Carla Funk is July's Author of the Month. Carla's fifth book of poetry, Gloryland, is a meditation on endings and offers poems for an apocalypic age. In 19 Questions about Process: An Interview with Carla Funk, she shares a few thoughts about her creative process.
Carla Funk's books with Turnstone Press:
When did you first come to think of yourself as a professional writer?
Am I professional? Sure. Do I write? Yes! But I still find it hard to think of myself as a pro writer, in part because I mostly write poetry, which doesn’t offer an income. Lately, I’ve been venturing into prose and so feel more legitimized in thinking of myself as a professional writer.
Do you still submit individual poems to magazines and journals for publication? Why or why not?
I rarely do. I always intend to submit to journals, but never seem to have stamps in the house! More and more journals are using online submissions, so this will solve my stamp shortage problem.
What inspires you?
Memory, childhood, family, my hometown, the old stories passed down through the years.
Prayer and what words and pictures come humming through from behind the thin veil.
The beauty of the earth. Sun flashing over lake water. The neighbour’s cows. Crows leering from the telephone wire. The sound of a housefly bumping against the window glass.
The earth’s brokenness and my own culpability. The shredded wasp nest I knock down from a corner in the eaves. The tent caterpillar I crush to save my own garden. All the scowls and judgments and resentments I wear and carry.
Strangers on the walking trail, like yesterday’s old fellow in his denim overalls, asking me where he can find some greengage plums, the kind he ate as a child, the sour ones that make the best preserves.
Is there a particular time of day at which you write best?
I tend to revise best in the morning hours when my inner editor is fully awake and ready to critique, but early first drafts—those rushes of raw thought and image—come best later in the day or evening when my body is tired and my editor is lazy.
How has your writing routine changed from that at the time of your first publication?
At the start, I waited until the poem showed up before I’d sit down at my desk to write. The word or image or idea had to come to me—like the cliché jolt of inspiration or some fickle muse’s gift. Now, I sit on the other side of mystery. Instead of waiting for the poem to find me, I go looking for the poem. With butt in seat, hands hovering on the keys, and the mind tuned and ready, one never knows what poems exist out there in the hours, waiting to be found.
How do you know that a poem is finished? Is a poem ever finished for you?
For me, a poem is done when it has nothing more to say. When the final lines run out of music, then the parts have found a whole. That said, even after a poem is in print, I’ll see lines I’d like shuffled, stanzas re-ordered—but, too late, time to move on. New poems are waiting to be written.
Some writers prefer the process of composing a manuscript while others prefer the editorial stage of fine-tuning and polishing. Do you have a preference? Why?
With Gloryland, my allegiance shifted. The revision process was—dare I say—fun! I’ve always loved the first draft fiery rush and dreaded the labour of revising, but this time around, I enjoyed the tinkering and polishing far more. I’m learning to see more clearly how to solve a poem’s pre-revision riddles. And I love how a single word or line or new metaphor can transform a poem into more than it was before the polishing began.
While editing a manuscript do you ever start writing or working on something else?
When stuck on a poem, I’ll procrastinate by starting new poems. I figure as long as I’m writing, it looks like progress.
Do you only write poetry or do you write in other genres/modes as well?
I’ve collaborated on some children’s stories with an artist friend, and have recently embarked on some prose projects, and still would love to write a stage play. But I always come back to the poems.
How conscious are you of form when you compose poetry?
Iambic pentameter is the musical fuel that powers so much of my poetry, at least in early drafts. Sometimes the iambic groove stays, other times it leaves in revision. While composing, I pay great attention to line breaks and sentence structures, but it’s not until the final stages that I really look at stanza shapes.
You often write about “home” in your work. What is it about this theme that keeps you coming back to it in a variety of different ways?
I’m more than a little obsessed with my hometown, in large part because I’m convinced that small towns cultivate a particular and peculiar kind of imagination. I keep returning—literally and poetically—to “home,” because it’s the forge where I was formed, from which the smoke of memory rises. It’s etched into the heart, I think—this inkling and urge to return to where we began. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust—that kind of truth.
Do you journal? How does journaling figure into your creative process?
I don’t keep a daily journal, but I do have many notebooks into which I chicken-scratch images, ideas, lines, fragments, and titles. Picture a lined page that holds a grocery list, a few telephone numbers, a quote from Wendell Berry, a Bible verse, crossed-out words, and a doodle of a cartoon bird. That’s what my journal looks like. Seemingly random bursts of disconnected thoughts all held together on a single page = my brain!
Do you enjoy giving public readings?
I do! I love the opportunity to meet readers (and listeners!)—and to let the poems be part of that meeting. In the same way that story creates community, poetry read aloud in a room full of people can turn strangers into friends.
What do you think about a writer’s need to be part of social networks?
If these literary and social networks exist for the benefit of both those inside and those outside, then I’m all for them. If the network yields strength in numbers and encouragement in community, hooray! If what happens as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts, then a resounding yes!
And now a few fun questions:
Do you keep any talismans or lucky charms nearby when you write?
I’m too practical for talismans. But please, can I have a puppy?
Are you a habitual consumer of anything while you write?
It’d be so much cooler for me to say that I always drink a shot of Pappy Van Winkle whiskey before writing, but I’m more of a peppermint tea or chai drinker.
Favourite music to listen to while you write?
Every once in a while, I’ll throw on some music to conjure a tone or mood—Satie, Debussy, Chopin for melancholy, Ferlin Husky, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash for small town childhood nostalgia, The Punch Brothers, The Avett Brothers or Patty Griffin’s “Downtown Church” for gospel honesty. But most of the time, I prefer a quiet room in a quiet, clean house with only the sounds of outside life—windchimes, bird-chatter, traffic hum—floating in.
Do you draft long-hand or do you compose at the keyboard?
Though I’ll jot scraps of lines and notes in a journal, I always compose at the keyboard. I know it’s more literary and romantic to longhand with pencil to the page, but my typing is faster than my handwriting, so I keep things practical by working on my laptop.
If you could not be a writer, what career might you have?
I’m a sucker for legal dramas, so I like to imagine myself as a prosecuting attorney—or better yet, a judge presiding over nail-biting criminal cases. Realistically, though, I think I might have made a good children’s librarian. Or radio host. Or farmer. Or some farmer’s wife with a sharpened carving knife. Or a theologian.