[First appeared in Poetry Nook, Vol. 2. --ed]
This month, we have the pleasure of introducing Chris Smith to our readers. She is the author of three forthcoming books and is also a photographer. We conducted a lengthy interview with Chris, touching on everything from poetry in the digital age to feminism and sexuality in writing. She offers a wealth of advice for established and aspiring writers alike. We were delighted by her candid answers and her principled view of writing. We hope you find and appreciate her frankness and playful commitment to craft that is evident in her words.
The first thing we’d like to discuss is your development as a poet. Rilke advises poets to look to their childhood for inspiration and insight. What was your early life like and how did it contribute to your formation as a poet?
I don’t spend time in my childhood for inspiration. I’m more moved by the things that are around me now. I’d define it with three words: unusual, unsettled, and intense. I was brought up by and around strong and extremely intelligent individuals, all wonderful storytellers in their own right, who had a knack for being pioneers.
There was never a point where I decided to become a writer. It was not a goal or dream of mine, in my youth. It was something I evolved into, that I showed a talent for and learned to love. Writing is a part of me, but it’s not everything I am, or the only thing I do or want to do.
Micropoetry has exploded in recent years as a result of social media outlets such as Twitter. Do you prefer this form of poetry to long-form poems? Which is easier for you to write and why?
It took me a bit to get into the swing of micropoetry. I have never written a lot of lengthy poems, and now being exposed to micropoetry I think my poems in general have gotten smaller. I get bored too easily, which is why I enjoy the shorter form. I can get a point across, with considerable intensity, very quickly. Same goes for me, as a reader. I write whatever comes to me, as it comes. The hardest part is not the length of the poem or story, the hardest part is getting into the flow, and staying there long enough to create the most authentic work.
When you compose micropoems, how long does it take? Do you write one at a time or do you write them in bunches?
Generally I’d say under a minute or so, unless I need to check a words definition or exchange it for another word in the thesaurus. They flow like the ocean, sometimes raging inside to get onto the page. And other times, I couldn’t pull a decent one out with a tractor and wench. Lol, it depends. Sometimes they flow in clumps, other times in little drops all through-out the day. I go with the flow of it. My interest in writing poetry has increased one thousand times or more in the past several years.
How do you define poetry?
To me, poetry is the expression of emotions using the art of words.
Much of your writing focuses on romantic love and the destructive element that passion contains. Do you draw off your personal experiences or is your approach more similar to a fiction-writer?
My poetry goes all over the place. It’s not just focused on or about love. I get inspired everywhere. I do both. There are poems I’ve written that are made up entirely by my personal experiences, others that have a line or two that’s me, and some have none of me. I can’t write anything, without connecting to an emotional element of some sort. So I connect with an emotion, not always an experience of my own, and write from there. Sometimes I’ll watch a movie and be inspired to write a poem about what the characters were dealing with.
How long have you been writing micropoetry? What attracts you to such an abbreviated form when you tackle broad and complex topics like romantic love?
I’ve been writing it for several years now, since I was exposed to it on Twitter. I like the short form because it’s easier. It doesn’t require me to spend hundreds of hours in development, writing, and editing like my writing projects do. I think the true talent lies in being able to convey a message regardless of form (or length) or media. I find it more challenging to deliver that message in 140 characters or under. It pushes my writing and storytelling abilities.
You’ve written some erotica over the years. How do you think that affects reader’s perceptions of you as a writer and a woman? Do you think you’re more likely to be slotted into a gender category as a writer because you don’t shy away from sexuality?
Yes, I have written erotica, and will continue to write it, for as long as I’m inspired to.
I have no idea how my writing erotica or writing about sensitive subjects affects readers perceptions of me. I don’t ask readers what I should write nor do I base my worth as a writer, woman, or human being, on their thoughts. I write what I’m inspired to, what touches me that I need to express. The reality is some people are going to judge, regardless of what you do. I could write about flowers blooming in a field, and still get judged. If someone reads something of mine and then judges me negatively or assumes they know me based on it that really says more about them than it ever will about me. I think anyone who puts attention on sensitive subjects that others might find inappropriate runs the risk of being judged. However, they also run the risk of being exposed to a whole market of people who are hungry for that product/message. I’m sure there are people that are/would be bothered. Obviously those individuals wouldn’t be my readers. Though I will say, I’ve been quite surprised by who I’ve gotten support from, specifically other women who I would not have categorized as being interested in such material. I find that fact incredibly inspiring. I think the people who find it necessary to affix a category to me, or anyone, are really missing the beauty and splendor that makes us all who we are. And frankly, just because someone assigns me to a box, doesn’t mean I am that box. I choose the no box option. ;)
Do you think that females are still categorized as women writers or do you think that obstacle has been overcome?
I am female. And I do write. I have been mistaken for a guy a few times, which I found highly amusing. I don’t sit in front of my computer to write and think Okay, I’m a female writer so therefore… I just write what’s inside me. If there are any obstacles, then the obstacles for me are connecting with myself in order to manifest the best possible expression of me, and pushing myself to be better. I don’t concern myself with how people are or are not categorizing me. I focus on writing.
How do you differentiate between erotica and pornography when it comes to writing about love and sex?
