This is a blog interview I did for Margaret Fieland, a fellow member of poetry group Poetic Muselings, after the launch of my debut poetry book back in 2014. I have updated the "Where can you buy the book" and "Where can readers find you", but left the rest the same. Insight compiling the poetry collection, my writing processes, and that time of my life.
You are the author of a new book of poetry, Chiaroscuro. Can you tell us a little about the book?
Chiaroscuro is a poetry book about the contrast and balance between light and dark. Poems range from internal conflict to worldwide war to creatures of myth, but all follow the themes of finding havens of light in dark days, persisting despite the odds.
What was your experience of putting the collection together? How difficult/not did you find the organizing?
The collection slowly came together over eight years. Back in 2008, I took a course at the Muse Online Writers Conference called “How to Turn Your Poetry Into a Saleable Chapbook.” I had a lot of poems in my portfolio and wanted to create a cohesive collection.
I looked over my poems, and sorted them into themes. I found a lot of them were on the darker side: death, pain, abuse. It hadn't really dawned on me until then how much I use poetry to deal with the darkness.
With encouragement, I went ahead with the dark theme. Chose my title, Chiaroscuro. My initial tag line was: Exploring the darkness, bringing the monsters of death and abuse into the light.
That first time, I printed off all the poems that matched that theme. I sat on the floor and shifted poems around until it felt right. Wasn't much reasoning for any of it other than gut.
The process became much easier once I got Scrivener. In that program, you can drag individual items in the sidebar to reorder them, and view them as individual items or as the whole collection. I also tagged everything with more specific themes – fantasy, war, relationships, doubt, death. With that visual I was able to first group by theme, then shift them around to best tell a story.
The collection starts out darker, with a world falling apart. Then slowly becomes more focused – nature, people, self. As we approach the end, it shifts more into the light. One poem that never changed location in all my revisions was the end poem: "Ash and Water." That last line, "And I turn from death to embrace life" really summarizes the entire book.
Are any of the poems written specifically for the book?
What was initially planned as a 25 poem chapbook, later expanded to a book length collection to enter into a local writing competition. Most of the additional poems were older ones which I revisited and revised, but I did write new ones with the theme in mind. Most notably: "Dark Days," "Danse Macabre," and "Ghost of Childhood".
How did you decide which poems to include and which ones to leave out?
These are themes I find myself revisiting often in my poetry, so I didn't have to search hard to find enough to fill a book. There were a few poems that I wrote later and added to fill it out more.
I chose most of my poems for their ability to tell a story. Those felt like they had more impact than ones that simply asked questions or explored a topic.
Another big help was my poetry group, The Poetic Muselings. They helped me identify my stronger poems.
What's your favorite poem from the book? Would you mind sharing it with us?
Ooh, this is a tough question. Three really come to mind for different reasons.
"The Sun Sets" is really the center of the collection. It's one I wrote back in high school, the oldest of my poems to make it in the book.
"Concrete Forest" is more a mixture of the dark theme and the other topic I write a lot about: fantasy. It's about a fairy in today's modern world.
The third poem is much shorter than both of those, and is the one I will share with you. I love the sound of this one, and never tire of reading it aloud.
You did a lot of research before you decided where to submit your collection. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I did searches on Duotrope and Writers Digest, making a list of all the poetry book publishers I could find. I made a chart in Excel and went through each website to get stats on book length, theme preferences, payment, format. I made a list of what I most wanted in a publisher:
SynergEbooks was one of my top choices, but their submissions were closed when I began submitting. When their submission window opened again, I still hadn't gotten a publisher so I sent them my query and sample poems, and they loved it. Lesson learned: don't be afraid to aim for your top picks. You can't hit a target you don't shoot for.
You write fantasy as well as poetry. Do you have a preference?
They satisfy me in different ways. A great thing about poetry is that I can write one in a single day. The feeling of finishing a project is very gratifying. Poetry also focuses more on the moment, and allows me to play with language. Fantasy delights me in other ways: I can create new worlds, explore magic systems, and really delve into a story in a way that poetry cannot.
How do you balance your writing time between fiction and poetry?
Sometimes I try to keep them in two separate boxes, a poet in one moment and a fiction writer in another. But they are both a part of me, and they definitely bleed into each other. I've written poems and songs for my novels, and I tell a lot of stories with my poetry.
That being said, most of the year I'm more a fiction writer than a poet. Poetry tends to come in waves. I can go a year without writing a poem, and then write forty in one month. It's much more reliant on inspiration than my fiction.
You have a young son. How do you find the time to write?
Since I don't have a day job, I try to get my writing done while my son is in school. Summer has always been a challenge. This year, I've scheduled an hour every day that is "alone time". He also earns two hours of solo video game time each day. That gives me three hours that I can use for myself – either recharging or writing.
What are you working on now?
I have a hard time focusing on just one project. I actually have five novels in progress. The two I'm (mostly) focusing on are:
The Minotaur Staff: A (mostly) modern supernatural adventure, with time travel. A treasure hunter finds an artifact that summons a gladiator from ancient Atlantis.
Race to 100 Deaths: Traditional fantasy. Three elven diplomats are captured by a human baron that wants war. He forces them into a contest - a race to 100 deaths.
Where can readers find your book?
Chiaroscuro is available on Kindle, for purchase or to borrow for free through Kindle Unlimited.
Where can readers find you on the web?
Blog: http://marywjensen.blogspot.com (old blog)
Group blog: http://poetic-muselings.net
Any last words?
We are all unique. We each have a story to tell: through our blogs, poetry, fiction, film, art, or other mediums. We can all contribute to the world. When we stop contributing, we do the world a disservice.
Mary W. Jensen. Author, poet, gamer, library shelver.