by Rachel Warren
In August I pray to lesser gods,
gods drier and without Douglas Fir
gods wafting burnt laminate
gods shriveling before the crunch
church of pinecones
sniffing, boneless gods with dry-needle teeth
and sweet-sugar nature—
August is a pre-natal November,
distracted sticky in its elbows
lickless on cast-iron sidewalks
oppressed under single panes
simpering against sunburnt Impalas
yearning for my turquoise windbreaker
wrapped in lifeless hair and
dreams of gourds and rain.
Rachel Warren is a Portland, Oregon-based poet and editor. She is a bookseller at the independent book store Wallace Books, an editorial intern at Tin House Books, and a lover of bears and vegetable gardens.
Rachel’ s work was brought to our attention by poet Crystal Ignatowski, whom we interviewed here. We offered Crystal the opportunity to “pay it forward” by choosing another poet to interview, and she chose Rachel. Crystal says, “I met Rachel at Tin House Books. Right away I knew that she was special. She has a passion and eye for this industry that will take her far. She has edited my own work and provides exceptional feedback. I know Rachel is unpublished (but likely not for long), so I thought this would be a great way to get her name out there. I’m excited for what is yet to come for Rachel. I know she will do big things.”
So, here is Crystal’s interview with Rachel.
Q~How would you describe your style?
A~When I was younger, I wrote what I called “flash poetry,” which was essentially a compilation of sensory “flashes” all surrounding a specific concept or event. I think that I still find a lot of that “flash” feel in my poetry as I get older, but it’s more confessional than it used to be.
Q~Tell us a little about “Fall Poem.” How is it representative of your work?
A~I think this poem is really representative of my work because in it I’m doing my best to glue together a group of specific and tiny images that, when you step back and look at it from afar, will give you an all-angles view of the concept I’m thinking of. Honestly, kind of like a photomosaic. I want to give you flashes of smaller images that, sewn together, create some kind of Frankenstein vision of the emotion at hand, which in this poem is that longing I feel for autumn every time we land in late-August/early-September.
Q~Why do you write poetry?
A~Poetry is my favorite form of storytelling because it just goes straight for the bones of the story. It lives in that meaty area of raw emotion and highly personal wordplay that really glitters under the light—that gives you everything you need to embody a character or a speaker or a moment without even necessarily needing a narrative or a setting or any other literary conventions. Also, poetry is also such a medium of play, even when it’s doing serious work. Writing poetry is a way of finding joy in the language, pairing words that don’t naturally partner and waking up the senses through unlikely combinations.
Q~What is the poet’s role in society?
A~I think, as with any storytellers, poets are here to infuse the world with truth. Emotional truth, narrative truth, hard truth, political truth. Poets are here to take red hot truth right out of our guts and remind the world around us what it means to be so blessedly human.
Q~What’s your writing process usually like?
A~My process changes radically and constantly. Right now, I’m submitting a pair of poems to a few magazines that were written in complete opposite ways. One of them was a concept that I labored over and struggled with and had to pull reluctantly out from under my bed for weeks. And, then the other one just fell into my lap, fully formed and cooing, all in one sitting. But, the one thing that never changes is that I’m always writing. I have a notebook and pen that are never further than 10 feet from me at any given time, and I make a concerted effort to put something, anything, down on the page every single day. And, some of it is abysmal! But, then if there’s even a strong line I can work with, that’s when the playing really starts and I draft a few times, then reach out to a few really reliable reader-friends for critiques.
Q~How is editing another writer’s work different than editing your own? How is it the same?
A~For me at least, editing someone else’s work is a lot easier than editing my own. I think a lot of people are their own harshest critics, and I am definitely no exception. When I’m editing someone else’s work, I’m able to just look at it for what it is and find where it’s succeeding and where it could use a little more polish to make it shine. There is a great Shannon Hale quote I used to give my students when I taught creative writing summer camps that says, “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” When I’m editing someone else’s work, that concept of the work as raw material is so much easier to remember than when I’m editing my own. But, I’m learning to apply that to my own work, too. I find myself making an effort to be kind and meet other writers where they are when I edit for them, and it’s a good reminder to give my own work that same amount of respect.
Q~Who was your poetry first love?
A~William Carlos Williams. At the Oregon Writer’s Project Young Author’s Camp I first attended as a nine-year-old, we read The Red Wheelbarrow, and it was like in the movies when a character’s pupil’s dilate to the size of the moon, and they see the future. I was mindblown. Who knew you could make anything important just by spending time with it, giving it attention, treating it like a gift?! What a magic poem.
Q~Who are you reading now?
A~Right now I’m reading Sandra Cisneros’s collection My Wicked, Wicked Ways, which is a compilation of all of the poetry she wrote in her 20’s. In the introduction, she talks about what a messy decade her 20’s were and how these poems, for better or worse, helped her sort through it and become the poet she is today. As a messy 20-something, that really resonated with me, and it’s a gift to have the young works of an author I love and trust; to watch her grow and hope that I can do it, too.
Also, I’ve got a copy of Ada Limón’s new collection The Carrying coming to me soon, and I am so excited for it!
Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?
A~My best piece of writing advice is something I’m still grappling with and working on, which is that I think the most impactful poetry is honest. Even if the honesty is ugly. The best poetry comes from a place of truth. The moment you start hiding things from your poem (or, more broadly, from yourself) is the moment the poem loses its footing in your gut that’s gonna give it a place in your reader’s gut later. Plus, if we’re writing what we know, what better place to start than our own truths?
Q~Where can readers go if they are interested in reading more of your work?
A~As of yet, I am unpublished! But I’m slowly putting my toes in the water of submitting. It’s tricky. I’ve never really known where to start, but I’m learning. So, keep your eyes peeled! If you’re interested in poetry retweets, tabletop RPG rants, and far too much personal info, feel free to follow me on Twitter!
Crystal Ignatowski’s poetry has been featured or is forthcoming in Contemporary Haibun Online, One Sentence Poems, Tuck Magazine, Right Hand Pointing, and more. She lives and writes in Oregon.