Lynne Thompson is the author of two chapbooks, We Arrive by Accumulation and Through A Window, as well as the full-length collections Start With A Small Guitar and Beg No Pardon, winner of the Perugia Press Book Award and the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s New Writers Award. A multiple Pushcart Prize nominee, Thompson is the recipient of fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and the Summer Literary Series. Her recent work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Weave, African American Review, Fourteen Hills, and Crab Orchard Review, among others. She is Reviews & Essays Editor of the literary journal, Spillway, and a member of the Board of Directors of ArtworxLA.
Geosi Gyasi: Before I begin, I implore you to ask me any question?
Lynne Thompson: I’d be interested in knowing how you came to develop this blog and also about your own writing! Perhaps you’ll let me interview you for Spillway where I’m the Reviews & Essays editor?
Geosi Gyasi: I had completed university at the time and thinking of what next to do with my life, stumbled on some wonderful Ghanaian book blogs that interested me. I started blogging afterwards.
I started writing seriously after a year of blogging. I think blogging gave me enough confidence to write. A number of my poems have been published online and I’m hoping to get my first poetry collection out in the near future.
It would be wonderful to have you interview me.
Geosi Gyasi: When did you begin to write?
Lynne Thompson: My sister-in-law recently found a poem that I wrote when she and my brother married so I’d have to say from about age 10. I began to take it more seriously though in my mid-forties. After fifteen years of practicing law, I realized that I missed writing poetry as opposed to writing legal briefs! It’s been a rewarding change of direction.
Geosi Gyasi: Have you always been happier as a writer?
Lynne Thompson: Yes. I always feel immensely satisfied when I emerge from the state of concentration that has resulted in a poem.
Geosi Gyasi: Your book, “Beg No Pardon” was published by Perugia Press in 2007. Could you tell us something about the book?
Lynne Thompson: I didn’t set out to write a book but the poet David St. John told me that it was “time” (he has been one of my workshop leaders for several years) and to compile the poems I’d been working on, order them, and send them out for consideration. I was astonished when Perugia Press selected the collection for its 2007 book prize. The poems address the arc of a life from early childhood and beyond, with side commentaries on art and music.
Geosi Gyasi: How did Perugia Press become interested in your book?
Lynne Thompson: Perugia runs an annual contest that focuses on the first or second books of women writers only. I entered feeling that I only had to worry about half the population, gender-wise! Beg No Pardon was selected from the entries that year.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have specific theme(s) you often write on?
Lynne Thompson: I’ve just completed a third collection and it’s becoming increasingly clear that I’m still not done with issues centered around my parents’ Caribbean heritage, on the one hand, and my adoption by them as a young child, on the other. My second book, Start With A Small Guitar, however, is described by a fellow poet as a collection of “love-no love” poems!
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have specific audience you write for?
Lynne Thompson: Not generally, although I must say that the new manuscript was written with the younger generation of my family in mind.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the best moment of writing?
Lynne Thompson: If you mean time of day, I certainly like the quiet of early morning when birds chirping is the primary sound to be heard. If you mean something more philosophical, it’s when I find that I’ve been writing for two hours and it felt like 15 minutes.
Geosi Gyasi: You’ve been published in a number of anthologies. Could you tell me which of your works was published in the “New Poets of the American West”?
Lynne Thompson: I was so pleased that “Soar” was published in NPAW. It’s a poem based on an experience with my great-aunt, Ida Perry, who was more like a grandmother to my brothers and me and who was a fascinating personality in her own right. Among other things, she learned to fly an airplane solo and she represented St. Vincent & the Grenadines (the Caribbean islands where she and my parents were born) before the League of Nations!
Geosi Gyasi: Do you gain anything from writing?
Lynne Thompson: Certainly writing makes me feel a sense of accomplishment even when it’s not the best writing I’m capable of; it’s the idea that I’ve engaged in the creative act that gives me a sense of satisfaction. And when I do write a poem that others respond positively to, that feeling of connection is like nothing else.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the best poem you’ve ever written?
Lynne Thompson: I couldn’t possibly answer that! Others would have to opine. Each new poem I write is one I’m hoping will be “the best”.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you mind telling us about your 2008 Great Lakes Colleges New Writers Award?
