Q1: When did you start writing and who has influenced you the most?
Donna: I can’t remember when I started writing because I was always doing it as a child. Even if I couldn’t read words, I would copy them- I loved the feeling of making letters on paper. I have poems my mother saved from as early as grade one, but I didn’t start working on my writing seriously until I was in my thirties. Early influences would have been the classic poets I had access to in my young life – Frost, Dickinson and Shakespeare, though I wouldn’t say I write like them. Currently, I don’t know who influences me most, but many poets inspire me to be better. I do use nature imagery a lot in my poems, so maybe Mary Oliver could be named as an influence.
Q2: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Donna: When I started to take workshops to see if pursuing writing was something I wanted to do, an early mentor, Diana Goetsch, mentioned in class that the best writers had a fire that she could see in their work. When she signed her book for me at the end of the workshop, she told me that I had that fire. That was an a-ha moment for me, one that occurred in my early thirties. That has been enough to carry me through thirty more years of many, many rejections, fallow times, and bouts of imposter syndrome.
Q3: Who has helped you most with writing and career?
Donna: Early on, mentors like Diana were crucial to me as I didn’t have a writing community. I don’t have an MFA, and my career was in middle school teaching (I’m retired now), so my networks were non-existent until I found a community online. Blogging poets like Kelli Russell Agodon, Molly Spencer, Carolee Bennett, and Dave Bonta gave me access to a world of writers and poems that I wouldn’t have known otherwise. And as that online community grew, I found Sundress and Erin Elizabeth Smith, who were kind enough to publish my poems in their journal Stirring and then take on my first book after it had been making the rounds for years. Writers Rachel Bunting, Kristin LaTour, Donna Huneke, and Mike Nees are my stalwart first readers and workshoppers, and I rely on them for their honesty and intelligence. Really, anyone who has ever read and/or shared one of my poems helps me grow.
Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels influenced your work?
Donna: I grew up in the suburbs just outside of Chicago, and I still live in the same general area. I think a Midwestern practicality as well as the fickle and lovely changing seasons have influenced the images and topics I choose to tackle in poems. I have been lucky to have traveled extensively around the world, and every experience I have influences me as a person, which then finds its way into the poems somehow. I haven’t written much directly about the places I’ve traveled – I find that rendering experiences like that are much more difficult than traversing internal or imaginary landscapes.
Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively to you?
Donna: I’m not sure how to answer this question, but I’ll try. When I write outside of my own experience, those poems, when they are successful, make me proud, My second book Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story is an example of a crafted narrative that has resonated well with others despite the fact that it is not confessional. Much of my other work, more confessional or even sentimental in nature, is meaningful to me (and I hope others), but not as much of a creative reach.
Q6: What are your favorite activities to relax?
Donna: I have recently rediscovered how much I enjoy creating visual art, but I’m also a fan of long walks/hikes, good books, and just hanging out with family and friends. It doesn’t take much for me to relax now that I’m not working.
Q7: What is a favorite line/stanza from your writing?
Donna: This is like asking someone to choose a favorite child, which for me would be easier since I only have one. I am particularly fond of this line from my poem” Declaration”: “A great love swells in my body like a successful ad campaign.”
Q8: What kind of music inspires you the most? What is a song or songs that always come back to you as an inspiration?
Donna: I started writing poems in my teens by writing songs, so I always pay attention to structure and sound in my work. I love live music, particularly rock music, and it gets into my body in a way that nothing else does. But I can’t listen to music with vocals while I write, so my favorite go-to writing music is Explosions in the Sky or the Ghost tracks from my favorite band, Nine Inch Nails.
Q9: Do you have any upcoming books, events, etc that you’d like to promote?
Donna: I am currently working on a fourth manuscript, but it is in its earliest stages. I am the host of an online reading series called A Hundred Pitchers of Honey that is free on Zoom every third Thursday at 6:30 Central. All of the readings are also cached on YouTube, so I’d love for people to give our readers a listen. Promoting the work of other writers is important to me, and I love hosting the series.
Bonus Question: Any funny or strange memories that you’d like to share during your creative journey?
Donna: Most steps of this writing journey are funny or strange or awkward for me, so I will choose to share a happy/strange occurrence. Once I got my butt kicked at ping pong by Stephen Dunn at a writing conference – that is one of the favorite memories that writing has given me.