I'm happy to have discovered Barbie Angell's poetry through her regular posts on Robert Frost's Banjo, and now she's here to share this wonderful interview with us. Before we start, here's a bit of background on Barbie:
Barbie Angell is a writer, poet & artist whose life is constantly under renovation. She graduated Lincoln College with high honors and went on to study Creative Writing, Children's Literature and Poetry at Illinois State University and Heartland Community College. Her dream, since the early 90s, has been to acquire literary world domination. In her spare time she plays full-contact tiddlywinks, studies mime architecture & says humorously inappropriate things on Twitter. You can typically find her, dressed like a confused, fairy princess, in Asheville, NC....unless she's at home hiding under her desk.
Now onto the interview...
HK: Why do you write?
BA: I've never been able to come up with an answer to that which sounds accurate, but I'll try to explain. Part of me writes because I have to get things out of my brain. If I can get something out of my brain and onto paper, then it's easier for me to analyze it. Some people write out a pro and con list to make decisions, I write a poem or a story. There's another part of me that writes because eventually, somewhere, someone will read it and quite possibly it will make a positive impact on that person's world. Whether it's a post on social media designed to make the reader laugh or an incredibly personal story that will make the reader feel a little bit less alone in their own misfortunes, I feel that positive changes can cascade from both reading and writing.
HK: How did you develop your distinctive style of poetry, which rhymes, turns abstract concepts like Love and Loss into human figures, and frequently blends humor with melancholy and longing and pathos? Have you always written poetry this way?
BA: When I was little, my mother read me the children's version of Pilgrim's Progress. I've never read the original, but in this version, Little Pilgrim's Progress by Helen L. Taylor, the characters are named for their attributes. Charity, Vanity, Hopeful, Ignorance and so on. I think that stayed in my mind even though I didn't realize it until just a few years ago. I've always loved twisting words and taking a literal view of the abstract.
Rhyming has always come naturally to me. I realized early on in my career that most poets in the academic world would dismiss my work solely because of its rhythm and rhyme. While it doesn't bother me personally, I got past that many years ago, it does concern me that younger poets will have to deal with this same prejudice. So, while I do write free verse and more academically acceptable pieces, I continue to write with simple words and images in rhyme. It's my hope that I can break down some of those barriers for writers who are more sensitive and may stop sharing their work altogether when faced with the same non-constructive criticism that I've encountered. I also prefer to rhyme because it reaches an entirely different audience. A great many of my readers don't read typically read poetry. That's an enormous and untapped audience whom no one is writing for....except people like me.
As for the mix of emotions, I guess that's just how my brain works. My friends can attest that I am usually at my wittiest when things are going horribly wrong. I think that there are people who get sad and then find themselves looking for ways to stay sad and people who are sad who try to force themselves to be happy. I'm the third option. I get sad or angry and I allow myself to feel that, but also try to mix a little humor into my world to offset the other emotions. I suppose it finds its way into my poetry too.
HK:When your poems are accompanied by your original artwork, what do you think the visual art and the poem give each other?
BA: This is a brand new concept to me still. I stopped drawing when I was twelve because my brother teased me about my work. I didn't draw again until 2005 when I was incredibly ill and unable to write. My publisher liked my artwork and asked me to illustrate my book for them. I found it incredibly difficult. Since I do deal so much with the abstract, there are many poems which were never even considered for the book because I was unable to come up with artwork for them. I think that the ones with art ended up being stronger. There's an added element that most people have described as "whimsical" and I think it provides a little levity for the heavier subjects in the poems. I think it also gives the reader a view into what I envision the world of the poem would be like.
HK: Please share some advice with writers or artists who are just starting out and are struggling with doubts about their work.
BA: This is one of the questions I am asked most often in my life, and my advice is always the same. Practice what you do. You will only get better if you work at it. Disregard criticism that is all good or all bad, because it isn't real. Nothing is ever 100% of either. Know that you are the only artist you are competing against. The world of creativity is not a contact sport, so don't try to beat someone else or let someone tell you that you've been beaten. Remember, you are the only person who knows if you've done the best you can do and doing your best is the best thing you can do for your work.
HK: If you could meet with any three poets, living or dead, and have them give you feedback on your work, who would they be and why?
BA: Ah, there's the interesting thing about me that very few people know....I almost never ask for feedback on my work. I've sold about 200 books so far and I have not, nor will I, ask anyone what they thought of the poems. However, if I were going to ask, I'd ask Shel Silverstein, Dorothy Parker and Edgar Allen Poe. Shel, because he was such an influence on me and because a lot of people draw comparisons between our work. I think he'd like that I was following in his footsteps and even breaking new ground. Mrs. Parker, because I know she'd tell me the truth. My work had been compared to hers for several years before I even knew who she was, but she's definitely influenced me since. Poe, because I've always been a great admirer of both his storytelling and his poetry. My stories typically have O'Henry or Poe-like twists in them and I've always felt that Edgar Allen Poe was a master of emotional puppetry. He can pretty much make the reader feel whatever he wants them to feel.
HK: You published a book of poetry recently. Please tell us about it, and about your future writing plans.
BA: My new book, Roasting Questions, is my first traditionally published book. I'd never actually tried to submit a manuscript, so being approached by a publisher was a huge surprise to me. The incredibly lovely part of that is that Grateful Steps came to me because I had been named a Best of Western North Carolina Poet by a local newspaper. The "lovely" part being that it was a reader-based vote. There wasn't a committee deciding if I should be named even though I was a predominantly rhyming poet or anything like that, the public decided that they liked my work.
The book pre-sold over 150 copies and garnered excellent reviews from Rosanne Cash and David LaMotte, two singer/songwriter, children's authors that I admire immensely. A portion of the proceeds will go to the orphanage I was in, Mooseheart Child City. I'm terribly proud of the book. I did the writing, layout, design and artwork and it took over a year to complete. That being said, I'm ready to get moving with my next project. I have plenty of pieces to do several more books of poetry, both for children and adults. I also have several poems which would each be ideal as their own children's book. Also, I've written a four stories series that is educational, but fun, books for children. Hmmm....so I guess my next step is to find an agent.
Thank you, Barbie!