Mia: When did you start writing and when did you first publish? How did you find out you were meant to be a writer?
Allie: My mother taught me to read when I was three years old. I broke my leg, and she was heavily pregnant with my sister, so reading kept me occupied. When I ran out of books to read, I started writing my own, which still exist, somewhere, in a box. She’s convinced one day I’ll publish them and make a million dollars. In high school, creative writing was the one class that offered me a “safe haven” from the cliques where I didn’t fit in, and working on the lit mag gave me a sense of purpose and direction. My first “real” publication was in my undergrad college’s (New College of Florida) literary magazine, the sadly now-defunct New CollAge. After college I had a seven-year string of failures, until 2008, when I won 3rd place in Scratch magazine’s fiction contest, and then shortly after had a few poems placed in Tallahassee Writers Association’s Penumbra. Since 2009, I’ve been publishing steadily and consistently. I knew I was “meant” to be a writer when even discouragement and rejection couldn’t stop me from writing and trying to improve my craft, and find venues willing to give my work a chance and an audience.
Mia: Your mother might be right, Allie! A debt of gratitude to her, for teaching you to read so early, and keeping safe your first literary endeavors. “You might curse before you bless” is dedicated to several people. How have they influenced your work?
Allie: I think that every poet’s life is shaped by their relationships with the people they hold dear, as well as the people who have wounded them. Writing, to me, is a way of sorting out the successes from the disappointments, and looking for sense in art when life hasn’t provided that. I dedicated the collection in part to my ex-husbands, because having plural ex-husbands is one of the most significant failures in my life, and those experiences shaped me and then re-modeled me, as I built myself back. It’s also a way of telling the men who were supposed to believe in me and my dreams—but ultimately did not—”you didn’t break me, I made something beautiful from the mess you left behind.” My husband and my first love, they’re also a part of who I am as a human, as a woman, and as a writer. My first love taught me that even when the nature of a relationship changes, if the love and respect between two people are true, it evolves and stays. My husband taught me that everyone is capable of another chance, that the failures don’t define you or destroy you, unless you let them. And, finally, I dedicated this book to the Avellaneda family and Muriel: when you lose a person who’s supposed to have been there, in a way, you take on their hopes and dreams, not only for their own life, but their hopes and dreams for you, too. Muriel and I were attached at the hip through the tumultuous college years, and a large part of who I am and my world view is a direct result of having known her. Every success in my work is one of the ways I honor her, and the life she should have had. In short, I’m writing for two.
Mia: I like this thought, Allie, very much. Writing for two, incorporating another’s world view and hopes into the creative life. It generates a depth, a new dimension, that every reader will detect in your poems, and need to explore. How does a poem act upon the reader’s mind, in your opinion? In one phrase, one metaphor.
Allie: I know this sounds like a cop-out answer, but I think that’s entirely dependent on the reader, and on the poem. “Every mirror reflects back either your best face or your worst one, depending on the lighting.”
Mia: I agree. And, ultimately, both the poem-candle and the mirror become sources of light, to paraphrase Edith Wharton. Who are your most important literary influences? Your candles.
Allie: Nicole Blackman, Gunter Grass, Karen Best, Angela Carter, Tiffanie DeBartolo, Kafka, Rilke, John Irving, Jeffrey Eugenides, Stephen Chbosky, Nicole Krauss, Karen Volkman, Rachael Warecki, Elizabeth Hand, Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman, Karen Russell, Kate Maruyama, Samantha Stier, Lisa Marie Cole, and a load of others I’m forgetting..
Mia: I notice many of my own favorites in this list, including Germans I have long loved, and superb women writers and poets. Why do they appeal to you?
Allie: I have a love for German literature and modern female poets. I’m looking for honesty and that “perfect line”. When I read poetry, I don’t have to understand it, but I have to feel it. I read a lot of contemporary journals, and find more inspiration in the work of my peers than in “established” authors. Joan Didion recently said: “Write for your peers, not Posterity, because with any luck, your peers will become Posterity.”
Mia: Speaking of poetic posterity and permancence. Did you ever write in form?
Allie: Occasionally, but it’s really difficult. The only formal poems that I ever really took to are, strangely, the ones most writers shy away from—the sestina and the canzone. I can’t write a sonnet to save my life, but I’ve pulled off a few sestinas and canzones I’m proud of, the occasional haiku, and a smattering of pantoums and villanelles. But I wouldn’t consider formal poetry to be my strong suit, by any means. I prefer literary translations, if I’m challenging myself.
Mia: Does your Italian heritage inform your writing, perhaps in subtle ways?
Allie: My grandfather came to the United States in 1920, and erased nearly all of his early life, to blend seamlessly in as an “American.” I was a teenager before I realized that when my dad said “We’re Italian,” he meant, ONE generation back—I never heard my grandfather speak with an accent, or in Italian (except for a few words, here and there), and it makes me really sad that he felt he had to get rid of that part of himself to assimilate to this country. While it hasn’t ever directly informed my work, I think that it has indirectly informed it, in my work with literary translations. How many stories do we miss out on, when we make English the language of dominance?
Mia: No doubt, many, and there may be losses with and without translation. Perhaps a lingua franca helps poetry circulate more easily, reach the far corners of the world and society, although much of the beauty that resides in idioms is lost.
How would you define “success” in a poet’s career?
Allie: I’m not going to turn away a million-dollar contract if it comes my way, but money isn’t necessarily success, now is it? The two things aren’t interchangeable. I mean, ideally, we’d all love to be paid for our work. Right now, I consider myself successful. I am paid to do what I love with Zoetic Press and the NonBinary Review. I’ve served on the staffs of publications I believe in, I publish consistently, and I think more people than just my friends read my work. I’ve been fortunate enough to have two chapbooks and one mini-chapbook published or forthcoming, and even if I don’t win, I consistently make the finalists list of contests I enter, which lets me know I’m on the right track—so that’s success, right? I’d say so.
Mia: I second that, and look forward to reading more of your work! Since completing YMCBYB, have you considered new approaches in your writing? New themes or techniques? What is in the works?
Allie: It’s funny, YMCBYB was published just a little over a year ago, and if I had to do it over again, I feel it would be a completely different collection—and that’s not a bad thing. When Ariana Den Bleyker accepted YMCBYB, my work was at a crossroads, and the confidence I gained from her publishing the collection was enough to drive me headlong into an entirely different direction. I’ve been doing a lot of work with literary translations and “response” pieces in my poetry, and if I can obtain the English translation rights, I hope to publish those poems together in the future. In my fiction, I just leaped into something completely different. I went from standard literary fiction, which was solid, but to me always felt a little bit off—like I was writing what I thought I “should” write—and barreled headfirst into what I call New Southern Gothic or Southern Fabulism. I am really proud of the stories I’ve been writing, which celebrate my geographical area, the Panhandle of Florida and the surrounding states, and its weird heritage, which in my work comes out as sort of literary horror or magical realism.
Mia: Thank you, Allie. It was a pleasure reading ‘You may curse before you bless’, and talking to you.