It’s time for another Grantee Highlight! Our Grantee Highlight series is our monthly initiative to get to know our current Individual Arts Partnership and Jade Presents Arts Partnership grantees. This month’s grantee may look familiar, since she also received a grant from us last year: poet Emily Vieweg!
Emily Vieweg is a poet and playwright originally from St. Louis, Missouri. Her work has been published in Foliate Oak, The Voices Project, Red Weather Literary Magazine, Soundings Review, Art Young’s Good Morning, The Basil O’Flaherty Feminist Voices and more. In recent years, she’s published two books and several individual poems, one of which earned runner-up in an international poetry contest based in Ireland. Her most recent accomplishment is winning Best Performance Work for her piece “Vision” from the North Dakota Human Rights Festival. She rents a studio at APT, a Creative Incubator in downtown Fargo and is a mother of two, a cat wrangler and an office assistant.
This year, Emily received a $2,000 grant from The Arts Partnership to work with a professional editor to create a poetry manuscript for professional publication.
Enjoy our Q&A with the talented writer below!
Beyond other writers, what sources inspire your work?
Definitely everyday life, but also, looking at other art as inspiration. What is this other art trying to say, and can I accompany this message with my own art? What could my words bring to this artwork to tell a different/related story? I still find the beauty in the mundane, however, seeking out a possible message between the lines of another artist’s work is a new inspiration.
What is your daily creative work schedule?
I think about writing more than I actually write. I think about subjects I want to touch, or something maybe that’s going on in the community that I want to learn more about, poetry forms, reading about writing – all of these things are important to the creation of new work, I think the last several months I have been focusing more on the process of writing, the study of writing, rather than the physical act of writing.
How do you approach the beginning of a project?
I find myself getting more excited about projects I want to do, instead of working on the projects I have currently in-progress. I need to go ahead and make a list and work one project at a time, I think, otherwise, I’ll never get anything done! Haha! Right now I am participating in an Erasure Poetry Workshop. Erasure is a fascinating poetry form, because we take another work (poem, book, article, advertisement), and block out or “erase” part of the document in order to create something new. A type of Found Poetry, Erasure can show both reverence and revulsion to a piece. Erasure is both a written art, as well as a visual art. I am learning more about this form every week, and hopefully will hone the visual aspect of my written art.
What is your greatest fear/challenge when facing a new project?
Will I be able to write enough good pieces to complete this collection? That’s my biggest problem. Also, Imposter Syndrome. Even though I have an MFA degree and have poems published and have won 3rd place, runner up, and honorable mention awards in international contests, the question is still there – am I really any good? In today’s society, where the number of likes and retweets and social media attention is really the feedback we never wanted to have, we live in this society now, and it can get to us. Why didn’t this tweet go viral? Why didn’t more people like that Facebook status? What is wrong with me? Is it me? Am I doing something wrong? Why doesn’t anybody like me? Yeah, well I got runner-up, but I didn’t get First Place… so then, did I even really win anything? – This harmful self-talk is chronic, and I am working through it – trying to get away from it.
What do you do when you get stuck?
When I get stuck in the creative process, or if I am editing a poem and something just isn’t clicking, I need to put it away for a while. Most of the time I am able to take a week off of a poem and just let it sit by itself, so when I return to it, the piece is fresher and I can see it with new eyes.
When I feel “dry,” and uninspired, I will listen to podcasts of other poets reading their works – I seem to be more of an aurally-stimulated writer, instead of a visually-stimulated writer.
How does having a community of artists benefit your work?
This community is a haven for my psyche. Any time I start feeling overwhelmed by the vast amount of information I want to get down on paper, or when I feel like all the poems have been written and I couldn’t possibly have anything new to say or feel, I look around at the other studios and chat with the other artists… about nothing in particular. “Hey, I saw that facebook post the other day, congrats on the new car!” or “I saw that memory photo you posted of your daughter, she was so cute, by the way, how is she doing in Kindergarten?” Simple acts of communication between artists who “live” in such close proximity with each other really keep us grounded and relaxed. As a result of these “small” interactions, I am able to set and refocus and produce some pretty good work.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the field?
I have seen a lot of advice that “Poets need to read Poetry.”
I do not disagree, however, I would like to adjust this idea by saying that I believe poets need to experience poetry. Poetry and storytelling used to be an oral and aural art form. Societies without the written word expressed themselves through oral interpretation and storytelling. People who may not read could listen to the radio. Sometimes hearing a poem spoken in the poet’s voice can bring fervent emotions to the surface that the printed word may not evoke.
My first experience with hearing a poem in the poet’s voice was Gwendolyn Brooks’ recording of “We Real Cool.” Writing instructors typically teach this poem as a lesson on enjambment, the art of the line break. This poem, though, taught me more than just the art of the line break. This poem taught me how to hear my poems as I am writing them; how to encourage pauses in my work by creating line breaks.
Poetry podcasts are exploding today, where writers call in to virtual open-mics and read their poetry on air. The New Yorker has fiction and poetry podcasts that feature current and past publications, with authors and poets reading their own works. I have found a more solid voice for myself by hearing other poets read their works than sitting down with a book of poetry and silently reading.
If you had a chance to do it all over again, how would you do things differently?
I wouldn’t have quit writing when I was in college. I received unhelpful feedback from an instructor, which, in essence, said, “I don’t know why you bother writing.” I was 19 and impressionable and had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know anything about craft or the poetry writing process, this was my first college class in poetry writing, and this instructor, this published poet, shattered my desire to write. I will never name this person, because I feel that gives them too much power over my life.
What is the one question you have never been asked regarding your creative process?
This question is always difficult, because I do not know what I do not know… I mean, all the creative process questions are things like, ‘how long does it take you to write a poem?’ or ‘where do you get your inspiration?’ or ‘how do you find time to write?’ I get those questions all the time.
One question I have received only once is, “when do you think you’ll consider yourself a successful poet?” At the time, several years ago, I could not answer that question. Today, though, I can answer that question honestly as: I don’t think we ever consider ourselves successful poets. There is always someone doing something better or different than yourself, and, poetry success is subjective. Some people want to achieve a single publication, and that first acceptance to a magazine is enough to say, ‘okay, I made it.’ Others want to push for a PhD degree and a teaching position at Brown University. These are tangible goals, things we can hold in our hands and say, ‘look at what I did, I succeeded.’ My success feels different than the tangible. I really want other people to feel something when they read my work. The tangible goals help, believe me, because then I know readers are seeing my words. Someone out there will read my poem and maybe feel something comforting, supportive, or even disagreement. Success, to me, is the communication of ideas.
What was the most encouraging feedback you ever got?
I was at a writing conference, in line for a book signing, talking to a few young people about how I made a fool of myself the day before when meeting this poet. One of the young women smiled and said, “Well, I saw you read your poetry last night, and I’m kinda fan-girling myself right now!”
What would you be if you couldn’t be an artist?
I honestly do not even want to think about it. There is always a way to create art. If we are conscious of the world, we have an opportunity to bring art outside of ourselves. If I could no longer hold a pencil, I would dictate to a scribe. If I could no longer type on a keyboard, I would dictate to the voice-to-text option on the computer. Everyone has a voice, and should have the opportunity to discover an art that helps express that voice. My art is through language, communicating the world I see and experience. I feel lucky to have a talent that rearranges a mere 26 letters into lasting imagery.
Photo courtesy of Adrianne Mathiowetz Photography.