ASK A SHORTLISTER: What keeps you going as a writer?

We asked the poets shortlisted for our 2019 Book Awards some questions about their writing lives, inspirations and -of course – poetry. Join us for our weekly series Ask a Shortlister until the winners are announced on June 8, 2019.


What keeps you going as a writer?

Mikko Harvey: Writing is one of my main methods of processing experience. Writing allows me to pull some things closer that I may have been hiding from, push other things away to a safe distance by transforming them, slow down what feels like it’s happening too quickly, figure out what a joke a fox told me in a dream meant, etc. Writing doesn’t feel like a choice so much as a natural reaction at this point. When certain inner weather conditions arise, a poem starts happening. On several occasions I’ve tried to take a break from writing, but never successfully for very longSo I guess I’m extending the question to “what keeps you going as a writer to the extent that it feels hard to stop? That version makes me squirm a bit, because maybe it’s a result of some capitalistic impulse that I’ve internalized? Or maybe I lean so hard on writing as a way of avoiding other life-work I should be doing? Or maybe—hopefully—I simply have an enduring love for the art? Most likely the answer is some combination of all three, for better or for worse. Which means my job is to just try and push the whole tangled up mess in the direction of love.

Jenny Haysom: Espresso and steamed milk. Hot buttered toast. 

Stevie Howell: Friends, strangers, cats, the view of the sky from my apartment, & God. 

Jim Nason: I love writing and am somewhat obsessed with it so I don’t need any motivation to keep me going.  I am extremely motivated by the potential of the blank page and those moments just before the perfect word is found or the right sentence.  More than anything, I am motivated by the surprise of not knowing the answer. That sense of wonder is everything to me in my writing. 

Shazia Hafiz Ramji: Recently, history has taken hold of me. When I don’t have to be up early the next day, I’ll stay up until 3 or 4 a.m. looking through pages and pages of microfiche and records of the dead, and weeping. 

Deanna Young: Recently I’ve been focused on the value of education. So, learning is what keeps me going as a writer. Learning about the world, the animals and plants, other cultures and ways of knowing, history, religions, languages—all of this amazes and challenges me and inspires me to keep translating discovery into poetry. And then other poems. Poetry itself inspires me to keep engaging creatively in the conversation about life.


Hear more from our 2019 Shortlisters here.

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