Interview with poet Cherryl Floyd-Miller

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Earlier this year, Tammy and I took Baby Will with us to his first poetry event, a reading by Cherryl Floyd-Miller at Wordsmiths Books in Decatur, Georgia. Sadly, Wordsmiths has since closed, but Cherryl was nice enough to be interviewed for the Poetic Asides blog.

Her most recent collection of poems, Exquisite Heats, was published in 2008 by Salt Publishing. Cherryl is a native of the Carolinas and has published two other poetry collections: Utterance: A Museology of Kin and Chops. In addition to poetry, Cherryl is also a playwright and fiber artist.

Here's a favorite poem of mine from Exquisite Heats:

Voodoo Chicken

Gots me hanker. Gots me squall, peeping tall-Tom
at your lovely, in your throat, and the itch,
hellcat itch, of it rides me like a witch
into the nights, those crafty nights, no calm
will come. You just a mule teeth puppet show.
Stop and go. Chickenhearted to the core,
you say don't cross the line or crack the door.
How sweetmeat, milk. How navy black. How crow.

But love has stayed and love is made, is all
is with, for. We almost did, just about,
said we (nohow) wouldn't (nungh-ungh) fall.
This moot jinx so far in, it's inside out.
We say we won't. But reckon do. Yak. Stall
for if. Wait for good-good. Gut in. Ass out.

*****

What are you up to?

I am helping a friend build a strong healthcare firm, writing lots of persona poems, finding very interesting ways of writing verse plays and verse narrative ... and (ah, yes) -- quilting. I am truly enjoying this "season" of myself.

You live in the U.S., but your publisher for Exquisite Heats is based in the United Kingdom. How did you go about publishing this collection?

I will have to give credit for my publication through Salt ... to Salt. Chris Hamilton-Emery is an amazing and supportive publisher. He takes the risks others won't take, says the things others won't say and publishes other risk-takers others have not seemed to publish. A poet/scholar friend suggested my work; Chris asked for a manuscript; he liked the work; and we evolved to a contract and a collection of poems. I am deeply grateful for the ways in which Salt shows it believes in me and my *voice*. The faith Chris seems to have in me as an intelligent person and an artist is the kind of faith I've found only one other place: the Fulton County Arts Council in Atlanta and its Deputy Director, Val Porter.

In Exquisite Heats, your work incorporates a variety of poetic forms. Could you speak a little on using poetic forms in your writing?

Ah ... poetic forms. They are helpful play things; by that, I mean it has aided my poem-building skills tremendously to be knowledgeable about forms and make conscious decisions about using them in my work. I've found the most gifted and compelling poets to be those who know the rules and deliberately break them in order to keep their own voices intact. At this stage in my own evolution, the use of forms is both conscious and subconscious. Most of the time I know exactly what I've done after I've done it; but I'm at my best when I don't know what I'm doing while I'm doing it. Poetic forms for me are a good musical instrument to ensure this "band" called my body of work can jam as long and hard as it likes. But I'll be a traitor and leave the forms on the side of the stage if the poem instructs me to do so. Forms come often in my work, but I'm not a slave to them. My only allegiance is to the poem.

Do you use critique groups—or a network of other poets—to help with early drafts of poems?

I don't use critique groups as much as I used to about five to eight years ago. I have trusted eyes and ears who can hear new drafts at any time of the day and give me honest feedback. Usually, these are writers who have known me and my work for a long time and have earned my respect and trust. I'm not closed to critique groups, but I am leery of group dynamics and individual dramas that can be a bit distracting to the purpose of gathering: work.

In your bio for Exquisite Heats, it’s mentioned that you’ve received several grants and fellowships for your writing. Any application tips for other poets who may apply for grants or fellowships?

Yes ... apply. It may sound strange to give this as advice, but many people don't even fill out the application and wonder why they can't get grants. Other tips:

1) Be sure you really want it. Don't apply just for the money. Make sure your values align with the org or individual who is awarding the money, and make sure you believe in what the grant asks of you.

2) Apply again, if you don't get an award the first time you apply. Sometimes, missing a grant or fellowship has nothing to do with your talent or your perfect application. It has to do with timing, the number of other talented applicants and whether or not you come across as credible on paper.

3) Do what the grantors ask. This means meet deadlines, do the accompanying essay, and have a solid plan to do what you say you're going to do with the money. Having been both a grant recipient and a grant reviewer, I can truly say, if you're not sincere, it comes through loud and clear that you're not sincere.

Your bio mentions you’re a fiber artist. In what forms of fiber arts do you work?

I am a quilter who uses techniques of collage, crochet, knitting and mixed media formats. I have no formal training in any of this. I learned quilting at my paternal grandmother's feet at age 7. I learned crochet from my maternal grandmother at age 9. I've experimented with everything else enough to be *confident* about what I create. I explore the same themes in fiber art as I do in poetry: women, the South, folklore, sound music in language, myths, non-linear structures and magical realism. Much of the way I approach art is really about not wasting a single thing. Even the words you cut from a poem or the scraps you create when you cut the fabric of a quilt can be used somewhere else.

Who are you currently reading?

Two voices I think many of us have forgotten: Dolores Kendrick and Sherley Anne Williams. I am also reading a variety of modern verse plays because I'm curious about what others are doing with the form.

If you could pass on only one piece of advice for other poets, what would it be?

Write! And then write some more. When you feel like you truly (((can))) *quit* writing, then you should quit ...

*****

To learn more about Cherryl's collection Exquisite Heats and her publisher Salt Publishing, go to www.saltpublishing.com.

*****

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