with Cyndie Randall:
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Cyndie: I wrote my first poem when I was a kid. I remember the moment because I looked up at the sky, watched, and waited. It felt natural to do this, to look outside myself first, to be curious about what was already being said around me, to notice how it spoke to what was happening inside me. When I did this I found windows and I found mirrors. I didn’t have the language to describe it this way then, but I learned early on that writing, for me, is largely about what happens outside of the page – the listening, observing, questioning, wondering, gathering. The crafting often comes later.
The first writer who stunned me in high school was Edgar Allan Poe. When I read the poem, “Alone,” I felt this weird rush of devastation and elation and identification in my belly. It amazed me. I’ve sort of been chasing that feeling ever since.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Cyndie: I have favorites, but I’m usually influenced by who I’m reading or listening to or watching at the moment. I’m doing The Sealey Challenge right now. So far I’ve read Amorak Huey, Danez Smith, Anne Sexton, Frank Bidart, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Taylor Byas, David Ferry, Ross Gay, Diane Seuss, and Jason B. Crawford. I’ve got Jihyun Yun, Mary Jo Bang, Sara Ryan, Ocean Vuong, Sharon Olds, Kaveh Akbar, Sylvia Plath, and other writers in my stack for the rest of the month. Some I’ve read before, some I haven’t. It’s like Christmas in August. So many wonderful gifts!
Q3: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Cyndie: For me it’s been about self-acceptance – less about wanting to be a writer or becoming a writer, and more about being the writer I already am and then becoming a better version of that writer. When I embrace who I am, a writer usually shows up. Sometimes that means I’m a songwriter, sometimes it means I’m a poet. Will it be any good? Will the rest of the world validate it? Maybe, maybe not. Those are different questions, different conversations.
But I will say … Accepting myself as a writer is a great first step, but I don’t usually learn and grow if I don’t let others into my process. I need other writers. That has been vulnerable for me, to be seen. Sometimes it makes me want to quit writing because I have really bad days, weeks, seasons. I write some terrible poems, and with all my might! While I’ll always be a writer – always think like a writer, see the world like a writer – I have to continually make the choice to actually write. It can require a little bravery to keep showing up. But those breakthrough moments, the moments where I go from “terrible poem” to “Hey, I stuck with it and just made something out of this” make it so worth it. Those are the pivotal moments for me. I guess I’m a little bit thankful for failure.
Q4: Who has helped you most with writing?
Cyndie: She doesn’t know this, but my high school English teacher, Cynthia Schofield, really helped me embrace my love for words because she embraced her own without apology and in the face of students who often laughed at her or gave her little attention. She was devoted to the art and to the work she taught, and I admired that. She taught me, by example, to go for it. To be myself.
And my beta readers, particularly Todd Dillard and Ben Kline, have helped my writing tremendously. Todd was the first poet to really “get” me, to say, in so many words, “I understand your weird brain and it’s really good.” He welcomed it on the page and then kind of said, “More, more of this, please.” Do you know how long I lived before my weirdness was celebrated? What a gift for a poet. Todd has helped me find and remember my voice. This has been foundational, invaluable. And Ben, he writes very differently than I do, and because of that he invites and pushes back in ways I never see coming. They both validate and challenge and inspire me regularly, and their writing continually FLOORS me. I’m beyond grateful for our relationships, for our trust.
Q5: When did you grow up and how did that influence your writing & did any travels away from home influence your work?
Cyndie: I grew up out in the country, as they say, in the guts of Michigan, a state that has four distinct seasons. The lines of the seasons are drawn hard, and the changes and extremes will activate and jolt all your senses. If you’re an intuitive person, this experience is a kind of muse. So are the beautiful landscapes, the Great Lakes, the colors “up north.” This is going to make me sound so dramatic, but sometimes when Michigan overwhelms my body, the overwhelm in my soul really perks up too. The two sources of overwhelm sort of meet and discuss. A poem is a great container for that, particularly the process of crafting it. It’s like a giant deep breath.
Apart from that, I find bits of Michigan sprinkled into many of my poems. Even if it’s unspoken, where I grew up becomes a setting because it loans me its deer, fish, trees, seasons, language, culture. I can’t easily separate it from myself or from the work. It’s part of who I am.
Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?
Cyndie: I just finished my first chapbook of poems called, “This Will Not Be the Whole Truth.” It explores the often secret paradigms of trauma, longing, and loss, particularly as it relates to being a daughter and a mother. The poems are a blend of confessionalism, lyricism, and surrealism.
After I graduated with a BA in Creative Writing back in 2005, I didn’t write any poetry for about 13 years. The poems in this chapbook came to me after that long break, after I thought maybe I couldn’t write anymore, so they feel particularly meaningful.
Q7: Favorite activities to relax?
Cyndie: I like to take pictures, walk the Kalamazoo River in the small mill town where I live, watch Schitt’s Creek, play games with my family, and snuggle my dog, Johnny. That said, I find it hard to relax and easy to worry.
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?
Cyndie: Jean Valentine’s poem “I Came to You” remains one of my favorites. So much happens in such a small space (welcome to a Jean Valentine poem!).
In my poem, “I Do Not Tell My Secret,” the speaker says, “a woman martyred is a woman we might believe.” That line visits me often.
Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
As I shared, I just finished my first chapbook, “This Will Not Be the Whole Truth.” I’m in the process of submitting it for publication now, and I’m hopeful. I really believe in it! You can connect with me on Twitter @CyndieRandall or at cyndierandall.com to watch for news about that and other forthcoming poems!
I mentioned Todd Dillard and Ben Kline … Todd’s book, “Ways We Vanish,” can be purchased from Okay Donkey Press https://okaydonkeymag.bigcartel.com/product/ways-we-vanish-by-todd-dillard, and Ben’s latest book, “Dead Uncles,” is out now with Driftwood Press https://www.driftwoodpress.net/product-page/dead-uncles.
I’d also like to mention three more books that are definitely worth buying if you haven’t purchased them already:
“Bloodwarm” by Taylor Byas published by Variant Lit https://variantlit.com/product/bloodwarm/, “Good Morning to Everyone Except Men Who Name Their Dog Zeus” by Lannie Stabile out with Cephalopress http://www.cephalopress.com/books/, and “The History of Mountains” by Danielle Rose published by Variant Lit https://variantlit.com/product/the-history-of-mountains/.