Q&A; with Tasha Cotter

Q&A with Tasha Cotter

Interview by Kaitlin Keller and Lori A. May

Poet Tasha Cotter
Tasha Cotter is the author of That Bird Your Heart (Finishing Line Press), and Some Churches (Gold Wake Press, Winter 2013). Her work has appeared in journals such as Contrary Magazine, Country Dog Review, and Booth. Her fiction has been nominated for a storySouth Million Writers Award and her poetry was recently named a finalist for the Philip Booth Poetry Prize. She received her MFA in poetry from the Bluegrass Writers Studio. She is currently a member of the Kentucky Women Writers Conference. Tasha is a former Reviews Coordinator for Poets’ Quarterly.

Congrats on the publication of That Bird Your Heart. What can readers expect from this collection? 

That Bird Your Heart gives readers a good preview of the forthcoming full-length collection, Some Churches, which will be released in December with Gold Wake Press. I write primarily free-verse, narrative-driven poetry. You’ll also find some prose poems in the collection. That Bird your Heart consists of roughly twenty pages and was released in March with Finishing Line Press. 

Between That Bird Your Heart and the forthcoming Some Churches, you’ve had a busy year. This is also your first—and second—bound publication. Can you tell us one surprising thing you’ve learned about the poetry book publication process? 

There have been a lot of surprises along the way. For example I actually got a hand-written note from Finishing Line Press expressing their interest in publishing my chapbook. And the letter went to my parent’s house, instead of my address in Lexington. Everyone kind of forgot to get it to me, so I got the note about a month after it was originally mailed. Of course, as soon as I read their letter I emailed the press to ask if the offer was still on the table. They wrote back almost immediately saying that it was. I was bouncing off the walls. I was going to have a real, physical book! 

And maybe the most bizarre thing is that within a month of the chapbook acceptance, my full-length manuscript was accepted by Jared Wahlgren of Gold Wake Press. That was a day I’ll never forget. It had been a dream of mine to see a book of my poetry published and both acceptances seemed to happen so fast, after, you know, years of working and writing and hoping my work is getting stronger.  Thing is, like all writers I’d gotten very accustomed to rejection. I was bracing for a thanks, but no thanks. I’d been a finalist before. I’d been a runner-up. Those two acceptances were just a great surprise and really felt like a validation, which was wonderful.  I tend to hope for the best, but plan for the worst, as they say. 

How do you know when your work is “finished”? 

Over time I’ve developed something like an instinct for sensing when a poem feels done, or is at least rounding the corner to the ending. That said, I’ve definitely gone back and tinkered with a poem even after it’s been published. I always read my work aloud to smooth things out, but the writing process, in general, tends to go very fast for me. If the idea and the language are there, a poem can get completed quickly. These days it does feel like the poem almost clicks to a close for me, but I’m always on the lookout for that disjunctive moment that James Longenbach talks about. I’ve always got one eye on the ending; the landing strip in flight. 

What is the best advice you’ve ever received about writing? 

I write fiction and poetry. I think the best poetry advice I ever got was from the New Orleans poet Kay Murphy, who, when going over my poetry at a residency in Mexico told me I needed to be careful to keep one foot on the ground, in regards to my work. The advice helped me keep the reader in mind and not exist inquite the dreamy abstract space I was prone to. It was great advice and I’m always mindful of it. I tend to think more now about the space the poem occupies and the architecture of it. I expect more from my poetry than I did two or three years ago.

Probably the best advice I ever got on writing fiction was from Julianna Baggott who told my creative writing class that in order to write you have to keep your butt in the chair. So true! Whenever I want to start procrastinating I remind myself of what she said. I know nothing will ever get done if I keep putting it off, or trying to run from the work. The advice is simple, but applies to all of us. Basically if I give myself an allocated time to write, I try to make sure I’m really devoting the time to writing. Writing, for me, is the simplest and hardest thing in the world.

Kaitlin Keller will receive her MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University in June 2013. Her latest literary venture involves raising awareness of the “novel in verse”—a hybrid genre which blends elements of poetry and verse with the formulaic structure of fiction novels. She is also currently penning the sequel to her first manuscript, Siren. She is a fanatical music lover and karaoke singer. Never dwelling long enough to call one place home, she currently resides in Manlius, New York with her husband and her constant companion, Fizzgig, her faithful Shih Tzu.

Lori A. May is the Founding Editor of Poets’ Quarterly.