An Interview with Elise Brand
I sat down to talk poetry with Kristina Moriconi on a recent Sunday morning. We met early over coffee, the conversation easy. When I looked at my watch to check the time, two hours had gone by. Her enthusiasm is contagious.
Kristina Moriconi is the Montgomery County Poet Laureate of 2014. Kristina is a poet and essayist. She has worn many hats over the years. She has had a career in publishing. She has been a teacher and coordinator in various capacities over the years – from instructing young children through her love of art and poetry to teaching college students composition at university. Kristina also enjoys finding time to make art. Most recently, Kristina has been putting her energy into The Traveling Poets Project, a community program that she runs this year as the Montgomery County Poet Laureate. Being the Montgomery County Poet Laureate has been fruitful and has brought its surprises.
“Throughout everything I have done and experienced, I am always learning. I know that can sound cliché, but it also happens to be true,” she laughs.
While she sits across from me talking about what is good and true about working with others, I cannot help but notice the smile she gives, caught up in describing their success. Her eyes are bright as she talks. No wonder she has had such success with her students. Surprisingly, Kristina finds it difficult talking about herself. I am thankful for her generosity in answering my questions, awed by her humility.
What prompted you to begin writing poetry?
As a young teenager, I spent a lot of time listening to music. I loved being alone in my room with a record album spinning on the turntable. Back then (and now as well) I listened most to Bruce Springsteen. His song lyrics were poetry to me, poems about small towns and big dreams, stories of summer love and of the kind of longing for things that always seemed just beyond reach. His song lyrics were all I knew of poetry at that age. The books I’d read up until then were novels and short stories. It wasn’t until college that I discovered the poems of Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Bishop and Emily Dickinson. I was an art major at the time and I kept a sketchbook in which I began to illustrate the work of these three poets. I think the idea of such vivid images captured so completely in words was what inspired me to try to write my own poems.
How does a poem begin for you?
An image, one that won’t let me go until I try to figure out why it’s in my head. Sometimes it’s an image from my past that returns to me or sometimes it’s something right in front of me in the moment. But, either way, that image becomes an obsession and I have to write about it from every direction until I understand why it has grabbed a hold of me.
What conditions help you with the writing process?
Quiet. Longer stretches of time when I can really dive deep into the writing without distraction. That doesn’t happen too often in my life so, when it does, I try to keep my body in the chair and my pen close to the page.
Where do you write?
My immediate answer to this question: in my writing room at a copper-topped table beside an old Underwood typewriter.
My answer upon return to it hours later: Everywhere. I will often think of a phrase or find inspiration in something I see while I’m driving or walking the dog or exercising.
So, I suppose it is the act of sitting down at the desk everyday, the diligence of repeatedly and regularly showing up at the page, that I carry with me out into the routines of my daily life. Writing, for me, has become a practice that involves not only language but the constant act of looking, of closely observing, and collecting what I see.
Who are you speaking to in your poems?
I am speaking to those who find common ground, who experience some sort of communion in the words I put out there into the world.
Who are the poets that you continually go back to?
That list changes often, but there are several female poets who remain constant: Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath, Grace Paley, and Myra Shapiro. Their voices stay with me, their poems always nearby on my desk.
Has your idea of poetry changed since you began writing poems?
My first poems, the ones inspired by song lyrics, all rhymed. And, while I am not opposed to end-rhyme in a poem, I write mostly in free verse now. I do occasionally attempt a formal structure—a sonnet or a villanelle—just to challenge myself, but I much prefer the more open form of free verse.
Is there anything in your life which has affected or informed your work? How has your life been reflected in your work?
My life is constantly informing my work. Sometimes it’s the past that returns to me, or sometimes it’s the present, that very moment, something right in front of me. A car accident that happened nearly thirty years ago, or the decaying body of a dolphin that washes ashore at my feet on the beach. All of the moments, the images, past or present, at one point or another, translate into language.
Your latest collection of poems is entitled No Such Place. Can you tell us a little bit about it? It has a special dedication page. Can you speak to that as well?
Yes, No Such Place is my first chapbook, and I am happy to have had it published. I learned a lot from that process. The collection seems dark to me now, almost too dark, and I am paying attention to letting more light into the full-length collection I am working on presently. But I am also okay with that darkness because it was where I had been when those poems were written. My mother had just recently passed away and I was struggling to raise my own teenage daughters without my mother’s wisdom to guide me any longer. All of that—the loss, the fear, the complex bond of love between mothers and daughters, the fragile connections of women to one another and to the world—is what I intended to convey on that dedication page and throughout the entire collection of poems.
You took Montgomery County by storm, being honored as the 2014 MCPL. What has that been like for you? What surprises have you encountered?
It has been a memorable year. I have met many wonderful poets who have inspired me, and I’ve really enjoyed conducting workshops in schools and libraries and art centers throughout the county. Teaching is one of my greatest passions—it allows me to share my love of poetry but also affords me the opportunity to continue learning.
Can you describe a time when you first realized that creating was something you absolutely had to do?
I think I was in high school when I realized this. I was always drawing and writing and playing the guitar. But none of my friends shared any of these interests. In school, they were all good at math and science and thinking about going to college for nursing and accounting and engineering. I kept drawing and writing and playing the guitar anyway.
What are you reading right now?
I am always reading more than one book at a time, more than one genre. Right now…poetry: Linda Bierds’ Roget’s Illusion and Speaking for my Self: Twelve women poets in their seventies and eighties (edited by Sondra Zeidenstein)…creative nonfiction: Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water (for the second time) and Joni Tevis’ The Wet Collection (for the third time). I often revisit books, closely studying craft after I’ve read them the first time for content.
Do you have a writing group or community of writers you share your work with? Can you tell us a little bit about this group?
I actually have resisted the idea of a writing group for a while now, preferring the solitary time to just keep writing. I do occasionally exchange work with two other poets whose voices are somewhat similar to mine and whose feedback I have come to trust. But this has not been a regular thing for me. I am about to begin sharing as part of a small group of three soon, though—two poets I’ve met more recently. I’m looking forward to the possibility of an ongoing conversation with them about our poems and about poetry.
What is the best advice you can give other writers about how to be more creative?
The best advice I can offer is to listen to yourself. Really listen. Be true to what it is you want for your own life and try not to let all the other noise distract you. Make time to make things. Make a mess. Make mistakes. Enjoy the process.
Kristina Moriconi is a poet and essayist. She attended Arcadia University, earning her BFA and MA there. She received her MFA in creative writing from Pacific Lutheran University’s Rainier Writing Workshop in Tacoma, Washington. Her work has appeared most recently in Cobalt Review, The Schuylkill Valley Journal, Prick of the Spindle, Blue Heron Review and is forthcoming in Blood Lotus and Fox Chase Review. She is the author of a chapbook, No Such Place (Finishing Line Press, 2013).