In the Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–April Gibson
Tell us about your poem “Coldwater” in Volume 22. How did it come to be?
I wrote the first draft of this poem in 2014 during my time in the Loft Mentor Series. We were having a workshop with one of the mentors and were given the prompt to “write a story in 15 minutes.” Many of my poems are narrative, so I wrote this piece as a kind of poetic scene mining my childhood memories. Writing about who and where I come from had been a go-to for me at the time, and still is because, really, we never stop trying to figure out how we got here. I also wanted to write a scene that held some joy. I generally hand write my first drafts, so I still have it in an old journal. What I wrote initially was not heavily revised, but it wasn’t finished and I came back to it occasionally over the next few years until I figured out what else to say and why. Though the piece is a slice of my memory, it offers the larger narrative of my family, community, and to a certain extent, the Black experience in the U.S.
What excites you as a writer? What turns you off, makes you turn away or stop reading a piece of writing?
I have a strong fascination with and respect for language, the potency of a word, the power of words to create meaning, feeling, and images or ideas that we’ve never experienced. So, in writing, wasted words are kind of my pet peeve, especially in poetry. Poetry allows us to put so much into a word and the possibility of packing such a great deal of meaning of feeling into one word keeps me excited and interested in the labor of writing.
What was an early experience that led to you becoming a writer?
This may seem like a predictable answer, but voraciously reading books as a child got me here, and before that, being curious about the world led me to books. As a kid it seemed like adults had all the answers, but they got annoyed with questions after a while, so I figured I’d try books, considering adults wrote them. The older I became, the more I began to keep diaries and journals to express my thoughts about the world, which had been influenced by all the information, stories, and ideas I got from reading. By the time I was a teenager, I knew writing was not only an exercise in freedom of imagination but it was powerful. I want to be powerful and free.
How does the current political climate influence your art or creative process?
I’ve never lived in a political climate free of crisis and quandary for people like me. The only thing this current climate does for me is add to the already existing myriad of stressors, and because of this, I am beginning to withdraw from directly engaging my art in or with this political climate. I will leave that to those with the energy and those with surprise. So in a way, I guess, this climate has influenced me to seek things like rest and joy.
What are some themes/topics that are important to your writing?
I write a lot about the Black experience in the U.S. which could encompass just about anything with the caveat that the content center Black folks. Some more specific areas within that include womanhood, motherhood, and chronic illness. I love writing about lineage and the ways in which history shapes and influences who we are. I am also interested in using anger as a tool in writing in a way that is healthy and productive.
What does your creative process look like? How does the environment you are in shape your work or where do you like to write?
Messy. Sometimes I’m inspired to create new work and will turn out multiple pieces in a matter of days. But then there are times where I don’t write anything at all for weeks or even months, but the ideas are always simmering in the back of my mind; it’s almost as if the poem begins inside my body and when it’s time, the poem is born. In terms of environment, I’m not traditional, meaning I don’t necessarily need a room or silence. I can write in the middle of chaos, on trains, especially well on planes, and even in the middle of a work meeting. I’m really inspired by having people around me when I’m writing. I love people-watching and taking in the natural environment around me for inspiration. However, it has always been more difficult to write with my children around. When it comes to revision and editing though, I do need a more calm, focused physical environment.
What projects or pieces are you working on right now?
I have completed a poetry manuscript that I am sending out to potential publishers, a work that explores performance, politics, and Black womanhood. The funny part of “finishing” a manuscript is that it is never really finished, though at some point every book has to be done.
April Gibson is a poet, essayist, and educator. She is the author of the chapbook Automation (Willow Books 2015). Her writing has been published in PANK, pluck!, Literary Mama, Origins, Naugatuck River Review, and elsewhere. She is a fellow of The Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, The Watering Hole, and she is a VONA alum. April teaches at the University of St. Thomas and the Loft Literary Center, and with the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop.