Poet and Nonfiction writer Bernadette Geyer is the August Three by Five highlighted author.
BG: There are many reasons why I write. I write to get the words out of my head. Some days, I simply have to put down the phrases and narratives that appear in my head, and then other days, I return to those words to explore and fill in what feels necessary to it as a poem, or necessary to the completion of what I had begun. I also write as a way of thinking about and understanding (or trying to understand) the world around me, even if it is just understanding the importance of a pebble that a child is trying to put in her mouth.
VAH: Children explore by taste, we writers with finding the right word. Can you identify when you knew or felt like you were a writer and why?
BG: When I was in middle school, I loved Nancy Drew mysteries. I began to write my own little mystery stories during recess and some of my friends would pass around the pages as I finished them. I wrote poems in high school and then dreadful poems in college. It wasn’t until I was in my late-20s that I felt drawn back to poetry and took a community workshop. Since then, I haven’t stopped writing. Poetry is my focus, but I also write some non-fiction as well.
VAH: What would you say were your influences on your development as a writer?
BG: Reading. I read a lot. I know it sounds like a cliché but everything I read influences me. My newest “development” (if you can call it that) is a closer attention to sound in my poems. I moved to Germany in 2013 with a less-than-basic understanding of the language. My understanding of German has improved dramatically since being here, but the change made me much more attuned to sounds. Especially in the poems of a German poet I have gotten to know since moving here. She utilizes sound as a crucial part of her poem-crafting process and, though I don’t understand all of the words, I can appreciate the way the sounds echo and play off each other.
VAH: What do you remember about your first story or poem?
BG: The first poem I really remember writing was one about Dirty Windows (…stare back at you with your own eyes…). It was actually a very socially aware poem for me to write as a teen and it was published in a little local journal for high school students. I was very proud of that poem. I still remember much of it.
VAH: Is there a favorite piece you’ve written to date?
BG: That’s a very hard question to answer. There are poems that I love and that just seemed to come forth without much revision needed, and then there are poems that I love and that I invested a lot of energy in to get them where I wanted them. I think my favorite of the latter is my poem “Explaining Cremation to Our Daughter at the Dinner Table,” because it was one that I slaved over for many months and that brought in a lot of my thinking about when and how we teach our children difficult subjects that even we find hard to deal with ourselves.
VAH: That is a challenge, explaining difficult subjects that kids ask about in non-scary ways. A good well to draw from.
Let’s move on to part two of Three by Five – Writer reads.
Do you have a favorite author?
BG: I would say there is a four-way tie for my favorite author of fiction – Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson, Italo Calvino, and Kurt Vonnegut. Although there are four of them, there is one reason why I appreciate them so much – imagination. Each of those authors has a very mind-expanding approach to literature and I encourage every writer to read works by them.
VAH: What is the most memorable book, story or poem you’ve read?
BG: The most memorable poem I have ever read was “Discovery” by Wisława Szymborska. The poem has a drive and suspense to it and, ultimately, a desperate terror at the potential of science and humanity. Yet the poem also conveys a sense of hope and a faith in the face of this terrible potential.
VAH: Do you have a favorite book, poem, or story?
BG: I have a favorite poem that I am always recommending to people – “A Brief for the Defense” by Jack Gilbert, from his collection Refusing Heaven. It is about the importance of finding beauty and happiness in life even in the face of all the ugliness and sorrow. Every time I hear some terrible news, I think of this poem and how important it is for us to cherish even the little pleasantries of life, and to put forth the good for people to see so that it’s not always the awfulness that gets all the attention.
VAH: Which reader are you – always finish what you started or put it down and move on if you don’t like it?
BG: As much as I would like to be a different kind of reader, I am a serial monogamist. I can only focus on one book at a time and must read all the way to the end, even if I do not enjoy the book. I always think – “maybe there’s something that will resonate on the next page!”, and for that potential, I must keep reading.
VAH: Sometimes there is something buried deep.
More Bernadette Geyer will post on the 23rd of the month. Until then, enjoy this sampler of work available online:
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.