that in the final conversation he hissed you’ll always be crazy, a last ditch effort to control.

Now I feel as though I hardly know the girl who dated him. But I can see how she was stiff yet accommodating. I can see the way she shrunk and contorted herself to make room for a man who did not desire her wholeness. I can see calling her a Barbie. But even that would be cruel.

Adventures in Public Libraries


Whenever I move to a new place I really start to feel like a local once I have my public library card. 

I love libraries and I love library cards. When I was a fairly little kid my mom got me my very own library card and told me about being responsible and returning books on time, etc., and then we went to the library once a week. Three things: 1-when you have a ton of siblings, not very many things are yours and just yours, 2- when you have a ton of siblings, places are very seldom quiet and 3- the library is maybe the only place where my mother said yes to getting everything I wanted. Thus began a long and beautiful friendship with the public library system.

[Side note: Once when I was doing placement test assessment for incoming college freshman one of them proposed in his essay that library cards should be free. He was really going for a tone of righteous indignation. So close.]

I moved to Denver exactly a month ago and a little over two weeks ago I walked to the closest public library branch to get my library card. Before going I checked out the catalog online so I might have some ideas of what I’d look for. 

Something I always do at a new library is check for a random poet– someone I’m sure they’ll have– and get the call number just so I can find the poetry section easily. This time I searched “Emily Dickinson” and was really shocked and pleased when The Emily Dickinson Reader by Paul Legault showed up. I thought, man this library must have a pretty great contemporary poetry section!

Off I went to the library, anticipating this sweet poetry section, thinking Denver is so magical (and it totally is) and I was a little surprised when I saw the library and it was very very small. We could call it adorable. And I was still thinking, wow, with such a small library they still have a good poetry section; that’s awesome!

First, of course, I get my library card so I’m legit. One cool thing is that you get to pick the color of your card. I chose purple, obvy. Then I head on back to search for Legault’s book when I realize that the library does not have an extensive contemporary poetry section– they have an almost non-existent contemporary poetry section– about the size someone would anticipate from a library its size.  What they do have, is a slightly larger humor section, and that’s where The Emily Dickinson Reader is– right between Stuff White People Like and This is a Book by Dimitri Martin. Which is actually, given the book, kind of not even that wrong.

And I laughed and laughed.  But like, quietly– it was a library and I’m not a maniac.

I already own The Emily Dickinson Reader, so I left without any poetry but with two books about epidemics! Yay! And then there’s an ice cream parlor across the street from the library! So many wins!

Oh, and if you haven’t already you should totally read The Emily Dickinson Reader by Paul Legault. You can buy it here.


Details of the Day: July 30


– Flowers bought 12 days ago are still in bloom

– Toast with peanut butter and honey for breakfast

– Berries, always

– Inexplicable honey everywhere

– Overcast with England-like drizzle

– Considered many documentaries, landed on Tiny

– Videochatted with five-year-old nephew and learned many things about many sharks

– He wants to pet a basking shark so bad because they are “completely harmless”

– Considered many nail polishes, landed on “tart deco”

– Reading Lucy Ives’ Orange Roses


Writing Blog Tour

Alright! Kate Litterer invited me to post as part of the Writing Blog Tour. If you haven’t done so already, you should check out Kate’s post, where she talks about her Ghosty Boo poem, which sounds like the shit. Here goes:

    1.What am I working on?



Right now I’m pretty all over the place. I am currently editing a manuscript that will be published in the winter. You can check out a long poem from that manuscript here. I also have another book-length poem manuscript on the back burner that I haven’t worked on since December. Then I have two chapbooks I’m trying to get ready to send around, a long poem/poem series in the works, another series/long poem I just started and another thing I’m researching for.

I know, I know! I should focus. But the thing is, my brain is pulling in a lot of different directions and I’m letting it because I’m hoping something new and exciting can come from one or more of these little forays. Plus, I just moved across the country, am between jobs and haven’t figured out a new writing schedule for myself, so I’m doing the best I can! Jeez!

