Congratulations, Erin! What can you tell us about your just-published 3rd poetry collection, And If the Woods Carry You?

And If the Woods Carry You is my third poetry collection. It won the 2020 Southern Indiana Review Michael Waters Poetry Prize and was published on 12/1/21. The collection explores motherhood and childhood in a frightening and uncertain world much like ours, but maybe a hairbreadth closer to the worst of the impending climate catastrophes. As the title suggests, the fairy tale woods, with its innate magics and dangers, appears as setting, metaphor, and theme in different ways throughout the book. I worked on this collection for about 2 years, but I think it truly began shortly after the 2016 presidential election, when I, foolishly or fortuitously, decided to watch Leonardo DiCaprio’s Before the Flood with my 2-month-old daughter deep in a milk-drunk sleep on my lap. I’ve been worried about climate change for as long as I can remember, but right then I felt it as real visceral fear in my body. Though I know many parents have felt this way before and since, it suddenly seemed like I’d chosen the worst time in history to bring a new life into this world. And yet I didn’t, couldn’t, regret it. So I began exploring the tension between these feelings through poetry. The book grew and changed since that initial impulse/existential crisis, but it remains a central obsession.

What have you enjoyed most about teaching at The Writing Salon?

One of my favorite things about The Writing Salon community is learning about the variety of career paths and personal journeys my students have been on before finding their way to, or back to, writing. Many of my students have recently retired from, or are still very much in the midst of, intense careers that they believe have nothing to do with creative writing. One of my favorite things about working with these students at The Writing Salon is giving them permission to bring their life experience, expertise, and personality to the page. Often, people get the idea that a background in something more physical or technical is something to be overcome, rather than a potential source of creative material and inspiration. I love that I get to tell them that their background as a chemist or lawyer or physical therapist or construction worker, and relative lack of experience as a creative writer, can actually be a gift. An unconventional path to creative writing can grant someone access to a whole lexicon of terms and metaphors and images. What might be dull and ordinary language in the context of a legal document or research paper can become fresh and exciting in the context of a poem or short story. I love it when I see students becoming more fully themselves on the page and their writing becoming more memorable and alive because of it.

How has the pandemic impacted your writing and teaching?

I was 3 weeks into a 5-week class when the Bay Area went into lockdown in March of 2020. I didn’t even have Zoom then; one of my students who worked at Google set our class up with a Google Meet session and we all just muddled through. But I was moved and pleasantly surprised by the level of connection that still seemed possible in virtual spaces. Though some in-person traditions were less appealing, for example reading out loud in a circle didn’t really translate to Zoom. So I began using the screen share option to show videos of writers reading their own work, and I’ve found that adds another layer of meaning for us to discuss and ruminate on. I’ve also deeply appreciated the opportunity to work one-on-one with poets through the poetry mentorship classes. I love exchanging emails about poetry with my mentees, it evokes the old-fashioned art of letter writing.

My own writing has mostly slowed to a trickle. It’s not so much about a lack of time to write, though that is always a challenge, but a lack of quiet in which to hear and follow my own thoughts. My kids are back in school now, but for almost a year my entire family of 4 was at home together in our 2-bedroom condo. My husband took one room as his office during the week and I took it as my classroom on the weekends. I spent a lot of time running back and forth between helping my older daughter with her school work and helping my preschooler find something, anything, to entertain her for a while. I think I only managed to write one new poem during that first year. Since the kids returned to school, I’ve been more productive. But I’ve pretty much let go of the idea of ever getting a complete draft down in one sitting. I have to allow my fragments of language to accumulate over days or weeks, until I feel I have all the material I need. Then I begin shaping something recognizable as a poem. In some ways I feel like I’m already revising a poem before I’ve even written it.

Any upcoming projects you’re excited about?

Since my last big project, my latest book, just came out last month, I’m only at the beginning of whatever my next project will become. Each poem I write feels very much like its own intricate little world, and I’m enjoying that. I do have some inkling of how the poems I’m writing might fit together, a glimmer of where they might go, but it is too vague to describe at this point. I’ve also been branching out into creative nonfiction. I tend to do a lot of braiding of narrative threads in my poems, so the braided essay feels like a natural fit for me. But so far I have a lot more ideas for essays than actual essays.

Erin Rodoni is the author of two poetry collections: Body, in Good Light (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2017) and A Landscape for Loss (NFSPS Press, 2017), winner of the Stevens Award sponsored by the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. Her third poetry collection won the 2020 Southern Indiana Review Michael Waters Poetry Prize and was published in fall 2021. Her poems, stories, and reviews have been published in such places as Best New PoetsPoetry NorthwestWorld Literature Today, and Sixfold, among others. She has been the recipient of an AWP Intro Journals Award, a Ninth Letter Literary Award, and the 2017 Montreal International Poetry Prize. When not writing, she enjoys travel and spending time outdoors with her daughters.

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