Interview: Teneice Durrant Delgado
when you picture someone reading your poetry, how do you see them? what do they think about, wear, and do? or, maybe a better way to say it: who do you write for? and how do you see your writing nourishing others?
Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that I tend to write in short arcs and that I am madly in love with the chapbook. I think of the chapbook as a working-class, accessible means of getting poetry (or even fiction and non-fiction) into the hands of those who may not have the time or money to consume an entire book of poetry. So I feel like I’m writing for those people that crave a satisfying little holiday into poetry, something they can read on their lunch break or while the kids are napping, that feels complete, and that still gives them time to run the vacuum or take a couple laps around the building before they have to clock back in.
how do you use poetry as a practice for spiritual exploration, discipline, or growth? can you offer any practical advice or sure-fire practices for folks interested in allowing writing to inform their spiritual discipline?
One of the writing exercises I remember from undergrad was to take an abstract idea (love, peace, hate, agony) and make it very, very specific. I am a recently confirmed Catholic, so my references are going to be Christian-centered because that’s what I’m familiar with, but I think some of the ideas work with other faiths, too. There are a lot of big abstracts in the Bible that we can reflect on and use to inform our own writing. What does acceptance, for example, look like in the Bible? How does your experience with acceptance compare? Can you write about how you’ve succeeded, or more interestingly, how you’ve failed at acceptance? In my chapbook, Burden of Solace, the narrator of the poems is the victim of human trafficking and slavery. She comes from an Irish Catholic background and struggles daily with feeling utterly forsaken. I tried to imagine how this extreme desperation and hopelessness would test my beliefs and convey that in these poems.
when you approach your desk, journal, computer—where ever it is you tend to create—what are some of the processes you use? what’s going through your mind? tell us about your habits of writing, no matter how quirky, mundane, strange, or small.
Well, obviously I have to check email and Facebook, to make sure nothing important has happened. Usually when I write a poem, it’s because I’ve already had a few lines or a phrase turning through my head for awhile. I’ve got three kids under 8 years old, so I don’t always get to the computer or the notebook right away. I’ve had to work on keeping a phrase in my head, thinking about it, turning it over and around until I have a chance to get it down.
Also when I’m in first draft mode, I keep reminding myself that it doesn’t have to mean something, not right now. Just get the words out, get the tone and the feeling down.
I think we, at least I, tend to get caught up in “what does this poem mean?!” or “I want this poem to be about ____” and we miss an opportunity to let the poem take shape organically. Other than that, I always have a cup of coffee or tea and it really helps if it’s raining outside.
when you go to revise work, how do you typically go about it? are there best practices you follow? give some wise instruction for those of us ready to get cracking on revision!
I know it has been mentioned before, but it bears repeating: You have to read your work out loud! This is the best way I’ve found to get a feel for the poem, to understand where I’m getting bogged down. I also like to keep a real dictionary and thesaurus around, not just use the one on the computer, because I like to look at the other words surrounding the word I’m looking up. Another word close by may give just the right nuance that my original word was missing. It is also imperative to have a first reader, one that you trust and that you are willing to read for in return. I have one and she reads every line I write. She offers suggestions, which I may or may not take, and encouragement. This may seem a little co-dependent, and maybe it is in a way, but it’s less about getting validation for a sentence well written and more about knowing that there is an audience ready, perhaps expecting, to see what I am up to, to ask what I’ve written, or why I’m not writing. Knowing that there is someone eager to read what I write somehow makes the blank page less intimidating.
what’s the best advice you can give to a person just beginning to write, struggling to write, or feeling stuck? what’s something you wish someone had told you starting out?
When I’m stuck I give myself a project. For example, a few years ago I was adjuncting and hardly writing at all, and I just couldn’t seem to get inspired by anything. I happened to find this journal in a clearance bin that was pretty plain, just black and red faux leather with the words “black and red” on the front. So I divided the book in half and I looked up every synonym for red and black and wrote one at the top of each page. Then I spent my free time googling those words. Cerise, burgundy, zibeline, sable. I wrote down anything interesting about each color, and these personalities started to develop. Some of the poems I ended up incorporating the color into the poem, others were like personifications of the color. I ended up with about 20 poems that I’ve worked into a full-length manuscript.
would you like to share a poem you’re working on or have recently finished and comment on how it was written in light of the comments above? if so, please do so below…
I’ve woken with wings again
but this time I remember your warning:
the ceiling is closer in the morning. I hear
the clawing of stray cats or angels
on the roof, all eager to get in, to steal
my revelations, again-
They are too late, he’s borrowed them
line by line to share with a setting
moon. Another warning you etched for me: evil
is not the man, or his attention, but
the obsession of trying to divine: rapture
or meteor? Either will ruin you
for the life you try to return to. There’s
no comfort in rebuilding this old home,
or in making wishes on falling
brimstone the only shooting stars we can afford.
This was a response to a poem by Rane Arroyo, who was my mentor up until his death in 2010. He still seems to find ways to mentor me, through his work and through people I’ve met because of him. It’s been through a few revisions, but still new.
Teneice Durrant Delgado is the author of three chapbooks, most recently Burden of Solace (Cervená Barva Press). She is a co-founder and poetry editor for Blood Lotus: an online literary journal. Teneice became involved with Winged City Press in 2008 under the guidance of Rane Arroyo and is currently the Publisher and managing editor.
Teneice is originally from Akron, Ohio but currently lives in Dayton, Ohio. Her poems have appeared in the Valparaiso Poetry Review, The Heartland Review, The Furnace Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Glass, Pisgah Review, Soundings East and others. She is a proud graduate of Spalding University’s Brief Residency MFA program.