Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Claire McQuerry.
Claire McQuerry is a Creative Writing Fellow at the University of Missouri and the Contest Editor for The Missouri Review. Her poetry collection, Lacemakers, won the Crab Orchard Series First Book Prize, and her poems and essays have appeared in Mid-American Review, Creative Nonfiction, American Literary Review, and other journals.
Superstition Review featured Claire McQuerry’s poetry in Issue 2. I recently had the good fortune to discuss her soon to be published collection of poetry entitled Lacemakers. Claire earned her MFA in writing poetry and taught for several years at Arizona State University. Her work has been published in Double Change, Comstock Review and elsewhere. Her poetry collection Lacemakers will be published in December 2011 as the winner of the 2010 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award.
Superstition Review: How has your life changed since your time teaching at Arizona State University?
Claire McQuerry: I took a year off from teaching and worked as a freelance writer, which was enough time for me to realize that I’m much more at home in the academic environment than most other workplaces. I love teaching, and I love being surrounded by colleagues who care about literature and learning. So I’m back in school now, working on a PhD at the University of Missouri, where I’m also teaching and working as the Contest Editor at the Missouri Review.
SR: What experiences have you taken away from your work at The Missouri Review?
CM: I’ve never been very good with technology and social medias, but part of my job as Contest Editor involves networking to publicize our annual Editor’s Prize competition—so I’ve been learning to use Twitter and to keep up with regular blog posts and follow other journals and literary news online. The move that many journals are making to digital formats, the growing digital book trend, the widespread use of Twitter, etc. are changes I’ve been resistant for a long time, but it seems that that’s the direction things are headed—even in the literary world, which is so slow to change—so I think it’s good that I’m getting to know the online publishing environment better.
SR: How is working with The Missouri Review different from other writing you’ve done?
CM: I guess I touched on that a bit in the previous question. There’s a level of self-consciousness I’ve had to overcome when I blog or “tweet” for TMR because I’m aware of the very public and immediate nature of that writing. When I write poetry or essays for publication, part of that process always involves honing each piece through numerous revisions until I’m satisfied that the rough edges have been smoothed away, that the work that remains is well-reflected-upon and carefully crafted. This usually requires me to put a draft away for a while and then revisit it after some time has elapsed. Clearly, this level of reflection isn’t possible with online communication, so I’m adapting to a new form.
SR: Besides your work at The Missouri Review, what are you currently working on?
CM: Teaching and finishing coursework for my degree. Writing more poems when I can.
SR: For those who are not familiar with your newly published book, how would you describe Lacemakers?
CM: I wrote most of the poems for Lacemakers while living in Phoenix, so a good portion of the book questions the effect a city has on the people who live in it: the poems explore questions of relationship, of loss and longing, and of environment—particularly the man-made environment and its impact on the people who inhabit it. Lacemakers also returns obsessively to separations, which is something I became keenly aware of while living in Phoenix—the way people can live side-by-side and yet remain incredibly isolated.
SR: When did you begin writing Lacemakers, and when was it completed?
CM: I wrote the oldest poem in the collection in 2002, and the most recent poem was written about a year ago, so I guess that covers a span of seven years. The early poems have undergone so many revisions that they don’t look much like their first versions.
SR: What advice would you offer to an aspiring writer?
CM: Well, it may sound obvious, but it’s the best advice I got from my mentors when I first started writing, and it’s still the best I can offer anyone else: read. Read widely and often—both authors who have a similar style to your own as well as those who challenge you or have a different aesthetic. A poem (or an essay or story) is always a response. You’ll find that your poems are richer and your mind is fuller of the poems you want to write if you feed yourself a steady diet of other writers’ work. I only wish that I hadn’t waited so long in life to listen to this advice myself!