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Featured Poet:  Suzanne Nielson
Interview Continued

I note you are a teacher; do you teach poetry? Has your teaching career affected your writing?

I have been teaching writing for a decade now, to include poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and contemporary literature. The most fruitful poetry class I taught was a class I designed and titled "Outlaw Poets" at Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD), 2006. The previous semester I taught 20th Century Poetry, and although this was a great grounding course my students did not have the hands-on experience with narrative poetry like they did in the outlaw class where the required reading consisted of "The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry," edited by the brilliant Alan Kaufman.

The second part of this question is pertinent to my 2006 dissertation titled "Writers as Teachers: A Balancing Act," where I interviewed several teaching writers to include Hilary Masters, the son of Edgar Lee Masters, most famous for his poetry collection "Spoon River Anthology" (1916). One of the most revealing components of information gathered through the interviews had to do with this simple question: do you consider yourself a writer first, and then a teacher, or a teacher first, then a writer? Herein lies the answer(s) to the question "Has your teaching affected your writing?" It takes a dissertation to (attempt to) answer this question. Because you ask it as a closed-ended question I will simply say YES. Sorry for such a convoluted answer.

You have a new collection of poetry titled "I Thought You Should Know," scheduled to be published in 2009. Tell us about it.

I do better writing poems than discussing my poems, but I like what the poet Susan Williams had to say in the preface of the book, so if it is okay with you I will include a section of that: I don't know if Suzanne Nielsen is semi-literate or a freaking genius, or if one blots out the other. Most days she doesn't know a plural from a possessive. She's hazy on subject-verb agreement and homonyms are not her strong suit, though I suppose it could "reign and thunder" in a poet's world. I suppose a poet could "break" as well as "brake" for geese...Nielsen's gift lies in storytelling, in bringing an untidy life to life with a few strokes, in perceiving the hidden web beneath the ordinary. In diving so seamlessly into a mind that the water does not ripple.

Do you read much poetry for pleasure? Which journals or magazines?

I read poetry every day for breakfast usually, or brunch, depending on my commitments. I often return to "Spoon River." Other poets I read often are Elizabeth Bishop and Emily Dickinson. As far as literary journals: the more offbeat the better. I try to stay away from publications like The Sun and The Paris Review. There is not enough variety and surprise for me.

What do enjoy most about poetry and the industry/community surrounding it? What do like least?

What I enjoy most about poetry is the online community that keeps developing. I enjoy talking to poets and reading their work from Bulgaria, India, Iran, Israel and the southern parts of the US. The variety of perspectives and language use intrigue me and keep me focused on poetry as an art form. I like the audience the best in other words. Like Jane Wagner said through the voice of Trudy in "The Search for Signs...", "The play soup, the audience art."

What I like least is the level of placating that goes on between poets and publishers in America; it cannot help but industrialize the art form.

What's next for you as a writer/poet?

What's next is my collection of work I am finishing drafting on December 31st, 2008 titled "Bending Spoons: A Leap of Faith." Below is a brief synopsis of the work:

Spoon River was my introduction to Edgar Lee Masters as a poet. I picked up a first edition copy at Half Price Books for a dollar several years ago and I still revisit it almost daily. Bending Spoons: A Leap of Faith, started as a New Year's resolution, an homage to Masters. The "leap" represented leap year (sort of); bending spoons is a metaphor for how I interweave narratives by writing a poem a day and revisiting each of the characters throughout the year. Initially I worked with the title of "The Promise of a New Poem," a knock-off of The Promise of a New Day by Karen Casey and Martha Vanceburg. Their book of daily inspirations was my starting point for each poem. However after careful thought, starting the collection with Bending Spoons seemed more appropriate, as the characters are bending the ears of the reader continuously.

Although these characters do not visit the reader from their graves as Masters' characters do in Spoon River, they are members of a (dys)functional community that speak of the (dis)trust and irony we face on a daily basis. I believe some of the characters are descendants to some of the people buried in Petersburg, IL.

Thanks for asking me these thoughtful questions, TR. I would like to plug my brilliant poet/publisher, Samartha Vashishtha, at So'ham Books. Without his dedication as audience the poems I write would be just words. He makes the reading and printing of them art. http://www.geocities.com/sohambooks/

Read more of Suzanne's poetry from a prior issue of Poetry Cemetery here.