We’ve got a very special surprise for you today, bookwyrms! Poet Angela Dribben has just published her first book, Everygirl (Main Street Rag). And she’s gracious enough to stop by for a visit with an inside look into her writing process!
A very warm welcome to our special guest, Angela!
Rachel Sandell: Your new book, Everygirl, was published recently and is full of beautiful poetry! Tell us a little more about it.
Angela Dribben: Everygirl began as a practice of sorting and naming my own wounds. As I wrote, it became glaringly evident that these are not necessarily my traumas; these are collective cultural traumas. I shared from my personal experiences like attending a military high school, experiencing a profound amount of sexual abuse, growing up in the rural south to teenage parents, and how that all defined female for me. But I also found myself taking note of the dangers of cultural construction and binary gender expectations for us all, including males.
Thank you for using the term beautiful. I am just beaming! That seems to be one of poetry’s subtle gifts, to craft enchantment within tragedy. Linguistic choices, thoughtful ways to leave the line, incorporation of unexpected ephemera, and other skills allow poets to create magic from mess.
RS: Which poems are your favorites? How did you decide on the order and fit them together in the collection?
AD: “The sting and the itch” is one of my favorites because it captures the dichotomy of life and spans quite a bit of time. Poems like “A child’s occupation,” “On fences after loss“, and “Glory and her Gourd” are some of my other favorites. They intend to see and pronounce our cultural tendencies, habits, and the way they impact nature or are reflected in nature. To really look on these things, we often don’t directly acknowledge can change how we function in this world. “A child’s occupation” is about killing snails but also about how we harm others and how we decide who we are going to harm, the way that is often handed down.
The other favorite poems are the epistles. I love these because they allow me to engage in conversation with people I have never and probably never will meet, like Megan Leavey or C. Weston Houck.
As far as the order, I give thanks to my friend, reader, and mentor, Kathy Ridenhour of AWP. She definitely helped make order of this collection. This collection was so close to me, it was hard to not see it chronologically. That wouldn’t really serve the higher intent. I needed Kathy’s perspective to see how they worked together outside of time.
RS: And what was the inspiration behind this book?
AD: I had to remove these experiences from my viscera. They demanded to be released. Seriously, they just kept writing themselves until they were done. I literally could not write anything else until it all just stopped. Now, I am still in every poem I write, but the style, the sound, arrangement on the page, everything about my work is different.
RS: Many new poets aren’t sure how to begin writing poems. How do you define poetry? What is your process for writing it?
AD: Read. And write. Be wary of workshops or classes that leave you feeling troubled in your spirit or your wallet. There is no one way for us all.
Read some more. Not just poetry. Cookbooks and instruction manuals and treaties and memoirs and novels. Then write some more.
When I first started writing, I read an article by a very well-known poet whose work I admire. The poet asserted that if you’re going to be successful, you must write every day. I know many successful poets achieved their positions by prioritizing the writing life. That was the path I originally set out on. I planned to be diligent, persistent, to work hard, and I would be a poetry bigfoot too. I was miserable. For me, it is not the path.
Being out of balance in art was no different than being out of balance in any other way. I go days without writing now. With Everygirl, I was obsessive. Up at 3 or 4 am every day. I wrote before work, during work, after work. I submitted like it was a cure.
Then I realized how my ribs bound themselves around my lungs and heart every time I wrote. How my brow furrowed and my teeth raged into one another. I want to feel the same joy when I am writing that I feel fly-fishing or gardening or weaving grapevine baskets. I want to feel a joy for writing that does not demand the praise of someone else. So, now I write with the same slowness and wonder that I plant a seed and watch for weeks while the zinnia unfolds itself.
This may not be for everyone. But this is the peace for me.
RS: That sounds very relaxing! What’s your favorite part of your writing process? Least favorite part?
AD: Sometimes I go so deep coming back up hurts. That’s both my favorite and my least favorite. It’s when my spirit alters, when the way I participate in the world seems to feel more aligned. But it’s also when I need to put an out of office reply on email, take a lot of baths and walks, and just lay on my mat and breathe.
RS: Have you ever had to deal with writer’s block? How do you overcome it?
AD: I think in lines. In lyric. In everything I see the connection and to me that is poetry, the connection between two or more things. For 22 years, I practiced massage. It’s the connectivity between tissue, between two energetic beings, between past and future lineage, between the individual and the universal. That’s just the way I see, and I think that’s poetry. So, writer’s block is not a thing for me.
