What is your most recent writing project, or what is a piece you’ve had published recently?
My third collection of poems, Sometimes We’re All Living in a Foreign Country, came out with Carnegie Mellon University Press in October of 2017.
What’s your favorite thing someone else has said about your writing?
Before my first book was even accepted, Marilyn Hacker selected me as the winner of the Poetry Society of America’s 2010 Alice Fay di Castagnola Award for a manuscript-in-progress. Her comments were that the manuscript “adds an eloquent voice to a world poetry (as exemplified in different ways by Rukeyser, by Nelly Sachs, by Darwish) of displacement, of an experience of exile that can be internal, of the human realities and costs of war. There is no question in reading these texts that one is being guided through these landscapes by a poet as sure in craft as in historical vision, giving the reader the pleasure of this virtuoso reach, lyricism, control, while investigating (in the poet's own words) ‘the consistently manipulated dividing lines of culture and power.’”
These were inspiring words from a poet who I so deeply respect and admire, and they also meant so much to me at a time when I hadn’t yet had a book accepted and when I was having trouble believing that someday I would. Hacker’s words were the encouragement I needed then, and I turn to them now when I’m feeling discouraged about making this particular project about my family history the book I dream it can be.
What is one craft or writing book you love?
I love Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey, and also another one of my favorites for teaching graduate students is Natasha Sajé’s wonderful Windows and Doors from the University of Michigan Press’s Poets on Poetry Series.
Who is one other writer you’re excited about right now?
There are so many, so I will focus on a poet whose book I’m looking forward to: I loved Sally Wen Mao’s Mad Honey Symposium, and I can’t wait to see what her new book from Graywolf will be like next year.
What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What’s the best?
The worst: Being told I was too young to write about what I was writing about. My students, no matter where I teach, always remind me that young writers can amaze and surprise you. I try to never restrict what they can write about.
The best: Keep writing. I also love Jane Kenyon’s directive in A Hundred White Daffodils: “Develop a tough snout.”
Do you have a dedicated work space? Do you write in your home or do you prefer to write elsewhere? Can you write while traveling?
We just moved, last summer, into the downstairs apartment of an old house, and I’ve built a nice little writing spot in the corner of the dining room. When I was living in Mississippi, I came across a wooden desk that had been in the old Tennessee House of Representatives. I now have it tucked under a window next to some weird built-in bookshelves that block an old doorway out of the dining room. The upstairs neighbor’s stairwell is on the other side of the shelves, and his beautiful aging golden retriever sleeps on the steps and snores all day. It is soothing and hilarious to hear her snoring on the other side of the shelves while I’m writing.
The truth is, I am used to writing poems outside of the house because for most of my writing life I was only able to afford a tiny studio apartment or a room in a house and so I have always sought out clear and quiet places to work. My past favorite writing spots have included The Writers’ Room of Boston, where I was lucky enough to have two fellowships; a tiny white windowless carrel I rented for fifty bucks a semester at the University of Southern Mississippi’s library; and the beautiful reading room at Harvard’s main library. And many a coffee shop! I’m still searching for my next spot.
How do you pay the bills/financially support yourself?
Academic jobs: For the last two years I was the Jacob Ziskind Poet-in-Residence at Brandeis University, and in the spring semester of 2019, I’ll be the Distinguished Visiting Writer at Bowling Green State University.
When you are sitting down to write, what is the first thing you do?
I often read through other recent drafts of new poems and begin to fiddle with them and then I either get lost in the revision or move on to starting something new.
What are the most pressing demands for your time, energy, labor (including emotional labor)?
One of the most pressing demands outside of my academic jobs has always been my literary magazine, Memorious.org, which I’ve been running, and selecting all of the poetry for, for nearly fifteen years since I co-founded it in 2004; it keeps me busy. (I also handle all of our social media, which is time consuming!) And being a good citizen and support person to fellow writers–-whether friends or students or former classmates or whoever else gets sent my way–-can take a lot of my time and energy. But one thing I know: we writers need one another.
What are the ideal conditions for your creativity?
I love residencies. I love having a space that is only for writing, and I get so much inspiration from the conversations with artists and composers and writers that residency communities offer. My last book, The Spokes of Venus, was born in part from those conversations. But having a space that’s just for writing, whether a space of my own or a really wonderful library to work in, does the trick as well.
Do you have any writing rituals? Or any non-writing rituals that feed your writing life?
This question makes me want to create some elaborate writing rituals! Someday, when I have the time.
Rebecca Morgan Frank is the author of three collections of poetry: Sometimes We’re All Living in a Foreign Country (Carnegie Mellon 2017); The Spokes of Venus (Carnegie Mellon 2016); and Little Murders Everywhere, shortlisted for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Her poems have appeared such places as the New Yorker, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Guernica, and the Harvard Review. She is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online literary magazine Memorious.org. In Spring 2019 she will be the Distinguished Visiting Writer at Bowling Green State University.