he was a dollar-store-Romeo
slick, cheap paperback
dog-earred pages yellowing,
smelling like cigarettes and
you picked him up because
his powder blue spine
and you keep band-aids
in your purse
ink stains fingers if you’re not
fast enough and
the first time he kissed you,
his face was warm and
your lips tasted like
sipped through thin pink straws
you took him home,
grease-stained pages fluttering
leather-jacket heartbeats racing
the air in the Cadillac was dusty and
you have black in your fingerprints
Lucy, “dime-piece” is amazing. I have so many questions. Okay: Where did you get your inspiration for this poem? What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when writing “dime-piece”? Did it takes tons of drafts to arrive at the final product or did the poem come to you fully formed?
I had been working through a heartbreak by writing poem after failed poem, none of them truly capturing the dirt, the beauty, the crude-oil kind of longing I felt. One day in class, I misheard someone and thought they had said, “dollar-store Romeo.” I wrote it down in my notes. Months later, I found the note and realized it was the catalyst I needed. I spent another month working on it, whispering the words over and over to myself, letting new words come to me.
dime-piece was a challenge simply because I knew it was the poem I had been working toward, and I needed every word to be perfect. Thankfully, I love this poem and had so much fun working on it that it never seemed challenging. Because I knew this poem was important, I felt no need to rush it, and this allowed each word to surface when it needed to.
I’m not a poet myself, but I’ve heard a lot of my friends talking about the struggle of line breaks. In “dime-piece” you have a really interesting line break at the end when you put the word “still” in its own line. Why did you decide to put a line break there and what’s your strategy for line breaks in general?
I isolated “still” because of the heaviness that it conveys in both the line that comes before, and the line that follows. Still can reference an absence of motion, as in, the air in the Cadillac lacks movement, it sits within the car, around the subjects. Still also references the time passed, the feelings trapped within the narrator, even after the events of the poem are a distant memory. I think, really, this word is the most important moment in the poem.
Line breaks are really cool. They can change the whole meaning and feel and flow of a poem. My best advice in terms of line-breaks (and my own strategy) is to just play around with them. Often, pieces of poems, or entire poems, come to me in one sitting, but the first draft is almost never the final draft. It is important to spend time with each word, each moment within a poem, to say it outloud, again and again, to understand how it feels. Once each word is understood, the line breaks truly come naturally.
When you’re having trouble writing, what are some things that you do to get the words flowing again?
I love being outside and being still and silent out there is a great way to make myself think about words. It is really easy to get caught up in thinking about things that don’t really matter much, and being quiet and simply sitting for a while is a great way to redirect my brain energy into creating.
Writing is also a coping mechanism for me, so if I am going through something difficult, heartbreaking, anxiety-inducing (etc.), I often turn to writing. It helps me both organize and work through feelings, but also it provides a sort of escape.
What experiences have helped you become a better writer?
My mom read to me as a child, and we often listen to books on tape during long car rides. I have always loved stories and reading and I think this love and obsession and life-long involvement with stories is my greatest asset in terms of writing.
I have participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for probably six years. NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November. I have never written 50,000 words, but I have always reached the goal that I have set for myself. This is an awesome way to become a better writer because it forces you to simply write without concern for the quality of your words. My biggest challenge as a writer is actually making myself write creatively (I do journal every night, so I am at least writing something every day) and this program is a great way to make myself write.
I also want to give a shout-out to the writing teachers and professors I have had who tear my writing apart in order to build it back stronger. This is the BEST.
I’m so impressed that you’ve participated in NaNoWriMo for six years. That’s amazing. Okay. So, you talked about your writing teachers and professors and their influence on your development as a writer. What’s one of the best pieces of writing advice you’ve heard from one your teachers?
I remember in the seventh grade, my English teacher told me that it is ok to start a sentence with the word “and.” This may seem like a minor moment, but it opened up the world of writing to me in a new way. I felt freer to write in a way that makes sense to me, to play around with language and words and sentences. Writing rules are important sometimes, but it is an art form and an artistic practice and rules don’t have to be followed!!
I’m so glad you said that. Finding the balance between which rules you follow and which rules you break seems so essential to the development of a writer’s voice. What authors have you read that helped you find your voice? Have you read anything lately that blew your mind?
I recently read The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and it was so achingly beautiful and heartbreaking and tore me apart, and made me want to write again. Another book I’ve read recently is Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. I had a pretty cool experience while I was reading this one -- I fell asleep reading it and had a dream that I was able to speak and write in Nafisi’s style. I woke up feeling so ready to write.
Finally, what’s your spirit animal and why?
My middle name is Sophronia, which means “wisdom,” so my family says that my spirit animal is an owl. When my parents were on the way to the hospital for my sister to be born, an owl flew in front of the car and a frog (my brother’s spirit animal) hopped across the road at the same time.
What a beautiful answer. Thank you so much, Lucy. Best of luck in your writing career.