I’ll try to say a little (very little) about each of these different things. 1-The first manuscript is called The Bicycle Year—you can check out more information about that here. 2-The second (back burner) manuscript is currently untitled, but takes on questions of science in a manner similar to Saint Exupéry’s in The Little Prince, using multiple voices and modes throughout. 3. Chapbook manuscripts: one called White Twilight Object and another called Married Life. Maybe that’s all I’ll say here. 4. Long poem/ series: “Apple Hill Farm”—a return to prose poems for me; a strange world on a strange farm. 5. New long poem/series: titled “If I ruled the zoo.” I am imagining that maybe this and “Apple Hill Farm” could exist as some sort of split-side chapbook. And finally, 6. I’m researching epidemics and contagion narratives in the hopes of poems coming from that. Who knows?

Also, if you haven’t read The Little Prince in a while, read it.  Just. Read it.

  1. How does my work differ from others of its genre?  

I’m not sure how my work differs from others’ poetry. I struggle, often, to say what my work does, whereas I can see that clearly with others.’ In all honesty, I maintain a sort of willful ignorance about my own work until I’ve finished/it’s published and out there. If I get onto myself—if I know what I’m doing—I tend to fuck it all up. I never want to be too smart for my own good—or for my poems to read that way—and so I run the other way. I will say that I try to write things that make me feel unsure and even physically uncomfortable because then I know, at least, that the writing will differ from my own previous work.

  1. Why do I write what I do?

I write what feels necessary to me. I don’t know that that’s a good answer. I write the things that feel juicy. Usually when writing I get this very distinct physical sensation in my chest that let’s me know things are going well. If I can’t find that, I stop writing what I’m writing. I don’t know what that feeling is, but if anyone does, please don’t tell me.


(It feels a little like this, but inside your chest)

  1. How does your writing process work?

I cycle in and out of writing processes. As soon as I get too comfortable with something, I start to cheat and it stops working. For the past two academic years, I have gotten up at six every morning to write, and that worked well for me for a time and then felt a little forced. I’ve fallen out of that for the summer and don’t know whether or not I’ll go back in the fall. Maybe it will feel fresh and new again. Right now I’ve been using reading to fuel my excitement for writing, and I’ve been allowing myself to work in an unstructured way to try and accommodate the many different paths my writing is trying to take right now. Honestly, more often that not, I don’t write as often or for as long as I would like. But I’m actively practicing being okay with that. I’m just working on sitting in my chair.



(When I sit in my chair, I get to see these guys. Note that my succulents are as of yet still alive.)

Welp, that’s about it. Next up on the Writing Blog Tour:

Alexis Orgera at & Tyler Gobble at

Possum Got Me

This morning I nicked my ankle shaving for the first time in a very long time. I slept horribly last night; I dreamed several times of my grandmother’s house and once, just before waking, that Beyonce and Jay-Z took me to their home in the Hamptons and their daughter, aged 10 or so (played by Quvenzhane Wallis) kept chewing up and spitting out tortilla chips on these white steps in the garden. To be fair, I’ve never been to the Hamptons but I have read The Great Gatsby, so my picture of the whole thing could be off.

I digress.

I was tired and that is likely why I nicked my ankle. Which made me look, of course, to my other ankle, where I have a small scar from where the possum got me.

To be clear, I was never attacked by a possum. But I did, once, after seeing a possum in my front yard one night and becoming so terrified, decide to shower and—still shaken—cut myself while shaving. This is no serious scar, but it is visible and on the larger side as shaving cuts are concerned, and whenever I see it I genuinely think that is where the possum got me. And then I have to retell myself the real story. Or at least, part of the real story.

