An Interview with semi-finalist Emily Schulten

We recently released our list of 2015 Negative Capability Press Book Competition semi-finalists. We will be posting interviews with each of the candidates.

Emily Schulten

Emily Schulten

Emily Schulten's first book entitled, Rest in Black Haw, appeared in 2009 from New Plains Press. Her work has appeared in nationally recognized journals including Prairie Schooner, New Ohio Review, North American Review, Mid-American Review, Salamander, and New Orleans Review, among others. Her website is www.emilyeschulten.com.

SW:  What are some of your influences – books, movies, music and / or whatever else – art, travel, etc?

Although I’m impacted a great deal by what is immediately around me – banyan roots or boat bones – it’s easier to point to the strong influences other writers have had on me. C.P. Cavafy has always struck me in his seamless incorporation of mythology and his informal approach to diction: he does so much so simply, without the need of anything gimmicky. Jean Follain is another poet whose work taught me a thing or two. He creates entire worlds in a small space, and his images are sharp and somehow so loaded with substance. There are so many poets I could point to, many of whom I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of workshop with.

SW:  How long have you written? A little history, here. 

I’ve written as long as I can recall, as I find most writers will tell you they have. For much of my youth this consisted of terrible lyrics on the pink pages of my Lisa Frank notebook for my nonexistent girl band. As I came into my own, I sought new opportunities to hone my craft. I studied creative writing at Western Kentucky University and completed my Ph.D. in creative writing at Georgia State University. In its recursive nature, everything written is still being written and is somehow connected to what I will begin writing next. It’s what is so terrifically painstaking about this work.

SW:  Several years ago, Negative Capability Press published an anthology entitled Life on the Line: Selections on Words and Healing.  Do you feel that writing relates to the process of healing?  How so?

I certainly think that it can. One of the first collections I connected with is Tess Gallagher’s Moon Crossing Bridge, poems about her marriage to and the loss of Raymond Carver. I think this work appeals to me because of its raw approach to grief, how the absence becomes such a present part of the work. Poets often have the gift of sight for that which is beautiful in its torture; this is something that can make words on healing so approachable, so vivid.

The Way a Wound Becomes a Scar, I hope, juxtaposes physical and emotional wounds and addresses our inherent need to try and control what we cannot, to heal what must take its own course. There is a great deal of the body, a great deal of myth, a great deal of that which often makes us feel as if we’re banging our heads against a wall trying to fix something that is broken. Writing these poems was often my alternative to the latter of these, and the collection itself was certainly cathartic. I think, though, that regardless of what someone is writing about – not necessarily the body or something broken – there is something cathartic in the completion of a project, something healing in the act itself.

SW:  How do you describe your poetry—important concerns, themes, pursuits?

Ancient Egyptian customs seems to find moments in many of my poems. It plays nicely into the desire to control that which we cannot, especially in their burial rites. Their detailed approach to planning their afterlives parallels the universal desire for forever in life, in relationships, in moments. This helped me to get at the narrative of the book, which is about coming to terms with impermanence by embracing the marks imprinted by what has been left behind. The visual aspect of Egyptian these customs and as well as their creation myths are so rich, too.  

SW:  What can you share about your writing process?

I mine my days for images that don’t shake off. I collect these and hope that they find their place in a metaphor that embeds itself in narrative. When this does happen it happens quite naturally, but I find it hard to force anything more than awareness. I will say that when I want to write and am stuck, what never fails is pulling something off the shelf and reading.

SW:   What are you reading at the moment?

For my summer reading, I’ve started Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov’s memoir of his life before America. I’ve also always got a few poetry collections I’m reading through. One of these right now is Faithful and Virtuous Night, by Louise Glück.

SW:  What is the view out your window?

In my front yard there is a Royal Poinciana tree, which is this tree that is on complete fire when it blooms. These are all over the Keys, so that in certain months one is almost constantly beneath an awning of red. I’ve been told they are called peacock trees in Cambodia, and in some places flame trees. So right now there’s an umbrella of crimson and fern outside the window, and the ground is stained brown-orange.

Thank you for being a part of Negative Capability.