In the course of a review of Alice’s latest poetry collection, After the Steaming Stops, I asked her a few questions about why she writes. She was kind enough to talk freely about her creative process. I could only use a sentence or two in my review, so I asked her if I could share the entire review with my blog readers. (Check upcoming issues of Readers’ Corner in the Myrtle Beach Sun News for the review.) Here it is:
Joan: When did you start writing poetry?
Alice: I officially started in 8th grade in English class—we made a collection of our poems about nature and I watercolored many of the pages. My favorite poem was entitled, “Why the Wild Geese Fly” and I created a poem about the expanding universe after modeling from another poem. In 10th grade I won 2nd place in my school’s poetry contest—I still have the trophy! It was a three-page epic poem about the death of King Arthur. After high school I stopped writing poetry until I was in my mid-twenties, then started up again in my early thirties when I remembered the violent death of a high school friend of mine. I wrote a poem about her and it was named Honorable Mention in NC State’s annual poetry contest. Nothing took stop me after this! Later that same year I self-published my first book of poems, Right Lane Ends, with Catawba Publishing Company in 2006. I wrote all of the poems in Right Lane Ends over the course of just four months from April to August 2006. Talk about a real burst of creativity! My poems emerged from auditing a summer poetry class at NC State and taking a one-week intensive women’s poetry workshop. After I wrote these twenty or so poems, I had them edited and reviewed by my wonderful weekly poetry group. Then I consulted with my boss at the time who was a self-published author herself, and she gave me the confidence to call up Catawba and work up the contract. At the time I had also scheduled my book’s book launch for October 13th at our favorite local coffee shop so I knew that I had to get order my books by Labor Day so I could get my books delivered a few days before the launch—and it happened!
Joan: You write and teach several genres (pls name) –what do you especially like about writing and reading poetry?
Alice: I teach memoir all the way from beginning to advanced as well as memoir editing
Fiction and fiction editing
Marketing and publicity for writers
are some of my offerings in 2013. I also write book reviews for Pedestal Magazine and have written nonfiction articles and personal essays.
I like reading and writing poetry for the challenge—it’s not easy and it’s not for everyone. I especially like when I discover what the poet’s trying to say in as few words as possible. I also love studying song lyrics for the cool phrases I can pinch out—one of my favorite lines is from Matchbox Twenty’s debut album, Yourself Or Someone Like You on the song “Girl Like That.” Rob Thomas sings “I’m same old trailer trash in new shoes.” Wow! Rob is saying a whole lot about himself and his past in 7 words.
Joan: Who are your fave poets?
Alice: I love male poets!
Robert Louis Stevenson
Ai (OK, the exception)
Joan: Over what time period did you write the poems in this book?
Alice:Over four years. The youngest poems were from the fall of 2011 and the oldest from the summer of 2007 when I ventured to the Iowa Summer Writing Festival at the University of Iowa in Iowa City to study poetry with Juliet Patterson. Juliet still leads me and several other poets in a monthly correspondence class. I still had several “extra” poems from Unfinished Projects, which came out a year before After Steaming that didn’t fit—the poems in Unfinished revolve around the theme of houses and home. So I threw them into After Steaming. All of my poems in my book are narrative poems about love’s flare-ups and endings. They are mostly true stories of what happened to me as a three-, eight -or ten-year old and how inappropriate my parents acted with me. As a kid, I remembered these incidents, locked them into my head so one day I could write about them. All of the quotations from my folks are real. Some poems weigh more on the father than the mother to give them equal time and I’m sympathetic with both. As I mentioned before I also love to write about death! I also have two historical poems about a near death and a death and how they affected me. My poem “Early” is about a train engineer who kills someone on the tracks just because he was doing his job. I got the idea from that poem by reading the paper. The article said that over the course of a train operator’s career they will kill three people, on average.
Joan: How long did it take you to find a publisher?
