After completing her AA at Cypress College, Tiffany Monroe earned a BA and an MA in English and an MFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University. Her poetry has been featured in Elephant Tree and quarter after. She also served as co-editor of Elephant Tree and poetry editor of Litterbox Magazine. As a student, she presented at several honors conferences and was the first Chapman graduate student to sit on a panel at the AWP Conference. In addition to reading and writing, she watches far too much television and, slightly, fewer movies. Her love of England has led her across the pond twice where she developed an addiction to PG Tips and a desire to spell things with an extra “u.”
Could you tell us a bit about the poetry collection you crafted for your MFA thesis and what gave you the initial idea for it? It’s funny you ask because last year at AWP I was in a panic trying to figure out how to put my thesis together. I had somehow convinced myself that it should become my first collection. Tabula Poetica poets Kate Gale and Allison Benis White both told me that a thesis is really a snapshot of your writing as an MFA student; rarely does it become a first collection. I was relieved and, really, freed by their advice. Instead of having to create something from scratch, I poured over every poem I wrote during my grad program. I organized them by subject, threw out poems that didn’t work, and wrote some new ones. From there, I put together my thesis Something Borrowed, Something New: Poems, a collection of ekphrastic poetry.
During your time in the MFA program, you studied under and/or had the opportunity to converse with accomplished professor/poets such as Anna Leahy, Martin Nakell, Logan Esdale, and Allison Benis White, to name just a few. How did those poets influence your writing? I only dabbled in creative writing as an undergrad. Literature was my first love. It wasn’t until I took an Intro to Poetry course with Esdale as an undergrad that I even considered writing anything seriously. He introduced me to the Modernists and Postmodernists, the avant-garde. I saw poetry in a completely different way. I was excited by it. Really, he set me on the poetry path. Both Esdale and Nakell encouraged me to explore the avant-garde, in particular, the Language Poets, and Gertrude Stein. I use fragmentation and repetition quite a bit in my poetry, which comes directly from them. I think my quirkiness comes from studying with Esdale and Nakell. And I mean that in the best way. Leahy has definitely been a mentor when it comes to my writing, and my career. She has a great ear for poetry; she’s so quick. She knows exactly when something isn’t working and shows you different ways to fix it. She helped me see the big picture: putting together a manuscript, presenting at conferences, getting a job. These are things that are important, and not always taught. White probably influenced my writing style the most. I’d read a little prose poetry before, but didn’t really understand what made it poetry until I read her first collection, Self-Portrait With Crayon. I decided to try writing prose poetry, as an experiment, and I haven’t stopped. It fits me. She’s also been a wonderful mentor.
What has been the greatest gain for you as a writer from your work within the MFA program? The community. Without question. Chapman has really developed a writing community. I think it starts in workshop. It’s very encouraging to grow with other writers. You push each other in ways that you just can’t do writing on your own. I know who I can ask to read something and that their feedback will be valuable. You can’t beat that.
What is it about poetry that attracts you and which poets have influenced your work significantly? There’s a playfulness in writing poetry that I don’t find in other genres. There aren’t any rules, and there’s a lot of experimentation. That’s why I love Emily Dickinson and Gertrude Stein. They were both doing things with poetry that nobody had seen before. There are so many poets that influence me. White, of course. I just started her second book, Small Porcelain Head. She introduced me to Killarney Clarey’s Who Whispered Near Me. Amazing. I loved Esdale’s The Opiate of Words, Sarah Maclay’s The White Bride, and Geoff Bouvier’s Glass Harmonica. I try to read a lot of prose poetry to see what’s going on in the genre. They’ve all given me ideas for my own writing. Anne Sexton’s Transformations was particularly valuable for the section of my thesis on fairy tales, though it’s not prose poetry. I’ve been inspired by our Tab [Tabula Poetica at Chapman University] poets, too. I think it’s important to see what other poets are doing and try new things. It all goes back to playing around to see what works for me.
Is there anything you’d like to share about your writing process? It requires a ridiculous amount of caffeine! I’d like to say that I sit down and write every day. I don’t. Poetry, for me, is a really slow process. Sometimes I only get a phrase that I want to use. If I’m lucky, I’ll get two or three sentences. When I get an idea, I have to jot it down or I’ll lose it. I have phrases written down in notebooks, on my computer, and on my phone. Even though my poetry is fragmented, there is always a method to my particular madness. There’s a connection that I’ve made between one leap to the next. It’s the way my brain works, I guess. Sometimes it’s a sound or a thought, but the sentences work together in some way; they aren’t just randomly placed. So when I get an idea, I write it down. I may not find its place for a year, but I’ll have it when I do. I also use Charles Bernstein’s wreading (writing/reading) experiments as writing exercises whenever I’m struggling with a poem. They’re great because they take you out of your head. By that, I mean force you to try something that you normally wouldn’t. Even if it doesn’t work for that particular poem, it might work in the future. Like I said, experimentation is crucial for me.
What are you currently writing? I’m working my first full-length collection, a series of fairy tale based prose poems.
What are your plans for the future? Teaching? Blogging? Writing another poetry collection? I have to finish my first collection before I even think about another one. I’ve been working on my website tiffanymonroe.com and a digital version of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons: tenderbuttonsonline.wordpress.com. I would love to teach. And of course, my Dory-inspired mantra: just keep writing.
To thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and work with us we would like to have you select a cause for Chapman Writers to highlight and support this month. Which do you recommend? Thank you for featuring me! I would love for you to support a cause very close to my family, the American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/involved/donate/donateonlinenow/index?gclid=CPXpjNDt0rYCFeU5Qgod13YAug
Read Monroe’s poems published in quarter after here: http://quarterafter.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/tiffany-monroe1.pdf
To learn more about the Tabula Poetica Reading Series, click here: http://www.chapman.edu/research-and-institutions/tabula-poetica/reading-series/index.aspx
Below is a set of links for readers who would like to find poetry collections by the Chapman University professor/poets mentioned above.
Logan Esdale’s The Opiate of Words: http://www.askgertrude.net/esdale/opiate0a.html
Anna Leahy’s Constituents of Matter: http://www.amazon.com/Constituents-Matter-Poetry-First-Series/dp/0873389255/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1366239973&sr=8-2&keywords=Anna+Leahy
Allison Benis White’s Self Portrait with Crayon: http://www.amazon.com/Self-Portrait-Crayon-Allison-White/dp/1880834839/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1366240038&sr=1-3&keywords=allison+benis+whit