with Merril D. Smith
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Merril: I began writing stories when I was a child. I remember giving my dad a handmade book (a school art project) with a story I had written about little creatures called Troubles. After that I did a little bit of very bad writing in high school, and then I started writing non-fiction as an adult, beginning with my doctoral dissertation in American history, which became my first book, Breaking the Bonds. I didn’t really turn to poetry until my children were grown and out of the house. I began a WordPress blog, which gradually became a mostly poetry blog. I think I was seeking a creative outlet without realizing it right away, and then, suddenly, I felt almost overtaken by the poetry muse. https://merrildsmith.wordpress.com/
My parents were both great readers, and our house was always filled with books of all sorts. My family loved books and words. My mom started taking me and my younger sister to the library when we were very young. I think even though it wasn’t a direct poetry influence, this love of words has influenced me throughout my life.
Jane Dougherty’s challenges on her WordPress blog really helped me to begin writing poetry. I particularly loved her Yeats challenges.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Merril: I’m not sure that I have a biggest influence. I think I’m affected and influenced every time I read a poem I like. Recently, I’ve enjoyed the work of US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, and I’ve discovered a lot of wonderful poets through Maria Popova’s Brainpickings site (https://www.brainpickings.org/). But I also love so much of the poetry I read on Twitter on #TopTweetThursday (the initiative of Matthew M C Smith, EIC of Black Bough Poetry), on Fevers of the Mind, and the work of poets I’ve met on WordPress and dVerse. There are so many: Jane Dougherty, Damien Donnelly, Kerfe Roig, Peach Delphine, Rachel Deering, Sarah Connor. . .
Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing?
Merril: I was born in Philadelphia, then my family moved to Dallas, then back to the Philadelphia suburbs when I was in 7th grade and my parents divorced. I can’t say I think of Dallas as being an influence, but certainly my childhood and family life during the time I lived there were—and also, my parents had a large wholesale antique business then, and I thought their first antique store was so fascinating, a sort of magical place.
Q4: Have any travels away from home influence your work/describe?
When we lived in Dallas, we often went back to Philadelphia for holidays and vacations, and now I live in southern New Jersey just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. As an adult studying history and walking around the city has been an inspiration, as have the natural world within and around the city. There is a lot of nature in and around Philadelphia—parks, two rivers, woods, streams, and we’re not far from the sea.
I traveled as a child with my parents, but I haven’t traveled too much as an adult. Then again, anywhere I do go might be inspiration for a poem—a visit to a museum, a trip to New England, etc.
Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Merril: No, I think it happened gradually.
Q6: Favorite activities to relax?
Merril: I love to get lost in good novel. I was giddy going into my local library recently for the first time in over a year. I also enjoy walking, cooking/baking—and now it’s a joy to see family and friends again. Pre-Covid, my husband and I liked to walk around Philadelphia before going to see a movie or play, and then discussing it afterwards over coffee or wine.
Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects you’d like to promote?
Merril: I have a poetry collection coming out, but it’s not official yet.
Q8: What is one of your favorite lines from a poem of yours.
One of my favorite lines from one of my poem’s comes from “Origami Winter,” published in Black Bough Poetry’s Christmas/Winter edition, 2020
“My sister remembers we did origami
our memories now unfold these shapes
of winters’ past”
Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?
My grad school professors helped me with some of the mechanics of writing, and I’m also a test writer, which means I’ve learned to choose words carefully. As far as direct poetry help, everyone who has given me feedback has helped me hone my skills, but the creative process is on-going.
Something that I’ve only learned recently is that there’s a creative streak that runs through my ancestry—though I don’t know how far back. I don’t know about poets, but there were artists, musicians, and probably writers. I feel a connection.