Lynne Thompson: This is one of the best writing awards in the US. The Association gives annual awards to poets, fiction, and non-fiction writers. There are 12 or 13 private colleges in the mid-west (Antioch, Kenyon, Kalamazoo, and Hope, among them) which make up the Association and, and as the poetry winner in 2008, I was invited to read at about 7 of the colleges. They flew me out from California, all expenses paid, and I received a stipend from each college. A very sweet deal! More importantly, I had the opportunity to share my work in locations that I might not have had a chance to otherwise. I met wonderful people and will always treasure the experience.
Geosi Gyasi: Who are your literary influences?
Lynne Thompson: These are always great questions but hard questions because you know you’re going to leave someone out. Only referencing poets, I’d have to say that Natasha Tretheway and Nikky Finney are two writers that I admire greatly and, while not seeking to emulate them, I often refer to their work for inspiration. Terrance Hayes, Jane Hirshfield, David St. John, Linda Gregerson, Patricia Smith, Edward Hirsch, W. S. Merwin, Nazim Hikmet, and Kwame Dawes are writers whose work I always return to as well. I recently gave a shout-out to the Caribbean-Canadian poet, M. NourbeSe Philip and want to do so here, again. Her book, Zong, is must reading. (Ok, now I’m in dutch with everyone I didn’t mention!)
Geosi Gyasi: Are there times you felt like not writing?
Lynne Thompson: I’ve recently completed a new collection of poems and it’s been difficult to get myself going again. I find myself wondering if I have anything else to write about which is ridiculous, of course, because the things I’ve never written about outweigh the things I’ve written about by several miles!
Geosi Gyasi: What are your plans for the future?
Lynne Thompson: For some time, I’ve had the seeds of a play rolling around in the back of my head and I hope to be able to plant the seeds on paper sometime soon.
Geosi Gyasi: What are you reading now?
Lynne Thompson: I tend to listen to fiction and non-fiction on my iPad or iPhone and recently completed two I was mesmerized by: Forty Acres by Dwayne Smith and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. As for poetry, Gregory Pardlo’s Digest and Doug Kearney’s “Patter” are terrific and I’ll be reviewing them for the journal, Spillway. And, of course, everyone’s raving—rightfully so—about Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. I also regularly subscribe to the literary journals Georgia Review, Washington Square, Pleiades and American Poetry Review, among others. I like to rotate the journals I subscribe to on an annual basis to keep track of the best new writing. Next up I’m looking forward to Robin Coste Lewis’ Voyage of the Sable Venus, Jane Hirshfield’s The Beauty, Cecilia Woloch’s Earth, and Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you do lots of poetry performance?
Lynne Thompson: I enjoy poetry performance and do a fair amount of it whenever I can. I recently participated in the Bridgewater College International Poetry Festival in the State of Virginia and it was a delight to meet poets from all over the world and to hear their work. I was in Kenya several years ago and that was another amazing opportunity to meet and hear what writers were doing in that country. If at all possible, I’ll read wherever I’m invited!
Geosi Gyasi: What inspired you chapbook, “We Arrive By Accumulation”?
Lynne Thompson: Wow, I wrote that so long ago that I honestly don’t recall the inspiration for it. But it was intended to be a homage of sorts for the ancestors—both familial and beyond—whose shoulders I stand on, both as a writer and a woman.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell us about, “Through a Window”?
Lynne Thompson: The poems in that collection were written based on trips I had taken to Europe and North Africa. I was thrilled when Conflüx Press, the publisher, suggested that the poems be translated into the language of the countries in which they were written. As far as I know, these are my only poems in translation and it was an exciting process. Also, I have to give kudos to Tania Baban, a wonderful book artist in Los Angeles, who gave the manuscript its fabulous design.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you still live in Los Angeles? How is the literary scene like over there?
Lynne Thompson: I still call Los Angeles home and the literary scene is thriving there. It is a matter of joy and angst that on any given night throughout the year, a person can be stumped as to what reading she should attend!
Geosi Gyasi: What do you do to relax when not writing?
Lynne Thompson: I’m a big theater buff and have a theater buddy that I attend plays with regularly, on average one to two per month. As a young girl, I envied New York City’s theater scene but Los Angeles has come into its own in that regard and has excellent large- and small-seat showcases for a broad diversity of work. Being an acting town, we’re also able to draw big names to our venues. I was thrilled recently to see Cicely Tyson in A Trip to Bountiful—fantastic!