A Ten Question Interview With The Artist…Jennifer Lagier Fellguth.

 Why do you write?

I’ve written since I was a child, feel compelled to write every day. Sometimes an image or a line is so striking or disturbing, I have no choice but to start a poem. I used to maintain a daily journal, but now am more sporadic, find my old journal entries are more a laundry list of tasks accomplished or existential lessons learned. As far as poetry, however, I write for at least 3-4 hours, if not more, per day. I walk two hours early every morning, taking photos. Then I come home, have a cup of two of coffee, scribble away on my laptop, lose complete track of time.

What books do you read?

I’m an eclectic reader. I read poetry by others, currently everything I can get my hands on from Joan Colby, Alan Catlin, Charles Rammelkamp, Gene McCormick, Dorianne Laux, Kim Addonizio, Ellen Bass, Diane Frank, Charles Bukowski, more. I love fiction by Margaret Atwood, Isabel Allende, Amy Tan, Toni Morrison, Italian American and Latin American authors.

What inspires you?

I live on the Monterey Peninsula and am surrounded by beauty. Much of my work is inspired by the Pacific Ocean, rock formations, sea creatures, forest, Big Sur, nature in its many forms. The grittier poetry I write is usually triggered by human stories of friends and family or even snippets of conversation I may have overheard in a coffee house. Sometimes a headline or news story is so egregious, I have no choice but to respond via writing to exorcise my outrage.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer and when?

I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was a child. I used to write articles and put together my own little newspaper for family and friends. By the time I was in the fourth grade, I was writing stories and poems. My first publication came when I was in high school. I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been scribbling.

How Do you deal with rejection?

When I first started sending work out, every rejection notice stung. Then as my writing improved, editors started including personal notes explaining why a poem didn’t work for them. Now that I’ve had an opportunity to serve as co-editor of a literary magazine, I have a better understanding why work gets rejected: it may not fit with work already accepted, it may be in a format that does not lend itself well to the physical layout of a print publication, the editor may have more good work than he or she has room to include, a poem may not fit the editor’s current needs or taste. I try to research my potential publishing venues before sending work to see what kind of writing a publication includes and tailor my submission accordingly. Also, if a poem gets rejected more than once, I critically analyze the piece to see if it needs to be revised to strengthen or clarify. Rejection is just part of the process. I don’t take it personally. Instead, I use it as an opportunity to examine and improve my writing or to research different publications.

Who are some writers you admire?

Right now, my all-time favorite is Joan Colby. I wish I could make my brain work like hers! The language is unflinching, poetry insightful and the stories she tells stick in my mind. I also love Kim Addonizio’s in-your-face work.

Is writing the only artistic medium you do?

No, I am an avid photographer. I am just starting to send out my photography too and am thrilled when I find publishers who want to use combination photo/poem pieces I’ve submitted. I am fortunate–we have world class photographers who live and work here on the Monterey Peninsula. I took a class from Henry Gilpin several years ago. He was an assistant to Ansel Adams. I also study the work of photographers whose images I admire–Diane Arbus, the Westons (Edward, Brett, Kim–all locals). That’s how I learn to perfect my craft.

What would be some advice you would give to your younger self?

Don’t rush a poem. Let it rest and ferment and unfold at its own pace. Concentrate on the creative process, not worrying about publishing or readings. Find other writers and take advantage of a critique group to edit each other’s work. Network with other writers–they can inspire and teach.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Read and support other writers! Help build community. Be patient. Above all, never give up. Write! Write! Write! Revise! Revise! Revise!

What is your writing process?

Currently, I usually jot down word sketches on my Iphone while walking, then bring these home and play with them to start a new piece. After my walk, I park myself at my kitchen desk with a laptop and scribble away. Sometimes I’ll open a Word document, insert one of my photos and take off from there. I also belong to an online group of writers who are given a Bukowski poem a week from which to extract a phrase or line and use it to generate new work. I have started using the phrase that resonates as a poem title, letting the piece write itself. Sometimes I’ll overhear a comment that sticks in my mind, forcing me to explore or invent the untold story via writing. I like to have multiple pieces going at a time. I fuss and fuss with each piece over several days, reshaping, polishing, tightening. Sometimes I perform what a mentor of mine calls “the evil edit” and lop out a chunk of a poem to see if the surviving lines and images can be improved or if the amputated chunk is actually the genesis of another new poem.

Once a week, I like to see what I’ve got that might be publication worthy, research publishing venues, and send the stuff out for consideration. Or, if I have a batch of work rejected, I’ll fuss with it to revise and improve.

The key things are to just keep reading, writing and revising. This is how one evolves.

Jennifer Lagier has published nine poetry books and in multiple literary magazines. She taught with California Poets in the Schools and is now a retired college librarian/instructor, member of the Italian American Writers Association, co-edits the Homestead Review, helps coordinate monthly Monterey Bay Poetry Consortium Second Sunday readings. Website: http://jlagier.net

Jennifer Lagier has published nine poetry books and in multiple literary magazines. She taught with California Poets in the Schools and is now a retired college librarian/instructor, member of the Italian American Writers Association, co-edits the Homestead Review, helps coordinate monthly Monterey Bay Poetry Consortium Second Sunday readings. Website: http://jlagier.net

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