An Interview with Luanne Castle #MondayBlogs #poetry #flashnonfiction

Hello, everyone, I have a guest today: poet, family historian, and fellow cat hoarder lover, Luanne Castle.

Many of you might already know Luanne from her blog, Writer Site, or her website, Luanne Castle, or perhaps you’ve already read her first book of poetry, Doll God, winner of the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award.

I’m excited to tell you that Luanne has a new chapbook coming out, this one with poetry AND prose AND women’s history.

Kin Types is available for pre-order from Finishing Line Press and you can read a wonderful review by Carla McGill here. Carla blogs at Writing Customs.

Luanne and I thought it would be fun to lob her a few questions about poetry writing, something I’m always fascinated by but wary of trying.

How did you decide to make Kin Types a collection of poetry and prose? Why not just poetry?

The mixed genre came about because a couple of paths I was on coincided.

My first book, Doll God, is a collection of lyric poems, the type of poetry I had been writing for years. Then you and I took that flash nonfiction course from Apiary Lit with Chelsea Biondolillo. I had signed up so I could try out a new genre. The experience took me to the border between nonfiction and poetry—and when I saw the border, I realized that it was a movable, even erasable border. We wrote prose poems and lyric essays. We experimented with embedding documents into our own writing. I felt so free to be able to move freely and spontaneously between two genres I love: poetry and nonfiction prose.

Since 2012 I’ve written the blog The Family Kalamazoo showcasing family stories, the results of genealogical research, and antique photographs from my family collection. Although I had worked on this research off and on since college, the blog gave me a connection to strangers who held information to what I was researching. And as I wrote up stories for blog posts about various ancestors, neighbors of my ancestors, and others, I loved making the connections between documents–such as census reports, death certificates, and newspaper articles—and the shaping of story.

After taking the Apiary course, the work I had been doing for The Family Kalamazoo began to inform my writing. I wrote poems, prose poems, and flash lyrical essays based on my research. The stories of these people—especially the women–who had been long dead began to come alive for me. They lived in my dreams and my waking thoughts; they informed my conversations and decisions.  When I began to compile the pieces into a chapbook, I couldn’t leave the lyric essays behind just because they weren’t technically considered poetry. To me the prose and the poetry were the same thing: imaginatively informed, lyrically described stories of real people who lived before us.

How do you write poetry? I took an online poetry class a few years ago and was fascinated by the different ways poets wrote. One poet described how she would start with one word and then build word associations until a poem emerged. Others were more interested in form, like how can to describe a sunset in a haiku.

I usually write a poem after I notice something beautiful or strange or an oddity I am curious about. This new image strikes against something I already know. Maybe I see a mother quail pushing a newly hatched chick out of the nest and wonder why. I might do a little research, and my mind starts receiving lots of images and it’s as if a match has been struck and the flame leaps from its tip. That’s the beginning of the poem. If I push it too soon, it doesn’t work, but when the time is ready I might add in another essential element. I might mix elements of a traditional fairy tale with scientific theories from astronomy or physics. It’s the juxtaposition, the balance, the fight between disparate parts that make some of the best poems.

I want to explain what I mean by my mind getting images from research. I don’t record dry facts very well. My brain converts information into images. In this way, science and nature are gifts to me because what scientists think of as facts, I process as sights, sounds, smells, touch, and taste. Poems crave images, not information or facts.

In many of the Kin Types poems, the juxtaposition or fight that produces poetry comes from the interrogation of supposedly factual historical documents with the nuances of complex emotions and hidden and unrecorded human dramas. In one poem I took an early death of a mother and studied what happened to her young son after he and his siblings were orphaned. I wrote the poem from her perspective as if she could see from beyond the grave what had happened to her children. Who could feel more about their paths in life than their mother? In Kin Types I converted fact into image to create what the reader feels from a poem.

Although I have worked with form as a writing constraint, that process is not how I usually come to a poem.  A writing constraint is always helpful. It can be arbitrary: write a poem in 10 lines of 10 syllables each and include the word orange. Or it can be specific: write a Shakespearean sonnet. But the point is that by hitting up against the boundaries of the constraint the poet doesn’t have the whole world from which to create a poem. It focuses and helps the poet shape the poem. Form is the typical way to create constraint. A sestina, a villanelle, a sonnet, these all are an aid. For me, however, I find that my best work doesn’t come from having to adhere to a certain form, but letting the poem find the form that is most suitable for it. So some poems want to be prose poems. Some want to be skinny and long free verse. But I could change my mind tomorrow and start to write in a particular form. The variety is astonishing, and I don’t want to settle into a familiar old groove.