Alice: I got lucky! I had known M. Scott Douglass, the publisher/editor of Main Street Rag since 2005 because he was a regular vendor at the all of the NC Writers’ Network (NCWN) conferences. In the spring of 2008 he published “Carport Carpenter” in his quarterly magazine and he knew who I was because I regularly submitted to his chapbook contest every May. I saw him at the Spring NCWN Conference and told him I would submit again to his contest. He gave me a few tips on how to pick a theme and a title. Then later that summer, while I was on vacation, I got an email from Scott asking me to send him my manuscript because the judges hadn’t selected me for a top spot. I happened to have my flash drive and the rest is history! Unfinished Projects, which contains “Carport Carpenter,” was published December 2010.
Joan: What does the title phrase mean–is it after the partying as in military terms or is there another meaning?
Alice: I got the title of my book, After the Steaming Stops from an Aunt Jemima waffle box—if you check out the instructions on the back you’ll see some of the boxes say, “Bake until the steaming stops” after you’ve poured the batter into a hot waffle iron. I love to make waffles on Sunday mornings and came across this phrase—and thought, “how intriguing.” I changed it to “After the Steaming Stops,” to reveal what happens after the anger and after the love is gone. Many of my poems use domestic imagery and I also wanted the title to have an element of danger—which is steaming. Steam will burn you and it can also melt your love. Love is represented by the frozen popsicle heart that’s being lowered via a ladle into the pressure cooker. In this case steam, one of the three states of water, is a metaphor for love in my book. Some love is solid (you know it’s unconditional), some liquid (it flows all around you and you know it’s there), some is steam (it’s in the vapors and you don’t know if it really even exists).
Joan: Why should ordinary people read poetry–what does it do for us
Alice: Poet Betty Adcock says, “Literature teaches us how to live,” and I want to add that so does poetry. We learn that people who lived hundreds of years before us loved, laughed, feared and suffered. We learn that they were human beings too and not the stiff folks from history books. Poetry provokes us and makes us look inward so we see the world differently. Many adults are afraid of poetry, mostly because they think they’re too dumb to get it and don’t want to read something that’s hard. This isn’t true, of course. They need to set aside their fears and go to a poetry reading with a friend and open up their minds. That’s why I host so many events and poetry readings in non-threatening venues where there’s lots of wine and chocolate! Non poets can experience the poetry of me and my friends and feel comfortable that poetry is of this world—it’s not separate and formal.
More about Alice:
Alice Osborn, M.A. is the author of three books of poetry, After the Steaming Stops (Main Street Rag, 2012), Unfinished Projects (Main Street Rag, 2010) and Right Lane Ends (Catawba, 2006) and is the editor of the anthology, Tattoos (Main Street Rag, 2012); her past educational and work experience is unusually varied and now it feeds her strengths as an editor who makes good writers great authors. Alice teaches creative writing all over the country where she uses sensory images and road-tested prompts to stimulate her students’ best work. Her pieces have appeared in the News and Observer, The Broad River Review, The Pedestal Magazine, Soundings Review and in numerous journals and anthologies. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband and two children and three parakeets: Woodbird, Birdstein and Perry. Visit her website at http://www.aliceosborn.com.
AFTER THE STEAMING STOPS is her most recent collection of poetry; previous collections are Right Lane Ends, and Unfinished Projects. The latter prompted these remarks from author Homer Hickam: “I love Alice’s poetry. She gives me thoughts I’ve never thought, and dreams I’ve never dreamed. She uses words like a master potter—molding the clay of the mind into vessels that hold not things, but life, place, and time.” AFTER THE STEAMING STOPS seems a book more of broken dreams than of new or unexpected ones. There is no sentimentality in the face of death, departures, endings: “Loss reminds you about change, / and what you are willing to throw away.” The funeral of a princess becomes backdrop for a more intimate loss, and tears betray determination more than grief: “… I cry for another death coming. / It’s time for me to move out of his place, / tell him what he’s afraid to say, / and take his fat cat and a few towels in the parting.”
Order Alice’s AFTER THE STEAMING STOPS at www.aliceosborn.com