Monday, May 13, 2019

TBR: Stay by Tanya Olson

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 

We don’t expect an elevator pitch from a poet, but can you tell us about your work in 2-3 sentences?

Stay is a book that considers what it costs to remain in an identity, belief, or geographic area, as well as what it costs to leave those things. The poems use American songs and stories to think about these costs on a national and personal level.

Which which poem/s gave you the most trouble, and why?

Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong was the poem I probably put the most hours into; it’s different in structure and tone for me. I usually don’t do “assignment” poems or try to write a particular kind of poem, but for this poem I wanted to try to write a Someday I’ll Love. . . poem. I had heard both Ocean and Roger Reeves read their versions of this (in response to a Frank O’Hara line) and wanted to see what it would be like for someone other than a man to write one. I was really pleased that it ended up both reflecting that kind of poem while not adhering to previous versions. Then it had all those couplets, which seemed correct for the poem, but drove me crazy. Every time I changed 1 line, it would often mean I had to work on everything after. While I might make some reading adjustments to it, thank god it’s finally in a stable version in print.

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

When I was writing my first book, I had no idea I was writing a book. I was just writing a bunch of poems and then had to, years later, look back and try to figure out what they all had in common and how they held together. Stay was a million times easier. I knew I wanted to end up with a book and I knew it was all about staying or leaving in some way. While I still had to put together an order, the whole process felt much simpler.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

Your poem should please you. Your poem doesn’t have to please other poets or your writing group or your teacher or your audience. It has to feel right/done/accurate to you and no one else.

My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?

After hearing Timothy Donnelly and Tim Seibles each (at different readings) read 1 long poem as a whole reading, I knew I wanted to try making a poem that sweeping and ambitious. While it didn’t quite end up to their works, I loved the way txt me im board ended up as the center poem, the poem you work your way to and away from. It became a poem I could organize the book around.

Who is your ideal reader?

I think a lot about who is going to hear/read these poems and what they will get from them. My ideal reader is unaffiliated with a university; they feel left out of or adjacent to power. They are surprised to hear/see themselves reflected in art but find the experience meaningful. They like to make things and clap at the end of poems because they know it is hard to make anything that works well. 

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)

The Horseshoe makes an appearance in Bobby Bare. It’s one of those great American sandwiches you get at a local joint, and if you ever find yourself in the flat corn and soybean fields of central Illinois, I highly recommend one. The cheese sauce in this one looks a little high-faluting, but I like that someone in the comments recommends the best places to get one. It’s probably more of an eaten-out than a made-at-home thing.




READ A POEM, “54 Prince”:


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.