How do you know when a poem is complete, finished, ready for prime time? Prose seems to be relatively easy to figure, especially, of course novels and short stories. Even flash fiction often has the expected beginning, middle, and end. But poetry is different. Or is it?

That’s the big question! It even warranted a poem written about it by Naomi Shihab Nye. It’s called “How Do I Know When a Poem Is Finished?”  In the most practical sense, as with any writing, only the editor has the final say on when a piece is finished. I’ve had poems and stories published with no changes made and others where an editor has several eager ideas—sometimes fabulous, sometimes mysterious. I’ve also published a piece with changes by an editor and then reprinted the same piece and the new editor has different ideas for changes. At least once, the advice was contradictory. Feeling a piece is finished is the same for me whether it’s a poem or prose. When I’ve let it gel for a couple of weeks, if not longer, and have revised as much as I feel I can, I either need a second opinion or I feel good about the piece. If I feel that I want to share it with readers and not an editor, it’s a go. But, still, occasionally I’ll read something I’ve published and want to reach into the letters on the page or screen and snatch some, re-arrange, or add a few.


Many thanks to Luanne for answering questions I’ve always wanted to ask a poet! I hope you, Dear Reader, have enjoyed this and are eager to pre-order your copy of Kin Types. If The Finishing Line doesn’t get enough pre-orders, then Kin Types won’t go to press so waste no time because the deadline is April 28, 2017.

Click here to place your order.

68 thoughts on “An Interview with Luanne Castle #MondayBlogs #poetry #flashnonfiction

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  2. Great interview! I also wondered about this: “How do you know when a poem is complete, finished, ready for prime time?” I’ve tried writing poetry, but I know I’m not very good. It’s lovely to learn about Luanne’s poetry.

    • Nice to meet you, Jackie! Thank you so much. I noticed that you’re a trained Irish dancer! How fun!!! You were expecting me to pick up on the writing and the fashion haha?

      • Hi Luanne, Lovely to meet you too and to learn about your work. My Irish dancing days are over I’m afraid but I like to be reminded of them 🙂

        • Hah, I do understand. I have a photo on the bookshelf of myself with 3 other women from a jazz dance class. I haven’t done it in years, but I do like the reminder!

  3. Marie, I often in the past, have read your posts. I don’t know if awhile back our connection was confused. Funny thing is it says I am still “following” you but am sure I miss your posts on my reader . . .
    Anyway, your special relationship with Luanne is evident from your classes taken together, through your open questions and relaxed, refreshing tone displayed in your interview’s “Q and A.”
    Luanne is such a vibrant and fascinating writer, so I am glad the deadline is April 28, since on 4/21/17 I plan on buying (pre-ordering) her new chapbook, “Kin Types.”
    I am thrilled with reading poetic prose as this is loosely how I write with some research, a lot of emotional responses from my own memories, reflections and thoughts.
    **Definitely not equating my writing with either of you, Marie and Luanne! 🙂 🙂 Your (L.C.) processing reminds me of my own way of looking at poetry. <3

    • Hi, Robin! I actually have not been posting much lately. Maybe once a week or less. And I’ve spent a less time reading other blogs, which is something I really miss. I’ve always enjoyed reading your posts and I need to catch up! Yes, Luanne is very special and I’m grateful for our relationship. I think it amazes my husband that I actually can have good friendships with people I’ve never met. He’s a skeptic 😉

    • xoxo to you, Robin! That is neat that your way of looking at poetry is like the way I describe my processing! After working on these pieces after taking the class with Marie, I am reading to write more flash nonfiction, which is very lyrically written true stories. Really fun!

  4. Reblogged this on Cinthia Ritchie and commented:
    Thanks to Marie, over at 1WriteWay, for a thoughtful and engrossing interview with one of my favorite poets/bloggers, Luanne Castle. P.S. Castle’s new book, Kin Types, releases soon from Finishing Line Press.

  5. I enjoyed this insightful interview – thank you, both. One thing I would disagree with, though, is that it’s easy to tell when you’ve finished writing a novel. In my experience, it’s anything but and the temptation is always there to keep adding or revising. Indeed, I have a friend who has been revisiting the same novels for decades!

    • Hi, Paul, and thank you for your comment. I agree that one could endlessly revise a novel. Really, any piece of writing could take years to complete, if ever.

