VAH: More with Bernadette Geyer, this installment focusing on the writing life. Are you a full-time writer?
BG: I am a full-time freelance writer, editor, translator, and workshop instructor. All of the above are writing-related and from that I cobble together sustenance. My first love is writing poetry, but I do a lot of other things to pay the bills and buy groceries.
VAH: Would you say writing is a vocation, occupation, or profession?
BG: I consider poetry my “vocation” but for my “profession,” I write non-fiction, I provide editorial services, and I serve as a workshop instructor.
VAH: Writing for a living seems to always encompass so much beyond the creative journey. For you, when the page is blank, what gets you writing?
BG: I actually have a list of ideas for non-fiction articles I want to write and a journal full of jottings that can be developed into poems or essays. A blank page in front of me is never blank for very long. On the off chance I sit with a blank page in my journal, I sometimes just practice “observing” what’s around me. I will practice writing details, or description, or simile, or interpretation, or even just playing around with sound echoes, so that what I write builds on the sounds of the original word or observation. Sometimes, out of all that mess, will come a phrase that stands out as important and worth exploring further.
VAH: What you describe resonates with me as a means for practicing aspects of the craft. How would you describe your “process” when working on a new piece of writing?
BG: I am typically very slow in my process. When I get something onto a blank page and I think it’s promising, I will typically type it up and print it out for myself. I have a small desk in the house that I call my “editing” desk. No computer, just the desk and a chair and a lovely lamp. Most often, I will put the draft there for a while (a week or two, maybe a month, depending on what else is going on in my life at the moment) so that I can return to it with a fresh perspective. I walk past the desk very frequently because of its location and so I feel like the poem is always asserting its presence, even if subconsciously. I’ll look at it, and tweak a word. Or, I’ll scan it and have a sudden thought and then sit down and revise for an hour. Then I let it sit again. Type up a revision, print it out, let it sit some more. I usually have several poems in various stages of this process, so that it’s not usually more than a couple of months between finishing new poems. Sometimes I’ll finish a few in the course of one month! That always seems like a small miracle to me.
VAH: How about your typical writing day – what’s that like?
BG: This definitely depends on the kind of writing I am doing on a particular day. If it’s non-fiction, the day will involve a lot of research. I will sometimes forget to eat, but usually I try to tear myself away from my desk long enough to have a meal while not at the computer. I don’t typically devote a whole day to poetry, unless I am taking a workshop outside of my apartment. With my poetry, a 2-3 hour stretch is typically what I can do in a day. Sometimes the poem requires research, sometimes it requires that I get out of the apartment and wander while I think. Most poems are written in fits and starts over a long period and there is nothing “typical” about the process of writing them.
Bonus question –
VAH: Do you have a submission system or plan?
BG: My submissions are all tracked in a MSExcel file. I always note the date of the submission and how it was submitted (online, via email, post). On a separate page, I have a list of all the poems that I am actively submitting. Next to each poem I put a tic for each place to which I have submitted it. If a poem is currently under consideration at a place that does not accept sim subs, I make a special mark so that I know not to submit that poem elsewhere. I try to have poems submitted to 2-3 places at a time if those places accept sim subs. I am very methodical and persistent, albeit a little slower than many other poets I know. The Excel file is also where I track which litmags wrote encouraging personal notes on the rejection slips and specifically asked for me to submit again.
Bernadette Geyer Sampler:
“Kunstquartier Bethanien,” Slow Travel Berlin, December 2014
“The City behind the City of Berlin,” GoNOMAD, November 2014
“Fellowship Opportunities for Writers in Berlin,” Funds for Writers, September 19, 2014
“The Social Media Model,” The Los Angeles Review blog, September 4, 2010
“Making Every Word Count,” Absolute Write, July 27, 2006
“When Leaving Isn’t Easy,” Go World Travel Magazine, January 2006
Heron Tree – Parable of the Great Outpouring
La Petite Zine — Contrary to Popular Belief
The Paris-American – Thanksgiving
Redux: A Literary Journal – Fire Ants Invade Hong Hock See Buddhist Temple; Remembering Is Short; Haunting
Verse Daily – Without Warning
Waccamaw – Pit
Bernadette Geyer’s first full-length collection, The Scabbard of Her Throat, was selected by Cornelius Eady as the 2013 Hilary Tham Capital Collection title, published by The Word Works in early 2013. In 2010, she received a Strauss Fellowship from the Arts Council of Fairfax County. Geyer’s poems have appeared widely in journals including North American Review, Oxford American, The Paris-American, Poet Lore, and elsewhere.
In July 2013, Geyer relocated to Berlin, Germany, where she works as a freelance writer, editor, and translator. Her non-fiction has been published most recently in Slow Travel Berlin and GoNOMAD. Geyer also leads online creative writing and social media marketing workshops for writers.