10 Questions for Stacie Leatherman

Beth Derr

". . . as the sea commits to its mutability, and when rain
strikes the earth, commitment,
as one commits to breathe."
-From "The Commitment of Rain" which appears in the Summer 2017 issue (Volume 58, Issue 2).


Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
Although I have been writing and publishing in earnest since undergrad, I remember that my writing started to truly take shape after the death of my mother, when I was 22. I cannot remember those poems’ exact titles, but I remember trying very hard to articulate what that loss meant, and really, I haven’t stopped writing about death, in some way, since that time.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
I have always been a scattershot reader, across genres, but I learned early it’s best to understand there’s always something to learn from a writer, even if the work doesn’t resonate with me. Even if it means I’m learning what not to do in my work. That said, I’ve always loved so many poems by Jean Valentine, Wisława Szymborska, and Rae Armantrout, but I couldn’t imitate them. But I can learn precision, irony, balance, and authenticity from masters such as these, which shapes how I observe the world and reminds me how careful I must be when articulating my ideas. Learning is still the greatest pleasure for me.

What other professions have you worked in?
I worked in public relations at the Cleveland Museum of Art for a few years out of college, which was an enormous privilege. I learned a respectable amount about art history and worked with dedicated, brilliant people. I was incredibly lucky. Eventually I transitioned to teaching high school English, where I happily remain today. I continue to regard myself as exceptionally fortunate in my career choices.

What did you want to be when you were young?
I thought I was going to be a musician. I was a conservatory student studying piano, violin, and harpsichord. Then I decided to become a poet and teacher.  Nothing else really crossed my mind, although lately I keep thinking we need to extend our mortal contracts on this earth (wait, what do you mean we don’t get contracts?), because the older I get, the more professions I’d like to try.

What inspired you to write this piece?
Inspiration rarely happens for me. I just show up, and the subconscious and not-so-subconscious anxieties, interior dialogues, running commentaries, and questions that dominate my days find their way onto the page. I think I may have been using a rain-related writing prompt, but that’s just a vehicle to the “Why are we here” question. And that was my observation and answer, in that moment, to that question, and which was really only realized in hindsight.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
My adult home and my childhood home, mostly. Ohio and Florida. It’s what I know. But I wouldn’t say that’s strictly the case, either… I wander and find that I collect impressions and associations of visited places and landscapes that emerge later in the writing.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
I’m always amazed at my students’ abilities to multi-task, to listen to music and write papers or do other work. I’ve always needed silence to concentrate. So unless I’m using a piece of music as pathway to poem, it’s very quiet around me.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
If I can drag myself out of bed at 5 a.m. to write, it’s a good day.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
My husband and fellow writer, Michael. I like his smart-ass comments, drawings, arrows, question marks, deletions, and then paragraphs of praise when I get something especially right.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
The visual arts. Sadly, this particular sack of DNA is not wired for success there. But I love learning about art and listening to artists speak about their work.

What are you working on currently?
Revising eight years of haphazard, stolen moments of writing while raising two children.

What are you reading right now?
The Violinist’s Thumb by Sam Kean and E.E. Cummings: Complete Poems, 1904-1962.

Purchase our current issue (Volume 58, Issue 2) here to read Stacie Leatherman's piece "The Commitment of Rain."


STACIE LEATHERMAN is the author of two books of poetry: Stranger Air and Storm Crop. Her work has appeared in New American Writing, Indiana Review, Barrow Street, Diagram, and Crazyhorse, among others. She lives near Cleveland, OH.