The University of Iowa

Micro Interview with Rachel Rose

In this interview with 2015 International Writing Program resident Rachel Rose, we discuss writing routines, genres as bodies of water, and the difficulty of presenting honesty in creative work. Rachel participates in the IWP this year as the Poet Laureate of Vancouver, Canada. We are pleased to be able to be in conversation with her!

(Photo Credit: Tom Langdon)

 Rachel, reading through your extensive collection of work, I was struck by how many different forms and genres you explore as a writer (poetry /nonfiction / hybrid / etc.) What are the differences in working in each one? The strengths and weaknesses of each form?

To me, it makes no sense to compare forms. A perfect song is its own world; so is a novel or an essay. They each are capable of evoking emotions and responding to events or themes in their ways, and each can create different responses in the reader. To me, it’s like comparing a lake to the sky to the ocean; they are all blue, just like poems and novels are both made of words, but they are made of different substances and each is capable of their own organic perfection. And sometimes one needs the wild ocean, and sometimes a deep calm lake, and sometimes the endless sky. I feel fortunate that I can write in more than one genre, and that I read in all genres, because who would want to choose between lake and sky?

Do you intentionally choose for an idea to be expressed in a certain genre, or does the writing simply inform you of its form?

Usually, I am in charge of my text. I set out to write a poem or an essay, and I do. Every now and then, the text is disobedient, and refuses to fit in a certain form. In that case, the text and I struggle until we reach a compromise.

So much of your work reminds me of folklore and fairy-tale. Do you consciously work with these traditions when creating?

Absolutely; I love folklore and myth and religious creation stories, all the stories that tell us how to be human, what to beware and what to believe. So even when I mock these tales or rewrite them or explode them, I write in homage to the myth-makers who came before me.

I am always thrilled to read honest writing from a parenting perspective, since our culture in the west tends to wash out the experience of parenting (especially mothering) with general platitudes and niceties. What response have you received from your honesty? And do you find a certain therapy in writing so openly?

I have a loyal readership of baffled new mothers, whom I cherish, and they write from time to time to thank me for telling the truth, or at least my truth. I don’t find honesty therapeutic; I find it hard. Lying is easier, especially when writing about motherhood; lying is richly rewarded. I am honest because there are times I want or need to get at the exact nature of the experience.

There is also a specific grappling with identity in your work, especially national identity as a Canadian writer. How has your residency at the International Writing Program influenced that project? Have you found other writers working with the same themes?

I suppose many of us are working on identity issues to some extent, and an international residency brings these into sharp focus, as we contrast where we’ve come from with others. You feel who you are when you leave where you come from, and a Canadian election happens while you are away, and you return (perhaps) to a different country than the one you left.

What has struck you as the most groundbreaking or important part of your time here as a resident of the International Writing Program?

I have found here at IWP the beginnings of a sense of belonging, which I’ve never felt before. I am not sure why. Maybe I’m finally old enough to be able to receive it. All my life I have taken to heart Rilke’s advice to writers, “May all never-belonging be yours,” as some consolation for always being an outsider, whether by my own circumstances or personality. But something about this residency, about many of the writers in my particular year, has allowed me to feel the emergence of an identity as a writer among writers, that there is common ground despite our vast differences. I think the most transformative aspect of the program for me has been to be in the company of others who are all in a more receptive, more open, state than we are in ordinary life. We have put aside our fixed identities just to the point that we can let each other in.

That is wonderful! And lastly, what is your writing routine? Do you have a specific schedule or discipline you could share with us?

I exercise every day. I write every day. The variables are when and where and for how long. But the habit is the same; then I don’t have to think about whether it will happen that day. If a day comes where I can’t exercise or write, it is the exception, and nothing to worry about, because the habit is firmly in place. Also, more and more I am kind to myself. I set it up so I can’t fail. I don’t do word counts or set amounts of time, because that means I might fail. I have learned that punitive measures don’t serve me as a writer; I have to be strict, but kind, to my creative self, and I also have to be careless—I have to find a way to actually care less about the result so that I am free to begin, with little hope or expectation of the resulting work. 

Thank you so much!

Rachel Rose will be reading at Prairie Lights bookstore on Sunday, November 1st at 4:00pm with Antônio Xerxenesky and UI MFA candidate Bevin O'Connor. Read more.

Rachel ROSE (poet, nonfiction writer; Canada) is a recipient of the 2013 and 2016 Pushcart Prize, and of the Pat Lowther Poetry Award and the Audre Lorde Poetry Award for 2013. Her poetry books include Notes on Arrival and Departure (2005) and Song and Spectacle (2012); her creative nonfiction essays have appeared in a number of anthologies, including Double Lives: Writing and Motherhood. Rose regularly contributes to literary journals and magazines, including the Malahat Review and Prism International. She participates courtesy of the British Columbia Arts Council and Canada Council.

Find Rachel Rose's books, information and more at her website or through her publisher, Harbour Publishing.