I wish the real story ended there. I like that story. That quippy—I forget that I was not bitten/scratched/mauled by a possum sometimes—story. But the real story is twice as long, because, in freshman year of high school, a drama teacher I liked very much told me the exact same story, as it had happened to her.

[SIDE NOTE: I only lasted a few months in drama before I staged some stubborn protest against the jackass main drama teacher, Mr M. ADDITIONAL SIDE NOTE: When Mr. M retired, a friend who had stayed in drama, KZ, told another friend, KB, and I that Mr. M had moved to a farm on the west coast. For about a week, KB kept asking people if they’d heard Mr. M had died, because she had understood “moved to a farm on the west coast” as a euphemism. Because drama teachers are like cats?]

In some drama icebreaker, we were all asked to tell a story that we like to tell and the teacher told us her endearing story about the possum scar. And I liked it. I liked her. BUT I DID NOT JUST TAKE HER STORY. I did two years later see a possum in my yard and become genuinely terrified. And I did, after seeing that possum, cut myself shaving.

As an adult I ask myself if I cut myself shaving on purpose after seeing the possum. If maybe I was a little overly shaky. Or if maybe, I didn’t really need to shave my legs that night, but thought, oh what the hell? I don’t really know. I certainly didn’t think, mid-possum encounter, well my lucky stars, a possum! Now all I have to do is shave those legs! I do know that I wanted that story and then I acquired it as my own.

In my case this has been pretty harmless. I get to tell the story as though it happened to me, because it did, in fact, happen to me. But story snatching can get very complicated, appropriating. Maybe sometimes it is dangerous. I know this, and yet I feel like that type of criminal nearly every time I write, and often times when I listen to people. If I like a story, I want to make it mine. If I like a line, I remember it, to steal it. Occupational hazard? Or am I just a jerk?

While I ponder that, I’ll leave you with this:
Now just practice your fancy knife skills, and you, too, can have a possum scar!

I grew up Catholic, so I’ll christen this

It’s 2014 and while I have been encouraged to start a blog for my writing over the years I often said things like, “what is a domain?” [Actual text with Gale Thompson this week: GALE: I recommend finding a good wordpress layout, not a dumb one. ME: I don’t know what’s dumb.] But, Kate Litterer asked me to do this really cool Writing Blog Tour and since “That sounds great but I don’t have a blog” was an embarrassing answer, I got my shit together and started one. And honestly, after all the laying-out, etc. (which was “easy” the way some people say Ikea is easy or jerks say volleyball is easy) I don’t know what the hell to write first. So, I’m going to copy something I wrote for the H_NGM_N tumblr a couple of years ago, part of their Notes to a Young Poet series. I’ve just moved across the country (from shore to mountains) and am trying to settle back into good writing habits, so I could use my own advice now. But before we get to that, make sure you check out Kate Litterer’s contribution to The Writing Blog tour, due out on her blog sometime this week. Alright, here goes:


Forget where you end and your poems start. Confuse your work with your wellbeing. Need words like actual nourishment. Read to be sated. Find poems that are friends with your poems and then be friends with the people who wrote those poems, even if those people are dead. Wallpaper your heart and your brain with poems.

Sometimes you will dislike the things you make. When you and your poems are the same, that can hurt. Let it hurt. Make another.

Often you are wrong. Be wrong. Make another.

Sometimes you will realize someone already said it. Make another.

Today you are in love with poetry and tomorrow you will want to be in love with poetry. Keep wanting to love poetry and you will keep loving it. Read every book on your shelf and then look at the books on your friends’ shelves and ask them nicely to borrow them. There are too many things to read and you are getting older every day! Don’t panic! Just read!

Sometimes you will feel like you’ll never do it right again. Make another.

When you do it right, that will be enough to go on. Write your heart and brain and spleen and then read them out loud to your friends in bars. Use your senses like collection baskets. Find everything that makes you happy beautiful nauseous funny miserable forgotten etc. etc.

You must risk admitting the things you think.

You must risk believing the things you think.