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[ interview ]

Drive-By Interview with Enid Shomer

by Brandy Wilson

1. What is interesting you most right now in your current project?

I suppose how to bring historical people alive in a believable way and how to capture the period and the place, which is Egypt.

2. Writing rituals: I wondered if you had any specifics you include in your process? For instance, do you write with music on, or silence?

No. I canít write with sound. 99% of the time I donít have anything in my head but the language. My only ritual is to sit at my desk.

3. Are you doing any teaching at the moment? If not, do you miss it? How do you think it adds or detracts from your writing process?

No. I do miss it. Iíve done a little bit on my book tour, and Iíve really enjoyed it. Iíve done about five classes. It was great fun. I do miss teaching.

4. Off the wall question: If any band put your work/ poem to music what band would it be? Which poem? Which song?

I donít know enough about current bands to name one, so I would probably say Duke Ellington. I would choose one of my erotic poems to set with a lot of clarinet and saxophone. I think itís very hard to combine. Iíve had my work set. But itís very difficult. Music over powers the words, as in Opera. I wouldnít mind trying to write a song for someone. Thatís different from writing a poem.

One of my students wrote a poem that I thought would be a perfect song for Bruce Springsteen. I donít think he believed me. He was trying to write a villanelle. It was called ďOil and Heroine,Ē and was about how we are all addicted to one or the other. I could also see Sting singing it.

5. Name a writer whose work is currently making you jealous.

I wouldnít say jealous, but I would say John Banville (an Irish writer) is making me envious. The reason I say that is because Iíve never felt jealousy for other peopleís writing. You canít write like anyone else. You can be jealous of success, but you have to be the other person to write like them. You can learn from other writers. Jealousyóthatís an emotion Iíve been spared.

6. What book do you feel you suffered for the most? How?

The one Iím writing now. Always the one Iím writing now. It is my first novel, so Iím having to learn how to write a novel as Iím writing it. And Iíve suffered for having to do all the research, and then the rewriting and rewriting each chapter as I go along. It is much longer than anything Iíve ever written, and itís something new.

7. The living writer you most wish to have preserved for posterity (maybe frozen for later defrosting... a la Ted Williams...).

That is really tough. There are so many Iíd want to offer up. Two people: A.S. Byatt and Margaret Atwood. There are many others. Iíve just been rereading these two lately.

8. The writeródead or aliveó youíd most like to bury in the literary basement.

I think time will take care of that. I wonít have to do it. There isnít anybody in the canon that I hate so much.

9. What quote most often comes to mind? (Something a character says, a poet's line, a writer on writing, or a quote from someone at large that applies to writing...)

I have a lot of quotes I move around to help me with what Iím doing.

On my wall now I have an Emily Dickenson quote:
ďBut blossom were I,
I would rather be
Thy moment
than a bee's eternity.Ē

And this one:
ďRemind me to tell the story I cannot make my life tell.Ē Vivian Gornick.

And here is a line from the Passover Haggadah: ďIn every generation each one must think that he himself went forth from Egypt.Ē

This one is for my characters. It gives the feeling that youíve just won your freedom, and you canít take that for granted.

10. The worst job youíve ever had.

God, Iíve had some. Teaching Sunday school with my guitar. I was teaching songs at Sunday school. I was to teach Hebrew songs and Hebrew when I donít really know it that well.

11. The job youíd want to have Ė other than writer, teacher.

If I werenít writing Iíd like to be teaching. Helping people shape their work. Which I think is one of the hardest things to do. Of course, I have fantasies of being in a policy making position, but I donít think I could. I guess I could be a problem solver, but I think I might burn out. The other thing: something in the visual arts where I could throw materials around rather than having to be so careful at the composition. Iíd like sloppy collages.

Iíve also always thought I would be fabulous womenís shoe designer.

12. Favorite curse word.

There aren't too many to choose from anymore because they have all become so commonplace that they are less powerful than they used to be. Iíd probably choose ďfuck.Ē Really, Iíd like to rehabilitate ďcuntĒ (one of the most powerful ones left) so itís not a curse word. Take back the cunt! It is so telling that we have only clinical words for the female body, while there are so many slangy words for male anatomy. Itís interesting culturally. Itís a lack in the language that probably reflects a cultural prejudice and a fear of the female body.

Enid Shomer's work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Poetry, Best American Poetry, New Stories from the South: The Year's Best, etc., as well as in more than sixty anthologies and textbooks. She is the author of four collections of poetry and two collections of short stories, most recently Tourist Season (Random House, 2007). Shomer is the editor of the University of Arkansas Poetry Series. She is the recipients of many grants and national prizes for her poetry and prose, including two grants from the NEA and three from the State of Florida. Tourist Season was selected for Barnes & Noble's Discover Great New Writers program. She has taught as a visiting writer at the University of Arkansas, Florida State University and, as Thurber House Writer-in-Residence, at the Ohio State University.

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