with Stephanie K. Merrill
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Stephanie: My parents gave me a five-year-diary for Christmas when I was in the fourth grade. I began writing every day about all the mundane things I thought I should be writing about. First influences? The language of chantings, prayers, and songs from the Roman Catholic mass were early influences along with hearing my grandmother’s colorful stories about everything and about everyone.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Stephanie: It’s hard to name just one influence because it is a gestalt of so many, but the “leaping poems” of Antonio Machado continue to influence me. I like poems that move upward, that take the reader someplace new. Jean Valentine, too, for the spaces in her text that beg the reader to reflect along the way of even a short piece.
Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing? Have any travels away from home influence your work?
Stephanie: I grew up on a farm on the High Plains of southwestern Kansas. Growing up on the wide prairie with big skies and an only tree here and there has honed my ability to embrace solitude and the reflection that makes my writing practice feel like home.
Q4: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far?
Stephanie: When I retired from teaching high school English after a 39 year career, I was invited to deliver the commencement address to the graduating class from the school where I’d recently retired. I ended the address with a poem, and I had the nerve to call it a love poem to the students, to the parents, to all alumni, and to anyone associated in the past, present, and future with the school. It was an awesome experience to have one simple poem speak on such a grand scale.
Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Stephanie: There has not been a pivotal moment for me, but so many “awe” moments when a work of art, a song, a piece of literature has moved me. In each of those moments, I’m always reminded of how much power there is in this elevated communication, and in those moments, I always want to participate.
Q6: Favorite activities to relax?
Stephanie: I play the piano. I drink tea with our three cats. I walk in the arroyos on the trails outside of Austin where I live.
Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?
I love old dogs, too./ The ones who place their serious paws / on my face, telling me to go read / The Tibetan Book of the Dead one more time– / that if I am too clever / I will miss the point entirely
(from “Some Celestial Event” published in UCity Review:
Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?
Stephanie: All the open-hearted and open-minded teenagers with whom I have shared writing classrooms over the years.