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Rosemary Rhodes Royston: Poet Interview

Please join me in welcoming Rosemary Rhodes Royston to Poetic Asides. I first met Rosemary at a writing workshop in North Carolina, so I'll take all credit for her debut chapbook, Splitting the Soil from Finishing Line Press.

Just kidding.

Rosemary Rhodes Royston

Rosemary Rhodes Royston

Rosemary was actually already rocking her way through the poetic universe, so I probably learned more from her than the other way around. As mentioned, she is the author of Splitting the Soil. As not mentioned, she resides in northeast Georgia. Rosemary's poetry has been published or is forthcoming in journals such as Southern Poetry Review, Appalachian Heritage, NANO Fiction, The Comstock Review, Main Street Rag, Coal Hill Review, Flycatcher, STILL, Town Creek Review, and Alehouse. Learn more at

Here is a favorite poem of mine from Splitting the Soil:

Salve, by Rosemary Rhodes Royston

When sound hurts,
when desire is a rock,
and when darkness leaks from every pore,

the only cure is to bathe
in the light of the moon.
Undress. Shed all that's artificial,

lie on the ground under the pine,
on the moss by the pond,
or in the middle of a field.

Feel the air on your flesh,
how parts rarely exposed
tingle. You smile. You recall

an act you have long forgotten.
Do not move. Stay.
This is prayer.


What are you currently up to?

I'm working on a collection of poems about natural things, such as cherries, watermelon, oranges, bluets, Japanese magnolias, snapping turtles -- and titling each one by their scientific name. In some ways, it's like a riddle, as I never use the common name within the poem. That in itself forces me to be even more creative as I revise. I'm also paying close attention to sound and imagery in these poems, and I seem to be in the groove with them, as in the summer we eat so many wonderful fruits....

I'm very happy to say that Appalachian Heritage picked one up, "Prunus avium," so one of them will soon be in print.

Splitting the Soil is your debut collection of poetry. How did you go about getting it published?

Publishing came about after a false start, which turned out to be a very good thing. Initially my book was accepted by a small press but the press folded before it was printed. At the time, I was devastated, but it was a good thing, as after re-reading what I’d submitted, I knew I could put a better manuscript together.

My current book probably went through at least 50 iterations – organizing, reorganizing, and pulling poems that were weak. I solicited feedback from a well-published poet, and another friend who edits. The stabilizing thing was that I always knew which poem was the opening one and which one was the ending one. So the middle was the challenge.

I sent my manuscript to many presses, and it was Finishing Line Press that picked it up. As you probably know, they specialize in chapbooks. They gave me quite a bit of freedom as to the artwork on the cover, which is a photo I took of a sunflower in my garden. I greatly appreciated the creative freedom, and was very pleased with the quality and look of the book. However, if I add up the years, it would be about six years of sending and revising and editing before I was published.

So the advice I have is keep trying, and know, as one of my mentors, Laure-Anne Bosselear, always says, "It’s always a draft.”

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Many of the individual poems in the collection were previously published in a variety of literary publications. How do you handle submitting your poems?

I go in spurts when it comes to submitting work. First, many hours go into reading the journals to which I submit, as it’s true that you need to know which journals your work fits with. Second, I’m an ongoing critic of my work, so I never feel it’s good enough, so I must sit with a poem for quite awhile before I deem it worthy of an editor’s time. Only after I feel it’s strong enough do I send it out.

And I’m still working towards publications in journals I’ve not yet been in, my "top tier" list –and I know to be patient and keep trying. I make a list in my journal of publications that are a good match for my own work, and I scribble down the deadline. Then I block out a few hours to send the poems out. Sometimes its submittable, sometimes an e-mail, and there are still a few journals out there who want snail mail.... so submitting is a process that I often put off until I feel I have enough time and strong work to send out into the world.

I've noticed that you've been making the rounds reading your poems lately. Any suggestions for better readings?

Be alive! Let the passion you feel for your art come through in the reading, and always practice reading in front of a mirror before you read in public! I cannot stress this enough. You not only will find places that need editing (because you will stumble again and again), but you will become confident in your reading.

You want to read the poem enough that you feel it physically in your body, knowing where your pauses are. I always find myself moving like a pendulum when reading, because there's a beat. Emulate those who do a good job of reading. Practice.

Splitting the Soil, by Rosemary Rhodes Royston

Splitting the Soil, by Rosemary Rhodes Royston

I like to share poetic forms on the Poetic Asides blog. Do you have a favorite form?

I mainly write in free verse, but I often attempt the pantoum. But you'll see no pantoums in my chapbook, as I've yet to master it!

I do have a ghazal, "Dogwood Winter," where I'm true to the form and manage not only to have my name in the "signature" line, but also my daughter's. So, I consider it a success.

I also have "loose" forms that have a rhyme scheme, but do not fit under any formal definition of a form -- more of an invented form that fits the poem. And I think almost every poet writes in sonnet form, whether formal or not. I know I do -- the 14 lines with a volta -- often a question or speculation followed by some type of response. I do enjoy the loose sonnet, as it forces both thought and compression into a set amount of space.

If you had to pick 2-3 writing influences, who would they be?

Beth Ann Fennelly taught me that it is not only okay but it’s necessary to write about the female experience. I often turn to Tender Hooks for excellent poems on being a mother/woman and to Unmentionables when it comes to lineation, as many poems in that collection have wonderful lineation that either mimic the subject being written about or even mimic the syntax of a conversation. They always are fresh to me and make me think more deeply about my own lineation.

Anne Carson is an influence because she’s smart as hell and so diverse in her books. In Decreation, she has a screenplay between Heloise and Abelard, essays, and poems. I am into mixed media art, so I'm especially drawn to NOX. I like her intelligence and ability to write in either poetry or prose with great skill. She brings a depth of knowledge of Ancient Greece to her writings, which engage me both creatively and intellectually.

Finally but not last is Emily Dickinson. When I first read her entire collection along side Sewell's biography of her, I felt as if I were a detective or an archeologist of sorts. Her upbringing in the church and her deep questioning of such mirrored some of my own upbringing, so I'm especially drawn to poems that address sanctuary and nature.

One poet no one knows but should‹who is it?

Anna Swir. I came across her work in an anthology by Czeslaw Milosz and subsequently bought a translation he and Leonard Nathan did of her work, Talking to My Body. Thematically, it makes sense that I'm drawn to her, as she, too, addresses the body in so many ways, from the erotic to the inevitable aging process. The translations of her poems are simple yet full of every day beauty -- the type of beauty we must keep our eyes open and be present to see.

In "The Same Inside," the speaker realizes her connectedness to "an old beggar woman." While bonding with this woman-sister the speaker questions her initial trek towards her lover, "And then I no longer knew / why I was walking to your place."

Who (or what) are you currently reading?

I attended the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival at LMU in Harrogate, Tennesee. So I bought a couple of wonderful poetry books this summer that I'm working through: Jeff Hardin's Notes for a Praise Book, and Ron Houchin's The Man Who Saws Us in Half.

Also, ongoing reading that feeds me and keeps me grounded is Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart, a collection of excellent essays that are worth reading whether things are falling apart or not.

If you could only share one piece of advice with fellow poets, what would it be?

Let it simmer. Don't be in a hurry to send out your work. It needs to stay put for a bit before the world sees it. We all fall in love with our poems, as they are our creations, but before showing them off, let them incubate a bit!


Robert Lee Brewer is an editor with the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems. Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.


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