MARY-KIM ARNOLD is a fiery poet whose words reflect the depth of her diverse experience. The first time I heard Mary Kim’s poetry, my heart almost stopped. We were at a new best friend’s sleepover in a hotel in Burlington, VT. Words and spaces blended together seamlessly. She would pause, tilt her head, let her horn rimmed glasses ponder and continue, giving new life to each pristine line she spoke. She was a pro.
A colleague of mine at Vermont College of Fine Arts (her second degree in Creative Writing), MK maintains a thoughtful blog at Small Fires: A Pillow Book. She is the one who tagged me for this My Blog Writing Tour! Her poetry can be found at Two Serious Ladies, Tin House, and of course, The Rumpus, where she is an editor.
— So, I’ll ask myself these questions, and then I’ll answer them, that’s how it works. OK? OK.
Here we go:
What are you working on?
(1) For the past two years, I have been working on a personal memoir of travel and grief. In 2008, after the loss of our baby girl at forty weeks gestation, my husband and I took an epic backpacking trip through Southeast Asia and the Philippines. Our daughter was two years old at the time, and she became a central character in the travel memoir I hope to publish sometime this century. The story is mixed in shades of darkness and stormy seas of confusion and grief, following a path of color and culture as the main character, Mo, finds the freedom to liberate the heavies in a sort of reality check taking stock of what she really has left in this world.
(2) I have a collection of essays that need to be manicured in some fashion. These have been written in the past two years. They are a revolving door of personal and lyric essay, involving a myriad of themes including gardening, the land, marriage and children, meditation, the realizations of middle life. There’s also some really great dialogue based on my hilarious eighty-one year old father, a retired chemistry professor and local innovator who seems ever present in most of my essay work.
(3) My roots of poetry have recently swelled, suddenly growing limbs and lines after almost a decade dormant. At my last VCFE residency, I had the privilege of attending a workshop called The Porous Boundary between Creative NonFiction and Poetry, led by the great essayist Patrick Madden and long established poet, Betsy Sholl. This has really resonated for me in a writing age where I want to explore new possibilities in text and media, and also create innovative books. If there’s anything that’s better than writing, it’s talking about writing. VCFA workshops are the best.
(4) My girlfriend Romina and I have an ongoing journal that we have been creating since 1998. These are nonfiction shorts (yae, brevity!) which involve text, photos, leaves, and things written in popsicles and lipstick. Romina has been my number one reader for about twenty years now, and we have been through just about everything together, including a five year old manuscript which has been shelved for the moment. This book awakened something in me finally gave me permission to sit down and write, which was one of the first turning points in my writing life. Hopefully there are many more ahead.
(5) I have become a bit of a gregarious reviewer, which seems to play well to my social life here on Prince Edward Island. I am reviewing books, theatre shows and musicals, sometime integrating interviews, with bits of elaborate ideology.
How does your work differ from others of its genre? As much as I want to say that I am supremely original, the truth is that I’m not sure. I feel my work is different than some other travel memoir as it takes the reader on an emotional journey as well as one through time and space, but I am by far the first to do this. Maybe it differs in that my focus has always been on family, and generating a balance between the unpredictable electricity of cultural inquisitiveness with the smell of a kindergartener’s peanut butter toast.
Why do you write what you do? I guess I write to figure out my world, and to make it meaningful not only for me, but for those around me. Stillbirth hasn’t been an easy thing for me to deal with, but I’ve grown through the loss to another side of myself, and one I never expected to find. I love this family lifestyle writing because we can learn so much from our kids, through the honesty and the obsession and the questioning and their constant surge of reorientation. I’ve become an essence of the person who i want to be, and the role model i need to be. My writing has just been a recording of this process. I write to become better. For the last five years I have become obsessed with the craft side of writing, and it’s been a wonderful injection into my writing psyche. It’s made me want to read more, write more and fills in the gaps in my whimsical style with backstory, scene setting, body language, and attention to detail.
How does your writing process work? The only quiet hours in my house are between five and seven am, and this is amazingly productive time for me. I find that the earlier I can catch myself off guard, the closer to my dreams I can write, and usually before some little person saunters into my office needing a cuddle. I also enjoy the stillness of my mind at this time, before my busy brain is turned to dentist appointments, returning phone calls and the daily errand and housework churn of a family of four. My husband is always amazed that my critical mind takes over at nine o’clock, but it’s true. At that time, writing is over and revision begins.
So now I tag two more people. I met Jason Howard, a fine young Kentuckian, when we drank bourbon together for four semesters at VCFA, planning our lives together as writers and dreaming in essays and memoirs. Jason’s book, A Few Honest Words, The Kentucky Roots of Popular Music, was published last year and he interviews musical greats such as Joan Osborne and Naomi Judd. You can also find him on Twitter @jasonkylehoward. If you ever meet Jason in a bar, ask him about Ann Boelyn.
Monica Lacey‘s love of words has been going on for decades. In her honest beginnings, Mon wrote and created her own books of poetry and boldly stocked our small city’s library with them. She has always been an inspiration for living the artistic life, and we are old friends from a past life, we think. She has currently expanded her artistic merits to an impressive roster of visual art endeavours. Find her blog about her work at Dance the Changes.
Beautifully written, my friend. Missing you, Mary-Kim, and all my sumptuously talented writer friends from VCFA. xo. –Cath