Dear Readers, You must forgive me. I have been withholding a wonderful interview from you of the poet Amelia Martens, who just published a collection of prose poems with Sarabande Books. I’ve not been holding back on purpose. You see it is the end of the semester. Grades are due for my composition students and so are my own research papers. At the same time, I had to find a sublease for my apartment, back all my belongings into a basement storage unit, and get sedatives for my cat to prepare for our move to an island three hours north of Milwaukee. I write this not to complain, as I am grateful for all these things: to be a PhD student at UW-Milwaukee, to have found a summer job on in an idyllic place, and I am grateful for Amelia Martens taking the time to do an interview with me. I tell you all these things because for a long time this blog has only been about writers who write and work in nonacademic fields. However, as I’ve just (about) completed my first year in PhD-land, I’ve re-learned that the work/life/write balance is just as mythical as it was when I was working as freelance writer and at a desk job, which is why I first reached out to Martens who teaches at composition at a community college in Kentucky. As someone towing the line between academia, raising children, and writing, I wanted to get her insight into the process. So without further ado, Amelia Martens:
Amelia Marten’s new collection, The Spoons in the Grass Are There to Dig a Moat, is as beautiful outside as it is inside. As I prepared to write this introduction, I thought to myself, well, there is just too much good here, I’ll just write about my favorite prose poem: But then I couldn’t decide between “Baggage,” about Jesus working the airport X-ray machine, or “In the First World,” recurring poems that turn the mundane into the absurd or “We Will Be Long Gone,” one side of daughter-mother bedtime conversation. These three poems, however, give a sample of far-ranging themes Martens packs into unifying tightly-woven prose poem form. Jesus, daughters, terrorism are all recurring characters as are irreverence, humor and tenderness. But you don’t have to take my word for it, poet Catherine Bowman called this collection “Wise, joyous, keen tender, she shows us the divine in the most unexpected places.” And you don’t have to take you Bowman’s word for it, you can read it yourself!
Amelia Martens’ interview is just as wise and tender. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do:
What do you write? How do you write it?
Poems. Mostly prose poems have been arriving for the past few years (although I’ve also recently written four book reviews). I write at a giant desk, rescued from the IU surplus store. It sits in our laundry room, right in front of window looking onto our backyard willow trees. I write on a Mac laptop, though most of my poems start now at notes written down in a rush in a little-Nancy-Drew-like notepad (there’s even a tiny pen that slips into the side!). I write in the small in-between moments; now that our girls are older (3 and 5) they go off and have their own adventures together—so I write until someone needs a Band-Aid, new pants, a snack.
Can you tell us a little bit about your job and how you got there?
I am in my ninth year (!) working as an adjunct instructor at a community college where my husband also teaches; he’s full-time in the English department, so I can never be hired full-time in the same division. I also work part-time in our campus’ Tutoring Center where I assist students with reading strategies, study skills, and all parts of the writing process. In addition, I train new tutors. I got into the Tutoring Center because I really like working one-on-one with students, and because I found out I was at a dead-end in the English department. Thus, I decided to earn another Masters degree; this time focused on adult literacy. Now I have an MFA and an MS in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education from IU. And I’m employed at two part-time jobs.
How does this job challenge/influence/inspire your writing life?
Sometimes the universe gives me exactly what I need. Sometimes it takes me years to realize this is what has happened. Because I work part-time I get to be home with our daughters, and I get these in-between moments to write. I have an incredible ability to take on work—so if I had been teaching full time these last few years, that’s probably where I would have thrown most of my energy—instead, I’ve been able to funnel my resources into writing and our kids. The flexibility of teaching a couple classes, teaching online, and scheduling my tutoring hours around my husband’s teaching schedule means a better quality of life for our family and writing time for me. Especially since I’m not a sit-down-and-write-for-4-hours type of person, this arrangement has worked out really well—into a book in fact! I’ve had to let go the desire for accolades at work and been able to create poems that are important. It’s been challenging, especially to still be paid the same rate per class as I was in 2007, but overall the time with our daughters and the freedom to write wins out. Also, thank goodness that Britton has a full-time job! We all enjoy the health insurance that comes with it!
Do you have a source of inspiration you turn to regularly? (What is it?)
Our daughters, Thea and Opal. They’re weird and existential and wise and brave and unfiltered. They’ve made language and the world new. “Our daughter” drives one of the threads in The Spoons in the Grass are There to Dig a Moat and many of the poems incorporate dialogue straight from Thea.
I also just find the world to be so strange; I love science and space. I get a lot of poem seedlings from listening to NPR in the car, which is harder to do now that the girls are older. I often think about how delicate our social fabric is and how strangely we approach each other as human beings; much of this comes from reading The Atlantic or the newspaper. Human beings are capable of such extreme behaviors, and it feels like if I just pay attention, I’ll have poems coming from all corners.