A Q&A With Poet Jeannie Roberts On Her New Chapbook, Writer’s Block, and Inspiration

Photo:  Volume One

Photo: Volume One

by Emilia Hurst

Jeannie E. Roberts is the author of four poetry collections and one children’s book, her most recent being a chapbook, The Wingspan of Things. I recently had a chance to chat with her on an array of topics.  Check out what she has to say!

Emilia Hurst: What advice do you have for writers wanting to pursue poetry? 

Jeannie Roberts: My advice to writers wishing to pursue poetry is this: read as much poetry as possible, including the classics, sign-up for writing workshops, and invest in guides to understanding and writing poetry. There are a number of handbooks available. For beginning poets, The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser is a good one. Also, attend a local writing critique group, and write, write, write ― every day, even for a few minutes. The more you write the better you become at your craft. Lastly, if you find that poetry is truly your passion, one you'd like to make a career out of, think about obtaining a degree or two, perhaps even an MFA in creative writing.

Can you explain the process you go through when writing a poem? 

My process depends on what kind of poetry I'm writing. If it's an ekphrastic poem, words inspired by a visual image of some sort, the image really drives my words and imagination. If it's a poem inspired by an experience, usually a first line or a title emerges. From that emergence, my words tend to flow quickly. If it's a poem that requires research, which many of my poems do, I begin researching (accuracy is important). When I begin a poem, the first few drafts are handwritten, in pencil. Around the fourth draft, I transfer my words to a Word document, where I revise it. Usually it takes between 10 and 15 drafts until I'm satisfied with a poem. Toward the end of my revisions, I record myself reading the poem; I read it multiple times, listening for awkward transitions. It's here the fine-tuning takes place, small word changes, etc., until the flow and cadence feels right. A poem is meant to be read aloud; its aural integrity makes all the difference. 

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Typically, writing energizes me, especially creative fiction; however, dry, technical writing tends to exhaust me. I love a good dip into the imagination, that is what truly enlivens and energizes me. 

What can you tell us about your latest collection? Is it more different or similar to your past collections and how so? 

My latest collection, The Wingspan of Things, is a poetry chapbook published by Dancing Girl Press (Chicago, IL). This book is dedicated to my son, includes sixteen poems, and its cover displays my nature photography. Most of the poems included in this collection have been published in journals and other online magazines, including Volume One's Local Lit section. Some of the poems in The Wingspan of Things have also appeared in my other poetry collections (Beyond Bulrush, Nature of it All, and Romp and Ceremony), but there are some new poems included, too. The work in this chapbook is similar to Nature of it All (Finishing Line Press, 2013) with many poems about nature, in particular birds, butterflies, and other winged-creatures. It contains moments surrounding and memories of my son, and suggests the fleeting nature and flight of things, including parenthood. Jason Splichal, local teacher, writer, and founder of Sky Island Journal wrote this about my chapbook: "The Wingspan of Things is a luminous journey through landscape and memory, and Roberts' elegant craft and subtle sense of rhythm are constant companions throughout the collection. Few poets can transport readers, from the tactile to the spiritual, the way she can." 

Do you believe in writer's block? 

I believe there are fallow periods for writers, not necessarily block. Fallowness can be a time of inactivity, where new ideas can develop and percolate. Thirteenth-century Persian poet Rumi sums up this idea of fallowness (which is liken to winter) quite nicely in this quote: "Do not think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter. It is quiet, but the roots are down there riotous." 

Where do you most often get your writing inspiration? 

I find inspiration just about anywhere, but especially while exploring our natural world. Outdoor activity, biking, hiking, and walking, exhilarates my Muse. I do find that prayer and meditation, quieting the mind, listening internally, has also been an integral part of my writing process and inspiration. 

I'd like to add . . . The majority of my work includes richly crafted descriptions of our natural world. Through the cycle, impact, and imagery of nature, I try to create a framework where the reader can find meaning and commonality within their own lives. My poetry is typically written in free verse, but I also enjoy exploring poetic forms, including found poems and crown sonnets. Within my work, I tend to use the same literary devices, including assonance, metaphor, simile, analogy, imagery, alliteration, internal rhyme, rhythm and rhyme.