An interview with semi-finalist Shanti Weiland

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

Shanti Weiland

Shanti Weiland

Shanti Weiland is a poet by nature but sometimes enjoys a visit to the other team's dugout, where she dabbles in prose. She received her BA in English from the University of California, Davis and later moved to the desert, pursuing a Creative Writing MA at Northern Arizona University. She then traveled to the humid and friendly south, where she earned a PhD in Poetry from the University of Southern Mississippi. She’s recently been published in Toad the Journal, Bop Dead City, Front Porch Review, and Third Wednesday, and has poems forthcoming in Mad Hatter’s Review and Two Cities Review. She currently teaches writing and literature at The University of Alabama and lives in Birmingham with her partner and a menagerie of pets. You can find her online at shantiweiland.com and @ShantiWeiland.

SW:  Let us suppose we are somewhere chatting. Where does this interview take place?  In a coffee shop in some city?  In a hotel lobby in Paris? In your kitchen eating chocolate chip cookies? You set the scene. 

We’re standing on the balcony of a high-rise, drinking martinis. It’s evening, and the city is pulsing with activity. The lights outshine the moon, and we can hear a jazz band playing in the distance.

SW:  What are some of your poetic influences? How do you describe your own poetry—important concerns, themes, pursuits?

Li-Young Lee’s work has influenced my poetry quite a bit, although I would not say that our poetry is alike. I have always appreciated the quiet intensity in his poems. “This Room and Everything in It” is one of my favorite poems as are his poems “Eating Together” and “Eating Alone.” I like his subtlety as well as the way he tethers ethereal abstractions, like death and love, to bright, warm imagery. I also have reread Jane Hilberry’s Body Painting several times. My poetry is probably a bit more like hers. I like her use of surrealism, especially in poems like “Crazy Jane Meets a Bear.”

In “Sister Nun,” I found that certain colors and aspects of nature kept appearing, like pink and lava imagery. I like a bit of the surreal in my writing, but I also want to weave conversational language into it.

My primary concern, in my writing, is that the work is honest, even if the speaker is not. I think of poems, such as Carolyn Kizer’s “Bitch,” where Kizer explores the conflict of the speaker’s inner, helpless, feisty self when running into an old flame. I also love Tony Hoagland’s “Benevolence,” in which the speaker describes his desire for his father to reincarnate as a dog so that he can torment him with alcohol he can no longer drink. I’m always taken aback by how quickly the poem shifts from harshness to vulnerability in the last stanza: “what I’ll remember as I stand there / is the hundred clever tricks / I taught myself to please him, / and for how long I mistakenly believed / that it was love he held concealed in his closed hand.” 

SW:  What is your job and how does it affect your poetry?

I teach college literature, composition, and creative writing courses. I think that teaching definitely affects my writing. I love teaching creative writing, and teaching literature is particularly fun when I notice new aspects of a work that I’ve read several times already. It’s interesting, though, I think teaching composition affects my writing the most. The need to articulate to new college writers how to effectively and clearly persuade, along with reviewing technique and helping them to develop their own writing intuition, keeps me grounded (and patient).

SW:  What can you share about your writing process?

I write when an idea comes to me. When I am lucky, I’m available to write it down; when I’m not, I usually burn dinner between scribbles. Sometimes, I’m very strict about writing (I schedule and keep writing times every day), and it feels good to produce.  Other times, creativity ebbs, and so I’ll focus more on revising poems, organizing a manuscript, or reading.

SW:  Let’s say you are teaching a workshop; give us a sample exercise/lesson.

There’s a lesson that I give on found poetry. There’s this great book called Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald H. Rumsfeld, by Hart Seely, which is an arrangement of Rumsfeld’s Pentagon briefings and media interviews. After we discuss Rumsfeld’s poetry (doesn’t that sound weird?) I bring out different books and magazines, and the students use them to create their own found poems. I like to bring material that delivers strange messages, like experiments discussed in outdated science textbooks and odd advice in fashion magazines.

SW:  What are your thoughts on social media?  Do you have a website? A blog?

I think social media is a great way to find work by new authors. I like the ready access to people’s work online (even though it’s still no substitute for the pleasure of holding an actual book and reading on the porch all afternoon). I like looking at other poets’ websites, especially if some of their work is hyperlinked. I’ve also discovered several good journals that I had not known of until I saw, on someone’s website, that their work had been published in these journals.

Last year, I was inspired by some of my colleagues’ websites, and I created my own (shantiweiland.com). I also started a Twitter account that I use mostly to tweet about literature, art, and sci-fi. I like that so many literary journals now have Twitter and Facebook pages.

SW:   What are you reading at the moment?

In summer, I’m a bit noncommittal in my reading, so I’m rotating several different books in accordance to my mood! I’m reading a book called The Secret History of Wonder Woman, by Jill Lepore, which explores the origins and creation of the Wonder Woman character. I just started a book called Dark Sparkler, by Amber Tamblyn, which is a series of poems, each dedicated to an actress who died young. I’m also on the third volume of a comic book series called The Last Man, written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Pia Guerra, which is about a plague that wipes out all male mammals, except for one man and his pet monkey.

SW:  What is the view out your window?

I recently moved into a house. The view from my old apartment office window was of a large lawn lined by ponderosa pines. There was a huge hill that little kids would run up and down all summer. On the two days that it snows in Alabama, they’d fashion sleds out of trashcan lids and boxes. One muggy night in August, a bunch of teenagers tried to create a slip ‘n slide out of trash bags, but they just ended up getting wrapped like burritos. I loved that view. Right now, I have a view of my driveway, which thankfully is surrounded by trees and foliage. At a certain point in the morning, the sun reflects the red from my Prius, and the whole room feels like a heart.

SW:  Your turn—you ask the question—and you give the answer.

Who makes a better grilled cheese sandwich, cat people or dog people?

Cat people: we’re more patient.

Thank you for being a part of Negative Capability.