1. How did you discover you were a poet/writer?
When I was seven years old, I started writing short stories about farm animals (probably a result of growing up in the middle of Appalachian farmland), and when I was around ten, I started writing poetry because fourth grade math apparently pushed me to the edge. My mom had many a kind conversation with me about plagiarism before she realized that I wasn’t just regurgitating stories and verses I had read elsewhere. I learned how to hide my writing in middle school, and submitted to my first literary contests when I was in my mid-teens. I don’t know if I just “always knew,” but I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t attempting to make meaning through my writing.
2. What spaces do you like to create in?
I’ve always found that I create best in extremes — either wildly busy, bustling, loud, chaotic, coffee shop, classroom, corner of the meeting scribbling in the margins of a note pad, or in complete serenity with a beautiful view of nature, surrounded by trees and plants, listening to nothing at all. I tend to write in ebb and flow, but try to at least sit with myself at some point every day (even if it’s in traffic) to make sure that I’m still there creatively. I admire people who write every day, but I write in spurts; in fact, three of the poems in Punch Drunk Press were written on the same day! But I haven’t written a poem in about two weeks as of today.
3. Where’s your favorite place to write right now?
My favorite place to write is probably my home office, which has natural light all day and my big desk facing the window, with plants (and a lovely view of a parking lot). I also enjoy sitting on my patio below the pines, making friends with my neighbors’ dogs and trying to work analoguely now and then. I write best when I’m not “supposed” to be, when I have grading or shopping or cleaning to do. I suppose I write best in stolen moments.
4. Who is someone you consider inspirational to your life/work and why?
When I was fifteen or so, I read Nikki Giovanni’s “Convocation Address” for an English Jeopardy-style competition that I was part of (and captain of! an eternal English nerd). I grew up in Fort Chiswell, Virginia, roughly forty-five minutes from Virginia Tech; the tragedy at Virginia Tech touched more people my family knew than I can count. And this poem showed me that poetry didn’t have to be sweet to be beautiful, and that verse could hold the incredible weight of grief and loss. I bought Nikki Giovanni’s collected poems soon after, and decided to go to Virginia Tech to study English with the hopes of studying under her; thankfully, I was able to study under her for a year, and kept in contact with her after graduating. She encouraged me to continue writing, and showed me that my writing and experience were enough — that I did not need to try not to be Appalachian and working-class and ambitious and take-no-shit to be a poet. She even published my first book and distributed it to the faculty at Virginia Tech, saying that she wanted to be the first to publish my book (which was one poem paired with photography). I don’t know that I would have the confidence in my writing or my trust in the universe if not for Nikki’s mentorship.
5. In a world with so much constant media and stimulation, what do you believe is the value of the written word?
I’m the worst about constant media streams — I’m constantly on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Reddit, Snapchat, rinse and repeat, all day. I have two active email addresses. But I also teach English at a community college, and I ask my students to write roughy fifteen to twenty pages of polished prose through the semester. Settling in with their writing takes my undivided attention, and listening to what they write about their lives and communities, their ideas and arguments, their insights and ponderings, shows me how important writing is, especially for people who perhaps didn’t choose to “be writers.” Written text remains the one space in which you hold the entirety of someone’s attention for just a brief moment — you can’t glance at a poem and understand it. I’m a chronic writer of emails and text messages to people I love because in person, aloud, I am so much less sure of my words, and I need to untangle my feelings in the written.
6. What super power would you choose, and why?
Instant teleportation — I would never sit in traffic again.
Emily Blair is Punch Drunk Press’s third Featured Woman Writer this October. She is an Appalachian poet living and teaching English in central North Carolina. Her work can be found in Vagabond City, Spry Literary Magazine, The Fem Lit Magazine, and Crab Fat Magazine, among others. She currently serves on the editorial teams at Rabble Lit, a working class literary magazine, and Screen Door Review, a project focused on queer Southern art and writing.