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Poetry Connects People: an Interview with Beth Williams by Jonah Meyer, Poetry Editor

“An early teacher of mine suggested keeping a jar of words and lines that haven’t landed yet. The jar on my desk is overflowing.”‍

 

Why do you write poetry? 

Poetry is a way for me to get worries out of my head—a way to confront what bothers me. Each time I finish a poem, I get a sense of completeness, and that just feels so good.

How, when, and where do you write poetry? Please share with us some details about your personal process for creating new poems. 

I have no constraints as to when and where I write. I read a lot of contemporary poetry and take a lot of poetry classes. Living deep in this world encourages me to write as often as I’m able. Usually I compose on my laptop. If I wake with ideas in the middle of the night, I type them into my phone and email it to myself. Often, I will print out rough drafts and revise them with a pen. An early teacher of mine suggested keeping a jar of words and lines that haven’t landed yet. The jar on my desk is overflowing.

What do you hope to accomplish through your poetry? 

Poetry connects people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a poem and seen myself in it. I would love for people to identify with my work, or for my poems to open them up to a new way of thinking and to all the possibilities that might follow.

Who are some of your personal favorite poets and writers? Could you name your top three or four? What is it specifically about the work of these individuals which speaks to you?

It is so hard to narrow my list, but I will say that Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic completely undid me. His fresh approach to this creative manuscript results in such a work of art, and yet it is at the same time so accessible. Matthew Olzmann is definitely at the top of my list. How I wish I had his gift of humor. I return to his work often and never fail to appreciate his clever positioning of words. Ellen Bass has always been one of my favorites. She uses such natural language and then shines a light on things I might have missed. I’ll never forget the first time I read her lines, “What if you knew you’d be the last / to touch someone?” And of course, my top four would have to include Jericho Brown—as much for his Pulitzer-wining work as for his heart—but always for his contagious, genuine laugh.

 

What are you currently reading? 

Space Struck by Paige Lewis, The Goodbye World Poem by Brian Turner, and Soul Culture by Remica Bingham-Risher.

 

What are you currently writing?

I’m trying to address themes in my recurring nightmares. But my daughter and son think I write too much “sad poetry,” so I’m also challenging myself to create something lighter. I was really inspired by Jessica Jacob’s poem, “Lemme tell you the one that killed at canasta!”

 

Please share with us a few unique or interesting things about yourself, which don’t even necessarily have anything to do with poetry. 

I spend an inordinate amount of time picking dog hair off my clothes. I live one city over from where I was born and raised in coastal Virginia. I’ve never been too far away from a natural body of water. Early on, we are taught how to swim based on whether we are sinkers or floaters. I can float in a standing position—an oddity that sometimes comes in handy.

 

What would you say is your proudest accomplishment?

The first time my work was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, I had trouble breathing after reading the email announcement. This accomplishment gave me validation that maybe I’m on the right track and can say aloud that I am a poet.

 

What projects are upcoming on the horizon for you? And where can readers find more of your work? 

I’m still working on my first manuscript, now in its fifth or sixth form. Hopefully it will find a home out in the world one day. My website is BethOastWilliams.com — or you can look for recent work in Adanna Literary Review, Nimrod, and in the anthology Writing the Land: Virginia.

By Jonah Meyer

Jonah Meyer is poetry editor of Mud Season Review. A poet, writer, and editor in North Carolina, he holds a Bachelors in Cultural Anthropology, Masters in Library & Information Systems, and has backgrounds in print journalism and public librarianship. Jonah’s creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in O.Henry Magazine, Ampersand Literary Journal, Carolina Peacemaker, The Writing Disorder, Bluebird Word, Boats Against the Current, American Crises, JAB Fiction and Poetry, Bohemian Review, Found Spaces, The Mountaineer, Sledgehammer Lit, Oddball Magazine, Cold Lake Anthology, Beaver Magazine, Press Pause, Digging Press, Raise the Voices, Within and Without Magazine, and elsewhere. Jonah plays guitar, banjo, and piano, shoots street photography, and studies neuroscience and Buddhist philosophy. He serves as Poetry Editor for Twin Bird Review, Assistant Poetry Editor for Random Sample Review, Staff Writer with The US Review of Books, Copy Editor with Under the Gum Tree, Poetry Book Reviewer for Heavy Feather, and Poetry Reader for Okay Donkey. Jonah firmly believes everyone has a story worth telling.