Photo credit: Alexis Rhone Fancher

What is your philosophy towards your work?

I feel incredibly lucky to be able to call myself a poet. It is not something that came easily or even something I thought I could do when I was younger. You have to be really good at getting rejected. One of the best things I did for my poetry is to stop thinking of being rejected as negative. Instead, being rejected is proof that I put something out into the world – and it still surprises me that I can do that and that someone is willing to take the time to read it and sometimes include it in a publication.


How would your friends describe you?

Stubborn. A rule follower.


What do you worry about, and why?

I worry about flying in airplanes. I know how safe it is, but there is something about giving up control, about putting your whole body in a thin, metal container and trusting that someone built it right and someone will fly it right. It is not a rational fear, but it makes me more empathetic about anxiety because I get a taste of it every time I fly. I recite two poems over and over again and this seems to help. They are poems I memorized in poet John Ridland’s class at UCSB, both by Robert Frost: “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “One Step Backward Taken.” I also worry about saying the wrong thing… but I’m getting over that. I’m easier on myself as I get older.


How do you define success?

I hope I can look back in my life and not say, “I wish I had…” I would consider that a success. I think having perspective is important. When we get too caught up in things that aren’t important, and when we spend time worrying about things that don’t really matter, we are doing our lives a disservice. Living life well requires a certain bravery that I am aspiring to. This is why I wanted to have eyes on the cover of my first book. We all see the world with our own set of eyes, with our own ways of seeing. I think we have less control over how we see than we think… but we can try to have an open mind about things. We can always keep in mind that our seeing is “ours,” and that doesn’t necessarily make it “right,” and we can try to be less myopic.


What is your favorite palindrome?

taco cat


If you won $10 million in the lottery, what would you do?

I would buy a shopping center and create a literary center with a used bookstore, a café, meeting spaces for workshops, and a theater for readings. The poetry community is so accepting and welcoming. I know how few people read poetry, even though poetry has so much to offer. I would keep trying to show people how transformative and incredible poetry can be.


What’s your favorite 80’s song?

“Let’s Hear It for the Boy” by Deniece Williams. It just makes me happy and it gets my feet moving – and reminds me of being a kid and watching Footloose. I love that scene where Ren is teaching Willard how to dance! Also, the song’s video is pure joy. When I was a kid we watched music videos on MTV over and over again. We also watched the same movies over and over… Splash, The Princess Bride, Footloose, Mary Poppins, Pippi Longstocking, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. I think we owned the VHS tapes of several of them, and several others seemed to play on repeat on the TV.


Why poetry?

Poets contain and embody the ability to see the world more fully and to use language precisely enough to describe and explore it. Paradox is held most beautifully in poems. Poems incarnate – they are manifestations of what would otherwise be, as poet Donald Hall would have said, “unsayable.”


What are the poetry books that have influenced you the most?

The Library of America’s Frost Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays, Sharon Olds’ Strike Sparks, Tyehimba Jess’s Olio, and a collection edited by Annie Finch called A Formal Feeling Comes. For literary magazines, I always recommend Rattle, for its clear, energetic poetry. Editor Tim Green has something called the “Critique of the Week,” that gives you the sense of being in a poetry workshop without having to leave your living room.


Favorite Restaurant?

Bake N’ Broil on Atlantic in Long Beach. Best soup. Best salad. Best pie. Best muffins. If you’ve never been, you should go. I like to sit at the counter. I like to sit anywhere in Bake N’ Broil, but the counter is one of my favorite places in the world.

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ALEXANDRA UMLAS is the author of the full-length poetry collection At the Table of the Unknown (Moon Tide Press). You can find her work in Rattle, Poetry Super Highway, The Rise Up Review, Cathexis Northwest Press, and Cultural Weekly, among others. She serves as a reader for Palette Poetry and on the board of directors of Tebot Bach, a non-profit literary organization. Recently, she graduated from the M.F.A. Poetry program at California State University, Long Beach. Before becoming a poet, Alex taught middle school and high school English, earning an M.Ed. in Cross-cultural Education. Born and raised in Long Beach, CA, she currently lives in Huntington Beach, CA with her husband and two daughters.

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