As I write this I am wondering if that’s because I don’t judge what comes out for quite some time. Two of my favorites are Sherwin Bitsui and francine j harris; they set the bar for language and syntax so high. I don’t expect that to just come out of me.
I write and then when I revisit it, I begin to ask more of every word. To push for the core of my intent. I am always chasing after curiosities.
I hope I am not jinxing myself into writer’s block.
But, wait, maybe I do get writer’s block. Sometimes I feel like I can’t find the words for what I want to communicate. So, I make images: mixed media, redactions, extractions, erasures, collage. I believe images are poems, images are a language, so I don’t see this as writer’s block. But maybe some would?
RS: Moving onto a happier topic, congratulations again on an amazing debut. How are you enjoying the publishing process? What’s it like?
AD: You’re very kind to use words like amazing and beautiful. To give authors the opportunity to articulate their art. Thank you.
This is such a complex question. I am definitely moved and assured when a reader reaches out and says, me too. Or, “I thought I’d dealt with things that happened to me but as I read I realized they are still there.” Those are the moments I enjoy. I don’t know if that’s really what you mean by part of the publishing process.
I recently read that there’s something like 800 poetry collections published a day in the US. Now I didn’t factcheck that. But let’s say there are 400. Still. That’s a difficult market to be visible in. So again, I think we have to be careful about why we are doing what we are doing or its liable to be a soul and finance crushing experience.
It’s costly to produce a book. It’s costly to market a book. And there’s a tremendous cost to the poet to even get a manuscript to a contract. We pay however many reading fees it takes until a press accepts our manuscript, then we buy some of our own books, then we spend our resources booking readings and giving them. Then we start again.
I have been contacted more than once and heard, “Hey, my press isn’t really marketing my book. Is yours?” I think many of us who are new at this have an expectation that our press will do at least some of this for us. That expectation word again! The press is just trying to keep their head above water too. To read the next round, to edit the next round, to negotiate the next printing run, to pay the cover artist, and so on. Publishing appears to be demanding on everyone, perhaps especially in poetry.
I was told once by a freaking stellar brilliant mind-blowing piercing poet that their press, a big-name press, didn’t do their marketing. The poet did it all. I don’t know that the presses have the resources to do this work for us. I mean, they aren’t Monsanto. And do we want them to be?
For my peace, for my health, I had to decide why I poet. And that intention had to be for the sake of poeting. For the necessity of it for myself. Because just like a god lifted my arm and drove my finger into a lump on my breast before a round of badminton, a god lifts my finger and drives it into the page. And just that making has to be enough for me.
RS: Are there any more projects you’re working on? What can we expect to see from you in the future?
AD: Yes!!! I was going to share about the collection I am working on. Everygirl was kind of like the combination to its lock.
But then I read an article about the gendered violence at VMI. My attention turned back to Everygirl. I immediately wanted the women who spoke to reporters but wished to remain anonymous to have a copy. Not because I think I have something spectacular to say, but because silence itself can be a violence and this collection speaks up. This does not mean I fault them for not speaking up. Their fears and concerns about retribution and the shapes it will take, plus the chance that no one will care anyway, and talking will just become another trauma, are real. I just want them to know they are not alone. We must know that in some part of ourselves, but it’s like we don’t allow ourselves to really embody what that means: that our stories are a commonstory.
I attended a predominantly male military school from 8th through 11th grade. The ways the female VMI cadets reported feeling and coping are so similar. I feel compelled to place this collection within reach of females who may find the words a salve to their wounds.
To that end, I am working on ways to distribute the books without cost to counseling centers on college campuses and military bases, as well as women’s shelters, incarceration facilities, and anywhere else it may cross paths with some one looking for this story. The extended hope and intention is that perhaps there will be a way to offer no-cost workshops that may help others find their own language for their own experiences therefore continuing this much-needed conversation.
Anyone with any suggestions for where the collection may be of service is very encouraged to reach out.
RS: What advice do you have to aspiring writers and poets?
AD: Know that I am sending you love and gratitude for every letter you put to paper. Thank you for your artistry. Your commitment to your higher purposes. Thank yourself for that. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to other poets and their poetry. Don’t forget to come back up from the language. Don’t forget to go on beyond the poem. This is not always the gentlest path and we need you. We need your light. Stay with us.
Thank you very much to Angela Dribben for stopping by and sharing her experience! If you do happen to have any suggestions concerning Everygirl and the collection’s potential ways to influence those in need of comforting words, you can find Angela’s contact page at angeladribben.com. Also, if you were touched by the poetry in this collection, make sure to let Angela know (it’ll make her day)!