    • Paul, thank you for reading and your comments! I agree with you in that I think that it’s hard for the writer to tell when anything is finished. And I would think a novel very difficult because of the length. Sometimes it takes someone else to say, “OK, enough already. Send it out.”

    • Paul – I once heard that Charles Frazier continued revising Cold Mountain long after it was published! Maybe it’s a compulsive thing to keep editing on into eternity.

  6. Excellent interview Marie. I love poetry and poets and this was right up my ally. I do wish I could write it though. Well done, Luanne and Marie.

  7. This interview provided a marvelous entry into the psyche of a true poet. Though strictly a prose writer, I am an admirer of poetry, especially Luanne’s. I’ve ordered Kin Types and urge others to do the same. I should be fascinating. As writers and poets, it behooves us to be mutually supportive!

    • Hello, Elaine, I couldn’t agree more. I want to support Luanne because she is a friend and has been very supportive of me, but I also believe in her work. Yes, poetry sometimes pushes me out of my comfort zone, but I believe it’s supposed to 😉

    • Thank you so much, Elaine! And thank you for pre-ordering Kin Types! I agree about the mutual support of writers and poets. How could we do it without each other? Speaking of which, I can’t wait for your new book!

  8. What a great interview, Jill and Luanne! I learned a lot from Luanne’s responses and feel inspired this morning as I am working on poetry. I feel much the same about not beginning with form, although that can be fun. I find that the poem does find its own way as I construct it to its resulting form. Tim and I are writing a poem a day for National Poetry Month (not publishing them on the blog in case we want to send them out later), so these remarks are liberating and propel me into new ideas for poems. Thanks!

    • So your process is probably similar to mine then? You and Tim are so productive. By the time I see you at the end of the month you will have a month’s worth of poems! I really appreciate Marie interviewing me because it forced me to think about some of these issues. I have Perry at the house now, so I am reading him poetry every day. My mind is too frazzled with the wedding and other stuff going on to try to memorize yet or certainly to write, but reading poetry is a productive alternative–and the cat listens very closely. Of course, he has no alternative since he’s in a cage ;).

      • I’m sure Perry is enjoying hearing the poems, and it must be very calming to him! I hope he will adapt and be able to find a home. Yes, my poetry process is very similar, mainly intuitive. It feels like sculpting sometimes, shaping something based on the imagery that occurs to me. Just as you do, I get inspired by science (particularly astronomy) and then imagery comes to me. I have written formal poetry sometimes, like sestinas and sonnets, and that’s always fun, but I prefer to let the poem evolve. I am way behind on the poem a day thing, so today I have to write five if I want to catch up!

        • He does seem to enjoy it. He also likes whispering. He doesn’t like loud voices or dog barks. Yes, SCULPTING. That is exactly what it is. I can imagine the shaping and smooshing off of the excess clay and also adding some clay back in some places. I like to let it evolve, too, and I have to write one today for the wedding (a commission hahahaha), and I am BLOCKED! Good luck with the five ;)!

          • How wonderful that you will be reading a poem at the wedding! I am still way behind on my poem-a-day thing, but I have gotten a lot of OTHER important things done, so I’m happy about that. You will have a breakthrough! Hope you had a wonderful Passover time with your family!

    • That’s wonderful, Jill! I’m looking forward to my copy as well. It really makes a difference when I know the poet and Luanne has shared enough of her writing on her blog that I know I won’t be disappointed.

  9. Marie, thank you so much for asking me such in-depth, challenging questions. I loved trying to rise to the occasion! And love being over here!

    • Oh, Luanne, it was my pleasure. I love your answers. They’ve given me a lot to think about with my own writing process (or lack thereof ;)) It was fun putting together this post and I do hope (fingers crossed) that you reach your goal for preorders!

  10. Just placed my order. I don’t read much poetry, but it’s always good to challenge my left brain with the abstract nature of it from time to time! The mixed genre of Luanne’s book, with prose and historical elements weaved in, sounds interesting. Best of luck with it, Luanne!

    • Thank you so much, Carrie, for the good wishes and the pre-order! I hope you enjoy it. I also hope you’ll find it’s not abstract, but filled with concrete details of the lives of these people in short glimpses. I’m so excited about this project!

    • Awesome! I don’t read much poetry either, but thanks to Luanne and others, I’m reading and appreciating poetry more. I am also intrigued by the mix of poetry and prose that I’ll be reading in Kin Types.

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