Gabrielle Brant Freeman: Poet Interview

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Please join me in welcoming Gabrielle Brant Freeman to the Poetic Asides blog!

Gabrielle Brant Freeman's poetry has been published in many journals, including Barrelhouse, Hobart, Melancholy Hyperbole, Rappahannock Review, Shenandoah, storySouth, and Waxwing. She was nominated twice for the Best of the Net, and was a 2014 finalist. Freeman won the 2015 Randall Jarrell Poetry Competition, and she received a Regional Artist Grant in 2015 from the North Carolina Arts Council. Freeman earned her MFA through Converse College. When She Was Bad is her first book of poetry.

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What are you currently up to?

 Gabrielle Brant Freeman (Photo Credit: Dawn D. Surratt)

Gabrielle Brant Freeman (Photo Credit: Dawn D. Surratt)

I have a few different writing projects going on right now. The first is a series of poems that center on the idea of restrictions and constraints of all types placed upon women in America. I am playing with form to reflect the idea: connected sestinas are broken down into three sonnets each. Sestinas have constraints, and I am making those constraints tighter. Like a corset. Poetry corsets! The first of these to be published, "Every Western," will come out in the fall issue of the South Carolina Review.

The second project is a series of flash fiction pieces that will come together (hopefully!) as a novel-in-flash. The first one to be picked up, "Shotgun Wedding," will be published by Flash Fiction Magazine in October.

How did When She Was Bad come together as a collection?

I had finished what I thought would be my first collection with my MFA thesis titled Hydra. However, after many rejections, I went back to look at the poems again, and I realized that there were several themes, probably too many, but one continued to stand out: women acting against societal expectations, or women questioning those same expectations. Then I remembered the Longfellow nursery rhyme "There was a little girl," and I wrote the poem "When She Was Bad." That became the title, and I edited and finished the book from there.

 Cover image and design by Dawn D. Surratt

Cover image and design by Dawn D. Surratt

Were there any surprises in the publishing process?

Kevin Morgan Watson and Press 53 were wonderful to work with. I could not be happier about the process and the finished book. However, there was a funny incident with the cover. Dawn D. Surratt, the artist whose work appears on my cover (front and back!), had submitted several images for Kevin and me to choose from. We finally settled on one, and the model suddenly rescinded her permission to use her image on the cover. After a moment's panic, Dawn and I decided to meet up (thank goodness we live relatively close) and do a shoot to see what we could come up with. Turns out she and I have a similar aesthetic, and we had a great time. I absolutely love the way it turned out.

Have you done anything to promote the book since publication?

Yes! I have done quite a few readings and writing workshops across North and South Carolina. I really enjoy readings, and it is always exciting when someone in the audience connects with a poem I read. The last reading I did was at Converse College where I earned my MFA in poetry. It was wonderful to be able to go back and read my work to the current students and faculty.

Most recently, I conducted a pop-up writing workshop for Greenville, NC's First Friday Art Walk. We had a terrific turnout, and many of the participants got some compelling first drafts written. Every reading and workshop exposes people to my book. In addition, I use social media -- Facebook, Instagram, Twitter -- and my website to promote When She Was Bad.

It, of course, takes several poems to get a collection together. Do you have a writing routine?

Well, I'll tell you. Writing the second book seems much more difficult than the first. I am starting fresh! No pool of poems to start with! Aaaagh! But, yes, I do have a routine. I try to write something down every day, even if it's just an idea for a poem. When I know I'm going to have extended time to myself, which doesn't happen very often, I make sure to take that time to write and revise. Last night, I had a few hours to work, and I (finally!) finished writing a sestina I've been working on here and there since last February. I find that, most of the time, getting a draft down is the easy part. It's revision that takes me forever.

Many of the poems in your collection were previously published in other publications. Do you have a submission routine?

I make sure to send new work out to at least two different places as soon as I feel it's finished. Then, if it gets rejected, I try to turn it around, send it back out, within a day. Submittable is great because its active submissions list gives you a good visual idea of what you've got out.

I also keep an alphabetized, bulleted document of current work that is color coded for active, accepted, rejected, and rejected with specific comments. I also list the date of submission and the date of response for each submission so I can tell how long a particular journal took to respond. Over the years, this has been a valuable system for me.

One poet that more people should know: Who is it?

Oh my goodness. You know, there are so many wonderful poets out there. One answer is that I am always surprised when poets and writers I meet don't know the work of my fabulous and prolific mentors Denise Duhamel and Suzanne Cleary. They are both so very brave and often funny in their writing. Another answer is that I had the privilege of hearing Shara McCallum read "The Madwoman as Rasta Medusa" from her book Madwoman at AWP last year. The whole collection is fantastic.

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

Be an active poet: read poetry, share poetry, support other poets, and keep writing.

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Robert Lee Brewer is the editor of Poet’s Market and author of Solving the World’s Problems. Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.

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