Who are your influences?
My father was/is my biggest influence. He is, to me, a working class hero. He worked as a roofer on Long Island, New York, often in the Hamptons where he found himself tarring the roofs over the socially elite’s lives. One of the most memorable anecdotes he would share with us is how he would talk to prominent people, like Willem de Kooning, as if they were anyone else. I could picture my father, a mammoth of a man (both physically and mentally), in his work clothes shaking the delicate hands of the privileged without reservation. Lines are drawn way too often in our lives, which of course is also the case in the literary world. My father helped me to look at people, including myself, for who they are and the quality of what they produce. He taught me to have equal respect for the garbage man and the President and I believe that has greatly influenced the way I not only approach life, but also writing. He also taught me to work hard and I apply that to writing. I write every night; I have learned that you can’t wait for the muse to find you, just like you can’t expect someone to pay your bills or fix your sink. Don Winter, a poet I deeply admire, wrote a great article: “press of the real: poetry of the working class” that delves into the literary relevance of working class poetry. I think my father’s teachings were rooted in working class values and I am more than thankful for all that he gave me.
In addition, oodles of other writers inspire me such as Nathan Graziano, Daniel Crocker, Julie Buffaloe-Yoder, Annie Menebroker, John Dorsey, Marianne Moore, Lorine Neidecker, Martin Espada, Sherman Alexie, Cathy Song, Kell Roberston and I could go on forever.
What are you reading now?
Julie Buffaloe-Yoder actually turned me on to Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel’s work which I am eating up. I just read Karl Koweski’s new collection of short stories Blood and Greasepaint and Patti Smith’s Just Kids, both I highly recommend. I just picked up Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club. I read tons of children’s books as I have a three-year-old daughter, right now she’s really into the Fancy Nancy books by Jane O’Connor. In addition, I am writing reviews for Kirkus, so I read whatever they send my way.
You have the ability to write poems according to themes. Have you always written poems in batches according to a theme? What inspires your choices of theme? Are there any themes you make it a point to stay away from?
Yes, I almost always write in themes, but I have become, over time, more focused on achieving that outcome. After my chapbook Dream Big, Work Harder was published, I realized that the collection, a tribute to my father, the title being his mantra, did not succeed in accomplishing what I wanted it to. Individually, I love the pieces, but I want my poems to speak to one another. I believe this partially stems from a writing teacher, Anthony Robinson, which I had at SUNY New Paltz who only let us write short stories in class. At the time, I was furious because poetry is the genre I want to toil over, but he believed that undergraduates wrote dreadful poems and refused to waste time reading about broken hearts and drunken nights, so I wrote stories from my poems and poems from my stories. He actually really helped develop my narrative style without ever reading any of my poems. As far as thematic inspiration, I am open, alert and allow themes to find me. I do try to steer away from being overly confessional.
Ahhh, confessional poetry, your thoughts?
When my first full-length collection Falling Forward was published by sunnyoutside press, in a review for Chronogram my mentor, Pauline Uchmanowicz, revealed the obvious to me. She wrote that my collection “follows in the tradition of confessional poets, though its autobiographical content remains modulated by skillful crafting. A singular, assured persona emerges in the book, a grim interrogation of the vicissitudes of marriage and motherhood. … With her unblinking look at life’s most intimate moments, Schumejda is a courageous new poet.” Initially, I was somehow offended by being labeled a confessional poet; I mean, I just write what I know. I don’t hang out on the weekends with Greek Mythological figures. I don’t take extravagant vacations to foreign countries; really I am happy that my car makes it to and from work. I don’t connect with the language poets; hell, honestly, I had to look up the word “vicissitudes” when I read the review.
Anyway, for a few weeks, I thought about this review. I asked my husband and he confirmed it, he hates when I write about “us” because every poem is so personal, but completely warped. Well, yeah of course it is distorted; it’s poetry. I do write from experience: being a waitress, working on our fixer upper houses, playing pool, losing a business, losing my father, teaching, having a daughter, having several surgeries, my garden, etc . . . The negative connotations attached to confessional poetry seem to overshadow the craftsmanship and that is why I struggle with that label. Well anyway, I admit I do write 1/3 confessionally.
Do you take other’s feelings into consideration when writing?
Whenever I think about how my work may affect my loved ones, I consider Sally Mann’s photographs and think about how powerful and inspiring her controversial family portraits are. A few years ago, during an interview on Poet to Poet, Writer to Writer with Doug Holder in Sommerville Massachusetts, I was asked this question and I said, without hesitation, that I did not care how anyone else felt, and that I write what I write. I have reconsidered my response and use discretion when selecting pieces for publication.
What kind of music do you like?
Recently, Steve Henn, a fellow poet, said “you can’t really trust someone who claims “I don’t like music,” can you?” Well, I do listen to all kinds of music on my long drive to and from work, when my car radio is working, but there is almost never music playing in our house. I like to listen to the world around me. I love the sound of my husband’s power tools as he is always working on something, the sound of my daughter playing, our cat going bonkers, the neighbor’s dogs barking, sirens, trains, traffic, etc… I really like quiet, so that I can think. Ironically, my daughter, Kaya, is named after a Bob Marley Album, so maybe I am 1/3 suspect.
What do you try to hide?
My inability to stay organized. I am totally domestically disabled; before I have people over I throw everything in the closet, turn down the lights and greet them with alcohol before they can find flaws. I am stubborn and impatient. I am clumsy and accident-prone. Besides writing, every project I start I leave unfinished. My husband always has to clean up my mistakes.
What is in your refrigerator right now?
Probably the remote control that we can’t find, a few packages of high-class hot dogs, a mob of condiments, a bottle of wine that I bought for our neighbors for Christmas and have yet to give them, one lone Coors light that was left here during a party, a jar of pickled tomatoes, eggs, cranberry juice, milk, yogurt, a bowl that I am afraid to look into and a rotting head of lettuce.
What new projects are you working on?
I have a chapbook forthcoming from Propaganda Press titled The Heart’s Unwritten Constitution. I am really into handcrafted and special edition chapbooks especially to balance a world that is quickly moving toward online publications. I am excited that Propaganda is allowing me creative input as far as art and design. I am thrilled that Hosho McCreesh, writer/ artist, will be contributing to the project. I finished a full-length manuscript called Cadillac Men that explores the rise and fall of a pool hall that I co-owned with my husband. I am working on a series of garden poems and a series of poems about fractured memories. You can find more on all that on my Web page.