With two chapbooks to her name, Poet M. Stone – whose poem “Fire Opal” was featured in Volume 7 – answered some questions regarding writing, creating chapbooks and the power of poetry.
BOM: How long have you written poetry? What about poetry draws your attention more than other writing genres?
Stone: I’ve written poetry since I was a kid, but during my twenties and much of my thirties, I focused more on fiction writing. I was also struggling with depression during that time, and I think my fiction writing was a way of trying to escape that. I would get lost in the characters and plots I created, and it was a welcome distraction from the mental and emotional agony I often experienced. When my chronic depression lifted early last year, I found myself drawn to poetry once more. It’s hard to explain why that is. For me personally, I feel more connected to the present moment when I’m writing poetry, even if the poem I’m writing concerns the past. Now that depression doesn’t mire so much of the present for me, I feel like I’m able to write poetry from a more expansive mindset. I think I was in too much pain to do that effectively before.
BOM: What inspires your writing and how does that impact your voice?
Stone: A lot of the poetry I’ve written in the past year has been confessional, so as self-absorbed as it might sound, I drew a lot of inspiration from my own experiences, and I still do to a certain extent. My micro-chapbook, Evolving God, is about how my experience with religion and my idea of God has changed throughout my lifetime. A lot of these experiences were painful and frightening, and I relived some of that while writing those poems, but I wanted to make every effort to be honest and authentic to the person I was in the past.
While I still write confessional poetry, I also find much inspiration in the natural world around me, and this is reflected in poems I’m now writing. With a future project I’m currently in the process of researching, I hope to remove much of the confessional aspect from the poems I plan to write, and of course that will affect my poetic voice.
BOM: You’ve recently published two chapbooks. Lore and Evolving God. Can you talk me through the process of building each collection and how they are different from each other? What do you hope to share with each chapbook?
Stone: Lore is a chapbook of narrative poetry. In writing the poems, I aimed to explore a range of human experience through the prism of Appalachian Mountain ecology. I actually started the project by researching plants native to the region, and each poem in Lore takes its title from one of these plants, most of which have a medicinal use. I found that the poems’ narratives developed around the plants. My family and many of my ancestors are from Appalachia, and my writing has always been influenced by the region. I feel a deep connection to the Appalachian Mountains, and I wanted to express that via the poems in Lore.
As I mentioned before, Evolving God explores my changing views of religion and spirituality. Each poem examines my concept of God at a particular age in my life. Writing these poems was a cathartic experience, a way of making peace with all those past selves. Because I strived to be completely honest, particularly in writing about the way religion and mental illness became intertwined for me at a young age, I was nervous about sharing the poems at first, but I hoped that readers could relate in some way to the experiences I had. I hope that these poems show there is peace to be found even in questioning, in doubt.
BOM: You decided to self-publish Lore by physically making copies of the book. Why?
Stone: I wanted Lore to be a physical book readers could hold. I think a digital format was perfect for Evolving God, and it couldn’t have found a better home than the Ghost City Press 2018 Summer Micro-Chap Series. I love that Ghost City Press offers each micro-chapbook in the series for free so anyone who wishes to can read them, but they can also make a donation, 100% of which goes to the author. Ghost City Press publishes this series to promote the authors and their work, and I’ve been introduced to so many amazing writers I might not have discovered otherwise.
I didn’t set out to publish Lore myself. I submitted it to several presses, but after receiving rejections from them, I had to consider how long I was willing to wait for the collection to be published. The more I thought about publishing the chapbook myself, the more appealing that option became to me. I know there’s stigma surrounding self-publishing, but I realized that it wasn’t a real concern for me, especially since I planned to make a very limited number of copies of the book. I wanted Lore to have a simple design, homespun and handmade. I chose the cover art, folded every page, measured and scored every cover, assembled every copy. It was a learning curve, but also a joy to have that connection with the book, to create it from start to finish.
I decided not to charge for Lore when I printed an initial run of 25 copies. I distributed those, and in doing so, I was able to connect with each reader, which was a very rewarding experience. These readers shared poems from the collection on social media, and I began receiving numerous requests for more copies. I hadn’t originally planned on doing so, but I ultimately decided to make more copies of Lore, and those who are interested in one can make a $5 donation to a grassroots environmental conservation organization of their choice, or to their local food bank, then contact me via Twitter with proof of their donation, and I’ll send them a copy.
BOM: You’re very active in the writing community. What are some of the benefits writers gain by having a community to share work with? What are some of the hardships?
Stone: Finding a home in my writing community has been one of the most rewarding aspects of this experience. I am constantly inspired by the incredible work others are creating and publishing, and I’m deeply moved by all the encouragement and support I’ve received. I honestly can’t think of any hardships.
BOM: What do you do when you have writer’s block?
Stone: I read. When I sit down with a collection of poems and begin reading, I’m often inspired to grab a pen and some paper and start scribbling a few lines of a poem.
BOM: What other creative projects are you working on?
Stone: Right now I’m working on another chapbook, Longing for Elsewhere, hopefully to be released sometime next year. And I’m doing research for another collection that will focus on the crucial need for conservation in the Appalachian Mountains.
BOM: If you could give your younger self advice, what would you say?
Stone: Defining yourself as a writer won’t bring you peace. Throwing yourself wholeheartedly into writing won’t allow you to escape what you refuse to face. Focus less on trying to define yourself and more on finding joy in the act of writing. You won’t believe it now, but you’ll find a measure of peace in the future, and your writing will reflect that.
BOM: Anything else you’d like to add?
Stone: Just that I’m incredibly grateful to all of the poets, the fiction and CNF writers, the editors I’ve come to know on my journey this past year. I continue to learn from them, to be fortunate for all that they’re creating, and to call many of them my friends.
BOM: Where can people find you online?