A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Jane Dougherty

with Jane Dougherty:

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?

Jane: I’ve always written since I learned to write. We were encouraged at school and I never doubted that I could. Influences at that age—the world, the moon, family, just about everything.

Q2: Who are some of your biggest influences today?

Jane: In poetry my tastes don’t change—W.B. Yeats for the words, Walter de la Mare for the rhythms. For prose, if I could write like Natalia Ginzburg, I’d be thrilled.

Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing/art?

Jane: I grew up in Yorkshire in a tight knit Irish community, surrounded by family, books, music and art. My mother was an artist who taught for a living, her father had been a coal miner who wrote poetry and a memoire, and my father was a poet and a factory worker. Everything about my childhood has influenced the way I look at things, my attitude towards family, roots, and culture. I was a child and grandchild of immigrants, and the feeling of being unwelcome in somebody else’s country is something else I grew up with.

Have any travels away from home influenced work/describe?

Jane: We used to travel a lot. My parents thought it was important. We did an awful lot of art galleries and museums across Europe, but going back to Ireland was important, and staying with friends of my mother’s in Rome. Italy felt like a second home, and I dreamed of going to live there. Visiting different countries gave me a love of language and it taught me that the small corner where I lived was not the hub of the universe. Perhaps the immigrant background helped too, but I never felt intimidated at the idea of living in a ‘foreign’ country, and as soon as I left university, I left England and came to live in France. It was France or Italy and France won.

Q4: What do you consider the most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far?

Jane: I don’t think any of it is meaningful. Each novel I finish I feel pretty proud of until I write another and realise it isn’t so great after all. I’m probably prouder of my poems than my novels which are never as good as I’d like them to be. Some of the poems, like the ones I wrote about my maternal grandmother, mean a lot to me.

Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Jane: Maybe when I was taken to one side by the area manager of my first job in the wine trade and asked what it was I really want to do. I said I wanted to write. Being Irish himself he thought that was a perfectly reasonable reply.

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Jane: I read a lot, and I walk. I love gardens but I’m not up to the physical work so I have more of a supervisory role. Learning about the nature that surrounds me is a full-time activity and I’m getting pretty good at identifying animal turds and bird songs.

Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects you’d like to promote?

Jane: I have a couple of poetry pamphlets available, self-published. I’ve never approached a publisher since I’m quite capable of getting the layout right and producing a cover that suits me. I’m not very good about promotion. This is about as aggressive as I get.


Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?


That’s a difficult one, to pick out one line. This is the end of a poem called Waking to an ending. Is it a favourite? Hard to say. I like it, anyway.

“Our time together unravels, a frayed dream,
and I follow its drifting wisps, hoping at least
to find they line some blackbird’s nest.”

Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?

Jane: A couple of good and very patient writer friends have read my novels and made criticisms and suggestions that have made them so much better. Friends like that are invaluable. One day, I hope to get something published. Nobody ‘helps’ me with my poetry. I just write it to my own satisfaction. Poetry is personal. Prose is for other people. A novel is like a canal; it has to be constrained between banks of various conventions otherwise nobody will read it. Poetry is a river; it comes from the gut, the heart and the bones. It is what it is.



Poem by Jane Dougherty : “These Days” from Fevers of the Mind Press Presents the Poets of 2020

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.


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?


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.

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