…with Samantha Duncan

Ariana:

One Never Eats Four is your second chapbook. How do you feel One Never Eats Four compares to Moon Law? Do you feel your writing has changed or grown since publishing Moon Law?

Samantha:

They’re completely different from each other. Moon Law started with a concept and was written and published fairly quickly. It tells a story, so I didn’t publish many of the individual poems beforehand, as they don’t stand alone too well. It’s stylistically trendier, with pop culture references throughout, and it has a magical/fantasy quality to it. By contrast, I spent more time on One Never Eats Four, mostly in the editing, collecting, and submitting stages. The parts were done before the whole, and the tone feels more realistically gritty or dark, maybe even a little muted.

I think my writing has changed since Moon Law. I’m constantly reading and make a point to learn something from every book I pick up, so my writing is always evolving, even just in small ways. This likely explains why my two chapbooks are so different; they were composed only 1-2 years apart, but that’s enough time for me to develop many different ideas about style and craft. I’m a sponge, constantly absorbing from books and surroundings. A thinking sponge, though.

Ariana:

You’re a mom of two very young boys. How do you find time to write?

Samantha:

The million-dollar question! The key to my success has been to do the opposite of what everyone tells you to do: do not sleep when the baby sleeps. My hard-and-fast rule is that nap time is Me Time. I do chores when the kids are awake, so I can work when they’re asleep. It’s not always easy, but I’m very stubborn about sticking to that. I don’t have family nearby to babysit, and while I could probably hire a sitter once in a while, I’d rather figure out how to juggle it all myself, so I don’t have to rely on anyone else to aid me in getting work done. After becoming a parent, I quickly learned that even those with the best intentions of helping you out won’t always show up when they say they will, so I’ve gotten pretty good at counting on myself and no one else. And, to be honest, I’ve been more productive with kids than I ever was without them, as parenthood forces you to an advanced level of time management.

Ariana:

Going back to being a mom of two very young boys, have you ever gone out of the house with your shirt backwards or your pajama bottoms on and when you finally notice it you just say screw it and keep going?

Samantha:

That hasn’t happened to me (yet?), but I have my Flighty Mom moments. I’ve shown up at the post office without the package I needed to mail, forgotten where I parked the car, missed my exit on the way home, etc. There’s something quite unfair about pregnancy and motherhood killing off so many of your brain cells.

Ariana:

When did you first know you wanted to write? Was it a memorable moment?

Samantha:

I knew from a very early age, since I started grade school and really learned how to write. There wasn’t one particular memorable moment, but I have recollections of falling in love with certain books and realizing I wanted to create something as powerful and intelligent, something that could leave the sort of impact that they were leaving on me. I also got the writing bug from my father, who wrote articles and other things related to his job, and there are pictures of me as a child sitting at his desk and pretending to write.

Ariana:

What was the first journal you ever were published in? What was the piece, and what was it about?

Samantha:

Though they weren’t “official” journals, I had a couple of pieces singled out when I was in grade school. In middle school, I received an assignment to write a poem based on Langston Hughes’s ‘Dream Deferred’ called ‘Dream Realized.’ My teacher sent mine to a contest and it was chosen to be published with the rest of the winning entries. After college, I had a short story from my undergraduate thesis published with a now-defunct journal called The Indite Circle. I was elated at the time, as we all are over our first acceptance…though I now can’t recall which story it was.

Ariana:

If you could be any Disney character, who would it be and why?

Samantha:

Confession time: I’m roughly two decades behind on Disney movies. Yeah, not a huge fan. If I had to choose, I’d probably be a sidekick. Timon and Pumbaa, the laughing hyenas, Baloo from The Jungle Book, a dishware character from Beauty and the Beast. The sidekicks seem to have the most fun, and I often feel like one in my life’s many settings (uh-oh, that got deep real fast).

Ariana:

You’re now the Associate Editor of ELJ Publications. What does it feel like to be on the “other side”? Do you find it hard as a writer to make decisions on submissions? What’s it like giving personal feedback? How does your role as a writer feed into how you handle submissions?

Samantha:

I love being on the other side of the submission and publication process. Probably the only passion I have that I enjoy as much as writing is editing, and working for ELJ has allowed me to fulfill a goal I’ve had for a long time of reading and editing for a literary press. That said, it’s certainly not easy to make decisions on submissions, especially negative decisions. I feel fairly confident about providing feedback, as I learned in college writing workshops how to offer it professionally and constructively (I also learned how to accept and utilize feedback on my own work without hurt feelings, which likely helps me critique others’ work, as well). But, as melodramatic and unlikely as it sounds, when declining a submission, it’s always hard not to wonder if your declination is the one that’s going to kill the writer’s perseverance for good.

Ariana:

Name a piece of clothing that best describes who you are.

Samantha:

Due largely in part to the Texas climate, I live in tank tops. Even in colder weather, I’ll have one on under my hoodie. I love their adaptability, their dependability, and their familiarity. You can dress them down with sweats or dress them up with a skirt or under a suit jacket (which I’ve shamelessly done many times). I think that describes me and my approach to life – while remaining true to who I am, always, I do like to change things up. With regard to writing, I’m always learning about the craft from things I read and incorporating that education into my work, and it’s fun to create projects so vastly different from each other. I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to be the kind of artist whose work was always similar in style.

One artist, multiple writing styles; one piece of clothing, multiple outfits. I now feel strangely compelled to go write a poem about tank tops.

Ariana:

What did you enjoy most about writing One Never Eats Four?

Samantha:

Over the course of its creation, I really started to enjoy seeing a maturity and depth come to my writing and editing. While I’ve written poetry since I was a child, I was always primarily a fiction writer and have only been seriously writing and publishing poetry for a few years. It’s still actually a bit hard to wrap my head around being a poet, since I studied fiction writing in college and was pretty well set on that track. So, poetry writing is a bit of a new experience to me, and it’s therefore very gratifying to see my work get a lot stronger with each manuscript or group of poems.

Ariana:

What cultural value do you see in writing poetry? What does poetry have to give to our society?

Samantha:

I love the power behind poetry. It can be an outcry, a call for activism, a political force, an inspiration, a story of rich history or devastating heartbreak – I could go on for paragraphs about what poetry can be and do. Does fiction have the power to do these same things? Absolutely. More often than not, however, it doesn’t, preferring to exist more for entertainment than anything else. Poetry seems to have a greater sense of purpose and urgency and movement that more people would get behind if they spent more time reading it.

Additionally, poetry gives our society a medium to slow down with. While I do identify with the group or generation that seeks and loves instant gratification, I also appreciate the opposite, and poetry often falls into the latter category. It’s important to find brain food that takes time to digest, and poetry gives one that allowance to sit quietly with a piece, take its offerings out into the world, and come back to it later for further lessons. It’s an endless well of enlightenment for those who embrace it.

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