This week I'm sharing an interview with Shannon Connor Winward, whose work I first encountered as part of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Based on the East Coast, Shannon's engaging work includes both prose and poetry.Her poetry has been nominated for a Rhysling award, with publication in Pedestal Magazine, Strange Horizons, Fairy Tale Magazine, Literary Mama, Hip Mama, Star*Line, Illumen, and many others. She's also the poetry editor for Devilfish Review, a quarterly online magazine specializing in speculative literature. Be sure to check them out!
Shannon's debut collection of poetry, Undoing Winter, (Finishing Line Press) was nominated for a 2015 Elgin award for best speculative poetry chapbook by the Science Fiction Poetry Association. It's not easy to describe Undoing Winter because it covers so much ground, but you'll find her contemplating love, motherhood, history and the fantastic, death and ressurection. It's a brief book, but it earns its praise.
You can visit her website at: http://www.shannonconnorwinward.com/
Do you mind telling us when you first developed an interest in poetry? How would you describe your access to poetry growing up?
I was always writing poems. I was into anything creative that drew attention to me, me me. But I got serious about it in fourth or fifth grade, when they would take our English class down to the computer lab to mess around with clipart and typing; we were supposed to make greeting cards for our parents for the holidays and whatnot. I always turned mine into poetry, like, Shakespearean sonnets and epic tragic-comedies about doomed turkeys at Thanksgiving. I loved that I could create something lasting like that, to entertain people or surprise them. And of course, as I grew older and life got harder, I realized that writing was a way to express what I was going through. It just came naturally.
I can't say that I had prolific access to poetry as a kid; I read what I came across (how I loved Shel Silverstein) and what was part of the curriculum. I was fortunate to have some very supportive teachers who encouraged me to write; sometimes they introduced me to poets like Langston Hughes or Sylvia Plath. I wish now that I had a more extensive education in poetry, but I ended up studying the humanities, not the arts. I'm trying to make up for that now, but it's different when you are a grownup, with kids and a mortgage. If I could go back, I'd tell my younger self to slow down and soak up a lot more, but life doesn't flow backwards.
Which poem of yours do you usually recommend to someone who wants to read your work for the first time?
My poem, "Session" (The Pedestal Magazine, December 2010) is one of my favorites. It's about the anthropology of the individual psyche. It's very representative of how I write and what interests me. "Beansidhe" (Ideomancer, June 2011) is another one. It deals with myths and ghosts, lost love and subtle feminism, and features an unreliable narrator. You have to read between the lines in my writing, which sometimes means people don't get me, but that's okay. I get me. :)
Do you prefer coffee or tea?
Oh, godz, coffee. Coffee coffee coffee.
Mint tea is pretty good, though.
If you could have any imaginary being for a pet or companion, what would it be?
I would like a talking owl. A sarcastic, sage, self-sufficient and hypo-allergenic owl (because I'm allergic to feathers) who calls me on my bullshit, babysits my kids, and bites me when I'm not writing enough.
"Undoing Winter" has some really lovely lines, and blends some very modern and timeless issues with the fantastic. What were some of your thoughts on organizing the manuscript?
I realized pretty early on that the poems needed to follow a "down into darkness, back into light" pattern; that is the motif of the titular poem ("Undoing Winter" is about Demeter haranguing Persephone to get over Herself and come away from Hades), but it's also symbolic of my life as someone with a mood disorder. I go down and I come back, maybe scarred but usually stronger and wiser. I wanted the reader to take that journey, too. I arranged the poems within that framework like you might make a mix tape; one poem had to flow into the next in a way that sounded right, even if I couldn't articulate why.
Were there any parts that you really wanted to include in "Undoing Winter", but cut out for one reason or another?
Yeah, it started out as a longer manuscript, but I kept trimming it down. Some of it felt repetitive, or messed with the arc. The final product is petite (which is unusual for me) but I think what was left was much stronger.
How do you determine how much of the imaginative you include in your poems, and how much realism?
I wrote a lot of speculative work when I was younger, stoned and spiritual. Over the last few years my poems tend to be more about family relationships, especially dealing with aging parents and raising a special needs kid. That's the stuff that comes pouring out when I come crying to my laptop, not the magical or mythic. I do still love the speculative genre; I try to make a point of doing it when I've got time to free write. I like to write to prompts or challenges. I also get some imaginative stuff when I start with random words or structures, let my right-brain take the lead. I think once my kids are older I'll come back to genre writing but, right now, life is about the alarm clock, the school bus, the IEP meetings, the bad back. Realism is where my head is.
Are you contemplating another collection of poetry in the near future?
I am. All the family-centric stuff will probably find its way into a memoir of sorts. I have a lot of rage in me over the lack of support that is out there for families of kids with mental health issues; I always thought I'd like to use my words, and what we've been through, to advocate for those whose voices aren't being heard. But I've got to be doing more than treading water myself, so I don't know if that will be a "near future" project or just a someday one. But it's coming.
If you could write from any legendary or imaginary place, where would you like to write?
The Celtic version of heaven is the Summerland. I imagine it as a balmy place full of waterfalls and bonfires, tables always overflowing with your favorite foods, and all your departed loved ones strutting around in glittering clothes, drinking and laughing. I'd love to go there with a pad and a pen – and then come back to share the stories. I'd like to be able to tell people it only gets better from here.
And finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to begin writing, whether as a poet or as a prose writer?
Write! If writing makes you feel good, do it. If it's all you want to do, write as much as you can, challenge yourself, read. seek out constructive criticism, keep trying to improve your craft -- but don't pressure yourself to be perfect, or take rejection personally. It's important to keep an element of joy in the process, else writing becomes just work, and that's no fun. Love yourself through your words; the rest will follow.