Carly Joy Miller is a SoCal native through and through. She is an assistant managing editor for the Los Angeles Review, a contributing editor for Poetry International, and a founding editor of Locked Horn Press. She is also the co-curator of the reading series, The Brewyard. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Third Coast, Vinyl, Linebreak, Tupelo Quarterly, and elsewhere.
Geosi Gyasi: You are a poet and a freelance editor. My question is, how do you combine the two?
Carly Joy Miller: I’ve always enjoyed editing other people’s work—it’s a great way for me to think about sentence structure in my poems (and in my critical writing as well). The freelancing came to mind when I was approached by my friend who wanted me to look at his Ph.D thesis, and he offered to pay, which was the first time anyone really said they would (besides Poetry International—I was the lead graduate assistant, and I was acting as lead copyeditor for two years). While I was looking for a job, I figured I’d list myself as a freelancer. Now, I’m working full-time as a social media and marketing specialist temp, but I figure the option to freelance is always on the table if someone wants me to look at their work.
Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever pondered on why you write?
Carly Joy Miller: I’ve had an unwavering reason since I started dabbling in high school: I developed some stage fright with singing, and poetry was another way for me to sing. I prize lyricism over many things, because if a poem lacks music, it could easily be another speech or narrative tale (again, just my opinion). Over the years, this question has probably transformed to how do I stay motivated to write, and besides the pleasure that comes out of writing, I think writing allows me to gain a sense of clarity and breath. I’m noticing that my speakers are exploring issues that I’ve had to bite my tongue over (spirituality and desire, for the most part), and getting other speakers to capture some of that on the page lets me breathe a little easier.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell us about your work as the assistant managing editor for the Los Angeles Review?
Carly Joy Miller: Los Angeles Review is run out of Red Hen Press. I met Kate Gale (Red Hen’s managing editor) when she read at the University of California: Irvine. She asked me what I wanted to do with my life, and I said “I want to be a poet and edit a literary magazine.” She handed me her card and said for me to call her. That turned into an internship with Red Hen, and I just kept in very good touch with Kate, Mark Cull, and the staff I worked with throughout the years. So, when they needed an assistant managing editor, they called me and I gladly accepted! Because I’m not based in Los Angeles, I can only help with so much—putting together the order of the journal, finding cover art, planning events, communicating with my fellow editors (who are amazing), and coordinating ad-exchanges.
Geosi Gyasi: You are also the founding editor of Locked Horn Press. Could you tell us about how it came about?
Carly Joy Miller: Five editors sat in a now defunct deli and said, “Well, what do we want to do?” It’s true! I’ve always wanted to start a press, and my adviser, Ilya Kaminsky, gave a group of us a push to just go for it. So we sat in that deli and talked about our love for contemporary literature and critical texts. We wanted to create (and join) the conversations that are happening in literature, and when we asked ourselves how we could, we realized conversations occur where there is tension. I’d been following the #ReadWomen2014 movement on Twitter, and was really inspired by it, and we figured out the theme to our first two collections.
Geosi Gyasi: When and where do you often write?
Carly Joy Miller: I’ve become that person who writes at a coffee-shop. I don’t have WiFi where I live (just never set it up), and when I really need it, I go out. I also write in my room when it’s super late. In terms of time, I’ve written poems at all sorts of hours, but notice the best ones occur when there isn’t a deadline on them (like I need to run errands or attend a meeting).
Geosi Gyasi: Do you depend on inspiration to write?
Carly Joy Miller: In a way, I think everyone must. Granted, inspiration can be interchanged for motivation. The first time I went to a psychic, she said that angels drop notes to me, which ties into the idea of “poet as oracle.” Essentially, I believe poets should always keep their ears open. I listen to music when I write just to bring myself to a space that feels entirely my own, and sometimes lines from songs get transformed in the work. Most of the time, I have a line or word snag itself to me and I just repeat it until I can write it down and try to explore it.
Geosi Gyasi: Which writers inspire you?
Carly Joy Miller: Katie Ford was the poet that made me realize my identity (truly, my own labeling) as a lyric poet. Gary Young has marvelous simplicity in his work. I always return to Alan Shapiro’s The Dead, Alive, and Busy. Brigit Pegeen Kelly—her innovation in form and twist in myth-making. Sara Eliza Johnson’s work allows me to embrace obsession again, the recurrence of image and how an image carries. Richard Siken’s balance in emotionality and form. There are many more, but Deborah Digges and Traci Brimhall’s work continue to lead to other revelations again and again.
Geosi Gyasi: You were the recipient of the 2013 scholarship to the New York Summer Writers Institute. Could you tell us anything about this scholarship?
Carly Joy Miller: It’s a really great opportunity—I was anonymously nominated by a professor at San Diego State, and submitted my poems and was chosen as one of fifty people to receive either a part- or full scholarship to study in Saratoga Springs for two weeks during the summer. I was lucky to receive a full scholarship and to end up working with Henri Cole. I’m really grateful for the experience because I met a few poets I still keep in touch with (and they contributed to Locked Horn Press’ books).
Geosi Gyasi: How long does it take you to write a single poem?
Carly Joy Miller: Anywhere from 30 minutes to six hours! I’m obsessive about getting the first draft as near to finished as possible before showing it to someone.
Geosi Gyasi: What influenced you to write, “Letter to Body Made Water”?
Carly Joy Miller: The phrase “the throat of you” was the first thing to pop into my head. The morning I wrote the poem, I had a dream about someone I rarely talk to anymore. I think that poem doubles as being slightly to that person, and slightly to the general body. But when the poem turns to the speaker, I think she reflects a part of myself as I confront my body and sensuality (two things I didn’t allow my poems to confront in-tandem before this poem took shape) in real life.
Geosi Gyasi: In “Weathered Porch”, was it about your real grandmother you were talking about?
Carly Joy Miller: It sure is—my Grandma Vy was a sweet wonder of a woman. She really fell through her porch and waited for someone to find her. This happened when I was pretty young, so the poem begins in the real, and then explores the imagined.
Geosi Gyasi: Who edits your work?
Carly Joy Miller: Primarily myself—I usually have a good inclination about where a poem needs a little something. Once I feel like I’ve gotten to the “nearly finished” state, I’ll show it to my friends—Erin Rodoni, Carolann Madden, Carlie Hoffman, and M.K. Foster deserve shout-outs for seeing a lot of my latest work and confirming or identifying my inclinations.
Geosi Gyasi: Are there times you just feel like not writing?
Carly Joy Miller: Absolutely, and when that happens, I read and take notes and write imitations (lately, it’s mostly been just the reading). As long as I read, I’m still engaging in poetry while waiting for something to jumpstart a draft.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you keep a dictionary beside you when writing?
Carly Joy Miller: It’s more like I keep about 2-4 poetry books next to me! If I need it, I just go to an online dictionary/thesaurus.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the most difficult poem you’ve ever written?
Carly Joy Miller: It might just be one I’m currently writing. I slept over at a friend’s place years ago and we had the same dream. Dream poems are so difficult in the first place, and so far the poem is about three pages (short lines, free-form, so it isn’t as overbearing as it sounds). I’ve arrived to a point where the speaker (not necessarily myself—the dream has transformed since arriving to the page) is trying to invoke my friend’s version of the dream, which is even more difficult as I never heard how his version ended (and I’ve forgotten how much of the dream was similar besides the setting). I think the draft will take much longer than usual.