Honestly, I don’t think about it nor do I think about separating it or defining it. I find my time is best spent sitting my butt in the chair and writing than it ever would be spending my energy trying to slap a label on my work or anyone else’s. I could write about two people who are in love, who have pornographic sex. Now, is that erotica? Where is the line between what is or is not art? Art is so subjective. What I think is art, another person may not. Again, we’re back to insistence of labels, and categories, as if, by slapping a label on everything, somehow it makes it more real or worthy or more art. I define art as something that moves me. And frankly, I could be moved by a pornographic photo or video or sculpture or painting or story, etc. just as easily as I could be moved by an officially stamped work of art.
Do you consider your love poems to be entirely focused on the romantic and human experience or do you consider spirituality to be one form of love that you are addressing?
I write both. Some poetry is much more physical, while others are the expression of a deeper connection, on a soul level.
When you write poetry, do you intend to convey a message about love to your readers or just provoke emotion in them?
Everything I write is intended to provoke an emotion, relay a message, and/or reach out to touch people.
You are currently at work on three books: a collection of poems, a novel, and a nonfiction book. Do you find that working across genres helps your creativity? If so, why?
I don’t know if working across genres helps my creativity or not. I’m pretty creative anyway. I am inspired from a variety of places. However, I do believe that the more avenues I explore as an artist, overall, the better I will be.
How does your approach to writing fiction differ from your approach to writing poetry? What do you find is the most difficult thing about writing fiction versus writing poetry?
Writing fiction or nonfiction projects requires more development than writing poetry. But the basic process is the same, though it has very different time requirements. There’s a lot more imagination involved in writing projects as opposed to poetry, because you’re dealing with a lot more layers (world building, characters, plot, etc.). The most difficult thing about projects is the time it takes to finish them. Poetry is like recess at school for me. Though writing poetry, being able to convey a message in a smaller frame, has improved my skills overall as a writer.
Do you have any advice for writers who juggle more than one project? What are your time management tricks and tips?
My advice is this: Being a writer is like running a marathon as the turtle…the important thing is to just finish the race. The goal of each day should be to express yourself. Work at it every day, be okay with yourself, listen to yourself, and when you feel it, express what breathes inside you, begging for a constructive way to get out. It doesn’t matter if it’s only ten minutes, or ten hours. Don’t beat yourself up. There are no rules. And share, share, share. Don’t give up on putting yourself out there and sharing your incredible self. From my own experience, the more consistent I am, the better my art has become over the years. It’s like opening up a pipeline to creativity, the more you use it, the more it will flow. I haven’t yet found the ideal management of handling multiple projects. I’m still figuring out how to actually finish my projects and not be so distracted by life’s ups and downs.
In an industry where self-publishing is becoming more common and book sales are dropping, how do you define being a successful writer?
The whole publishing and entertainment industry are in upheavals and there are a lot of changes happening, and more coming. To achieve success in this new era, requires a new mindset that can evolve with those changes, and ideally, be ahead of them and the market. I define my success as: Did I create something that moved me? Did I reach down to the depths of my being, and pull the core of me out and put those gems into a product? And if I did, does it accurately represent my truth/message? Bonus points if it touched someone else. Extra bonus points if it generates a return on investment.
Tell us about your writing life. Do you write daily? Have you ever experienced blocks and how do you deal with them? Do you have a certain time are word count goal during the day? Where do you write? Do you write directly on the computer or longhand first?
My mind seems to be constantly writing poetry all through-out the day. I used to work on writing projects every day and would like to get back into the habit. I have experienced blocks both with poetry and my other writing projects, and I dislike them, A LOT. After I scream at a wall, I try and relax myself. I find being uptight about it or beating myself up about it does not in any way help the words flow. The best thing I’ve found in dissolving blocks is to relax. Going for walks helps me a lot, listening to music, etc. Sometimes when I’m experiencing a block on one project, I work on another one. I change it up a little bit. I used to deal with word count, but have since rejected that. It’s too easy to beat yourself up, and using word count is just another way. The most important thing is to feel good about yourself, be okay, and to write. I write poems wherever I happen to be when I’m inspired. And I write projects in my attic room in front of my make-shift desk of a cardboard box. I used to write all my poems in notebooks, now I use Google Drive on my android phone, creating a new document for each month. I write stories directly onto my computer. And I have all my work instantly backed up onto a cloud (I use Dropbox but there are many others) every time I open it, to ensure that I protect my work. Devices like thumb drives and CD/DVDs can and will break down. Ideally, there should be two redundancies in your back-up program. Don’t mess around with backing up your work!
Before we wrap up, could you leave us with some thoughts on why you write and what drives you to write? What does writing mean to you in your daily life?
I write because my heart/soul uses writing as a tool for expression to share who I am. I’m not intellectually picking what I write. I have never sat down to write and had a conversation with myself and said, Okay, for fun, lets pull all our guts and put it onto the page for other people to read. Writing pushes me beyond my comfort zone in sharing, and every time I write I push myself to grow. I refuse to be complacent. Writing is a means of survival for me. Writing is like breathing. It is my therapy and my salvation. I don’t know if I would have survived some situations, and I do mean that literally, without the outlet of writing.