Amber Flora Thomas Interview Part-One 2-28-15

2015 Pamlico Writers Conference and Competition

March 21, 2015 8:30am to 6pm

The Turnage Theatre

150 W. Main Street, Washington, NC 27889

Hello, thanks for joining me again. Today we’re presenting part one of an interview with ECU, Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing, Amber Flora Thomas. Ms. Thomas has received numerous major poetry awards including: the Dylan Thomas American Poet Prize, Richard Peterson Prize and Ann Stanford Prize. Her published works include:  Eye of Water Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005) and The Rabbits Could Sing: Poems (University of Alaska Press, 2012). And her poetry has appeared in Zyzzyva, Callaloo, Orion Magazine, Alaska Quartlerly Review and Crab Orchard Review.

Ms. Thomas will be presenting an afternoon workshop called, “Gathering Pearls: How to Put Together a Book of Poems.” Come check it out.

Now to our interview:

Amber Flora Thomas - 2015

Amber Flora Thomas
Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing, ECU

Q.  As a professor of Creative Writing at East Carolina University, have you noticed a majority of your students gravitating toward poetry or prose?

    A. It changes all the time. In general, many students gravitate toward genre fiction, especially fantasy and science fiction because much of what they read is engaged with fantasy and futuristic worlds. Many students are aware of my writing, so they are interested in working with me because they want to write poetry.

Q. Is there a particular place your ideas for your writing come from? (What’s happening around you, your life, your causes, a message you want to convey or just imagination?)

    A. I’m very suspicious of “ideas” when I approach a writing project. Primarily, my writing emerges from imagery and sound. I’m drawn to the natural world so the rhythms of nature are usually triggers for my writing. Ideas come into play when I am compiling poems in a manuscript because I need to provide a thematic presentation of the work. The individual poems are always a surprise. Sometimes I don’t even know what I am writing until I’ve written the final line.

Q. What does your writing process look like? (Regular, sporadic, a quiet room, listening to music, maybe an animal lying at your feet or what?)

    A. I write almost every day. I generally write new work before I go to sleep at night and I revise and edit in the morning. Some evenings I’m too tired and I fall asleep in the middle of writing my first line. Recently, I have been writing in spurts. I’ll write five new poems one week and then spend the next two weeks reworking them and fitting them into my manuscript. It also depends on where I am with a larger project. For example, I am finishing my third manuscript of poetry at the moment, so I am writing (and revising) a lot. I carry a journal with me everywhere I go—something small and pocket-size because I seem to get inspired at the most inconvenient times, like when I’m walking to the car after a long day at work.

Q. How do you use stanzas and line breaks in your poetry?

    A. It depends on the poem. I love a long line and a short stanza. If I’m picking up a book of poems and the writer uses long lines and couplets, for example, I am more likely to start reading because this structure suggests greater experimentation. I also like more erratic line use. As long as there is awareness about the relationship between the line and sentence, I am happy.

Q. What is the toughest criticism you’ve ever received? What’s the best?

    A. I always thought the best criticism I could receive was silence. When I finished reading my poem and a workshop of my peers had nothing to say, I was happy. I felt as though I had written such a powerful poem that no one could say anything critical. This is a lonely place, which is perhaps fitting for poetry; however, now that I am a teacher, I realize that silence has many meanings, few of which are complementary. When I was deep in the editing process with my first book, Eye of Water: Poems, I asked my editor, Ed Ochester (University of Pittsburgh Press) how the book would be received. He very quietly told me that the work was “difficult” and would not have as wide an audience for this very reason. This was tough to hear. After years, I have decided that I am “difficult” and there is nothing wrong with being difficult. I read difficult poets. Life is complex and poetry is a place where complexity is welcome and beautiful. Of course, it took me ten years to feel okay about his brief critique.

Q. As a writer, is there a legacy you’d like to leave behind?

    A. Books, lots and lots of published books.

By Kaylene Wilson

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