The poet discussion the exhilaration of exploration, the tension of creation, and one’s readiness to engage with content that is within.
Sheila Squillante is a poet and essayist. She is the author of the poetry collections, Mostly Human, winner of the 2020 Wicked Woman Book Prize from BrickHouse Books, and Beautiful Nerve, as well as three chapbooks of poetry. She directs the MFA program in creative writing at Chatham University. Follow along at www.sheilasquilante.com, or on Twitter/Instagram @sheilasquill.
Meredith: Writing—or the dream of calling oneself an author or writer—seems, for many, to have this highly addictive, seductiveness about it. Like: I’d really be someone if I could write. Or be a writer, author, etc. But it’s not writing that imbues itself with these characteristics, it’s the person. Why, do you think, it’s such a seductive slope?
SHEILA: I think humans, as a species, want to be heard, seen, understood for who we are. Writing illuminates—it shines a light from inside us (our desires, anxieties) and, when it finds a ready reader, mirror-like, back at us. It’s like a mega-dose of vitamin D in the middle of Pittsburgh winter. We can bask inside it and feel our cells repair themselves one at a time.
Meredith: In his book, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield writes, “Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it.” What’s your take?
SHEILA: I think Pressfield loses me with the notion of fear, here. I don’t think it’s precisely fear that powers resistance for me. There’s tension inherent in making—poems, essays, visual art—that can be incredibly productive, even while it frustrates, refuses, declines to cooperate. I like to work with procedural and formal constraints, sometimes, which themselves are a kind of resistance. Not fear. Exhilaration!
Meredith: Can some stories not be found?
SHEILA: Some stories can elude, for sure. But I want to think that has more to do with the readiness of the writer to engage them honestly than it does with the story itself.
Meredith: How do you not hold on so tight to a piece of writing that isn’t working (that you wish would work) and let go so you might discover what will work?
SHEILA: I have been known to throw whole poems, essays into the language blender and press “mix!” I am fond of using, as I mention above, procedural constraints and syntactical experimentation to push my work into unexpected places. For instance, the Lazarus Text Mixing Deck is a tool that helped me turn a maudlin journal entry into a richly textured essay about grief. I am not precious about language until I’ve decided something has reached its final form. Until then, it’s all just clay to be shaped.
Meredith: The artist, Juan Gris, said, “You are lost the instant you know what the result will be.” Many would find this counterintuitive, believing it’s actually better to know where you are headed. You?
SHEILA: I love the process of exploration in a poem or an essay! Even if I have a vague sense of where I am headed (for instance, I knew I was heading toward a particular age for my character in my newest book of poetry), I still want to leave space for tangents and surprise along the way.
Find Sheila at www.sheilasquilante.com, or on Twitter/IG @sheilasquill.
[Thank you, Sheila.]