When my parents started to divorce when I was thirteen I began writing from a deeper need. I think writing is much more urgent when it comes from an ache of some kind.
What advice do you wish you had gotten as a teen?
It sounds cliché, but all that stuff about being yourself and not caring what other people think is actually true. I just wish my teenage self could have heard it from my current self—like “hey, look at me now. You’re going to be okay. Keep reading poems and listening to the music you like and eventually you’re going to find your people.”
Tell us about a time when you were brave, or bravery was required of you, or you saw someone else being brave.
I had expected college to be vastly different from high school, but social hierarchies emerge everywhere, it turns out. There was this one group of wealthy, beautiful boys who thought they ruled everything. Like most groups of bullies, they had their charismatic leader, a gorgeous musician named Shane. At the end of one semester we had a talent show. This shy girl was playing guitar and singing a Bob Dylan song, and then Shane started making fun of her, saying “She’s ruining his music” and “ugly girls shouldn’t wreck good things!” She was clearly humiliated, but kept singing. He started to get in her face, antagonizing her, invading her physical space. He had been drinking and it was pretty scary. No one was doing anything about it so I stood up, walked over to him and told him to shut up and let her finish the song. He was so stunned, he and his friends left while she kept playing. I think she was the bravest person of all.
How do you start a poem? Give us a window into your process.
All different ways. I often free- write when something makes me angry, and then after I’ve cooled off I read through what I’ve written and there might be one or two lines that seem like they could be a poem. Usually the best ideas come to me while I am walking or working – doing something with my body that’s not related to writing. Then I make a note (I always keep a small notebook) and let the idea simmer until I have some time alone. By then the idea is almost boiling! It’s really important not to ignore the impulse, because sometimes I feel tired and think, “I will write it tomorrow” -- but then the idea is gone forever.
What is your motto for getting through the tough times?
“To thine own self be true.” That Shakespeare quote, from Hamlet.
I think self-love is really important – I feel really sad about how much I believed in the myth of romantic love as a teenager. I always wanted approval from someone else. Here’s a secret: I sing along to that song “Halo” by Beyonce, but I dedicate it to myself.