Interview with Featured Poet
Erin Ganaway


[TCP]: How did you come into writing?

[EG]: As far back as I can remember, I have been writing in some form. I began writing poetry and small allegorical stories in early elementary school. When I was seven, I felt inspired to compose a newspaper entitled Family Times. After interviewing my family, I hefted the typewriter onto the old kitchen table and plunked out, letter by slow letter, the news. At age eleven, I won a local writing competition that resulted in my poem being published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I continued writing poetry through middle and high school.

Just out of college, I co-founded a multimedia production company. For several years, I became invested in this venture, focusing much of my creative energy into video work. It did not take me long to miss writing, and so I decided to return to school to pursue my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Hollins University. I was drawn to the legacy of the program, the esteemed faculty and accomplished alumni. Not to mention the arresting campus and surrounding mountains. Though I went to Hollins primarily writing prose, I ended up writing a novella in haiku for my thesis. So I came out of Hollins writing an amalgamation of poetry and prose.

[TCP]: Do you have a particular writing process?

[EG]: I am for the most part a binge writer. I have periods of frenetic writing and periods of relative quietude. A mentor of mine said that when we are not writing we are waiting for the well to fill. Still the latent periods frustrate me to no end, so I usually try to find ways to snooker myself into writing. Inspired by Nabokov, I have tried note cards. I often find comfort in restrictions; it is less daunting to fill miniscule spaces with words. I once purchased a drawing board and charcoal pencils with the hopes that I could convince my stubborn mind I was drawing rather than writing. I find that making visual art is freeing, whereas writing tends to be a more exacting process for me. I am a notorious self-editor. I must wring out each line before I proceed to the next. I carry a small notebook in my handbag, so I am always prepared when the muse decides to emerge. I still write in pencil, because it seems like less of a commitment than ink. Just another way to fool myself into thinking I am not writing for real. It truly is all about games for me.

[TCP]: Tell me about the process of writing your novella in haiku?

[EG]: This was the ultimate game. I was under the pressure of meeting the submission deadline for my thesis. The idea for the novella in haiku really did not surface until the start of my final term at Hollins, which meant I only had around four months to execute it. Fortunately, this was one of my binge periods. I wrote desperately and unceasingly. Working in syllabics provided the restrictive form that aided in fueling the muse. I had in excess of four hundred haiku. They told a story, but I needed clearly defined chapters. I was overwhelmed by the abundance and disorder of haiku. My mind tends to be assuaged by visual organization, so I purchased a tri-fold presentation board—the kind you see at Science Fairs—and printed out all the haiku. I cut them up so I had four hundred some odd number of three inch slips of paper printed with one haiku each. I spent much of my time at a friend’s house during my final days at Hollins. We were practically inseparable writing partners. She had a lovely front porch that spanned the width of the house. I gathered my display board, haiku, a box of tacks, and a couple beers. On that front porch, alternately reaching for a beer or a tack, I pieced together my novella.

[TCP]: What makes good writing?

[EG]: I feel divided on this. I recently covered Mary Oliver’s “The Poet with His Face in His Hands” in class with my students. It got me wondering how much unnecessary noise I am bringing to the world. Certainly I hear Oliver’s plea. Yet Earnest Hemingway said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” This is where my divide falls. I cannot help but agree with Hemingway. Maybe it is the daughter of a psychoanalyst in me, but I believe in the therapeutic nature of writing. Not that I advocate we go crying and roaring into the world, but it seems to me good writing often comes from a place of longing, a desire to reach out to the unattainable.

[TCP]: Do you have a favorite book?

[EG]: Moby-Dick. When I was in my twenties, I formed a chronological reading list of over a hundred canonical authors. I had been researching the benefits of a classical education. So much is gained by reading in this fashion; one is truly able to see how works build upon their predecessors. In all honesty, I dreaded Moby-Dick. I had heard the infamous mixed reviews, and I was persuaded to the side of those who deemed it drab. I could not have been more shortsighted. Melville won me with his epic lyricism and mystical insight. The man is pure genius.

[TCP]: How does place inform your work?

[EG]: People are often surprised when I tell them I was born and raised in the south. The first thing they notice is the dearth of a drawl. In truth, though I am from the south, I consider myself half New Englander. My mother’s family is steeped in Appalachian Georgia, but my father’s ancestors date back to the Mayflower. We have lineage tracing their settlement on Cape Cod. My great, great uncle was a real character, a sea scavenger of sorts, and over a hundred years ago he built a house that remains in our family to this day. So my childhood summers spanned the distance between snapping beans on the front porch of my maternal grandparents’ Appalachian farmhouse to throwing marooned starfish back to sea out front of our Oceanside cottage. Each place has defined me. I love finding the nuanced similarities between the two sides—the authentic characters, the evocative landscapes, the rough-hewn roots. Northern or southern, my origins are eccentric and robust. 

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