A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Merril D. Smith

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.

https://janedougherty.wordpress.com/

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. . .

photo from joyharjo.com

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?

Merril:

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.

Merril:

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”

https://amzn.to/2VbPBHU

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.

3 poems from Merril D. Smith in Fevers of the Mind Poetry Press Presents the Poets of 2020

https://merrildsmith.com/biography/

By davidlonan1

David writes poetry, short stories, and writings that'll make you think or laugh, provoking you to examine images in your mind. To submit poetry, photography, art, please send to feversofthemind@gmail.com. Twitter: @davidLOnan1 + @feversof Facebook: DavidLONan1

17 comments

  1. Thank you, David for asking the right questions. More pieces to put together.I didn’t know about the antique business. Funnily enough (not) my dad was an antique collector and amateur dealer. Our house was like a museum. For him, dealing meant acquiring and never selling anything 🙂

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  2. I’ve met this famous poet at a writing retreat, and we’ve read each other’s blog posts for years now. Thanks for asking good questions, David, and Merril, for answers that fill in the gaps of my knowledge of your mind and muse.

    I’ll tweet this!

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  3. I thoroughly enjoyed this interview with Merril. I learned so much about her background that I didn’t know before. I’m very glad she has a book of poetry in the works!

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  4. Wonderful interview. I smiled at Merril being “giddy” when able to set foot into a library again. i felt the same way and almost let out a WHOOO HOOO but stopped myself just in time. 🙂 Neat to imagine young Merril creating a handmade book – with characters called Troubles, no less. Poetic insight from the beginning. I have learned so much about poetry (and what I like) from reading Merril’s posts. In fact, I think I’ve fallen (back) in love with poetry thanks to her.

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  5. Wonderful interview! I so loved reading this! I mused over the line about the antique store being a ‘magical place’, and also about the feeling of connection with the past. That is the great thing about these interviews…the answers bring profound truths to the surface. Poetry comes from the heart, a reflection of what we see before us…it is also a reflection from all that has come before. Merril’s poems are ‘magical’, but like a perfect cup of tea, the poems are steeped from a very rich brew. This brew has been a lifetime in the making, and is tweaked from many sources. It is no ordinary cup of tea!!! 🙂

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