Sandra Marchetti is the author of Confluence, a debut full-length collection of poetry from Sundress Publications. Eating Dog Press also published an illustrated edition of her essays and poetry, A Detail in the Landscape, and her first volume, The Canopy, won Midwest Writing Center’s Mississippi Valley Chapbook Contest. Sandy won Second Prize in Prick of the Spindle’s 2014 Poetry Open and her work appears in The Hollins Critic, Sugar House Review, Ecotone, Green Mountains Review, Blackbird, Southwest Review, and elsewhere. She lives and teaches outside of her hometown, Chicago, Illinois.
Geosi Gyasi: When did you realize yourself as a writer?
Sandra Marchetti: First of all, thank you so much for having me here. Your site is such a wonderful resource. I entered a story competition in fourth grade (I was maybe 10?) and won second place. I suspect it was earlier than that when I knew, though. My mother helped me to bind the book with this hideous orange yarn she had around the house. My parents have always been my biggest supporters. We used to draw together and they read me endless stories, and made up many for me. I was an imaginative only child. We had an imaginary society of elves living in our house that did amazing things and ate cookies. The elves even had their own jail! So, I always had a love of stories and would hole myself up in my room and read chapter books all night oftentimes. However, Sharon Olds was probably the first poet who made me feel like, “I could do this,” regarding poetry.
Geosi Gyasi: As a writer, do you think it is easy to write?
Sandra Marchetti: Not a whit. David Rakoff, an essayist I love who recently died said something akin to “writing is like pulling your teeth out of your ass.” And it’s true! It is deeply imaginative play. It is encompassing play. I used to make things as a child, dollhouses and beds for my Barbies out of Kleenex boxes and such. It’s like that. It’s engineering. And if you want to engineer an object well, it’s incredibly difficult. You have to know some math. You have to be aware of the angles–where symmetry is called for and where asymmetry is. I am invoking math metaphors here because I write in metrical forms often.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you talk about your forthcoming book, “Confluence”?
Sandra Marchetti: Confluence is now “in the world” as we say. I am really excited about that, as it’s getting into readers hands and they are actually now cracking the spine. It’s nerve-wracking to leave five years of one’s life open to public opinion, but I’m grateful to have the opportunity to offer up the work. The book is really a reunion with the landscape that I love, the American Midwest. I wrote much of it while I was living on the east coast, in Washington DC, and missing my home in Chicago for umpteen reasons. It’s also about the reunion of two people. However, on a more abstract level, the book reads, I hope, like music in some ways. It’s full of beats and repeated sounds, many colors (mostly bright ones, and pastels, my favorite), and can be read on purely a sensual level, I think.
Geosi Gyasi: What sort of preparation went into the writing of “Confluence”?
Sandra Marchetti: Preparation is a funny word for it. In all honesty, I could answer, “none.” In a way, I wrote the poems, and all of the preparation to make it a book happened on the back end. I did not have a project or plot line in mind for this book. I wrote occasional poems, as Alan Cheuse said, about my obsessions: ecology, art, sound, love. I wrote the poems I had to write and then tried to figure out how they would work as a book. I knew they might, because they contained linked subject matter and prosody, but actually placing them in the order that would make a book, and writing enough good poems to make a book took about 5 to 6 years.
Geosi Gyasi: You received your MFA in Creative Writing (Poetry) from George Mason University in 2010. Why did you decide to study Creative Writing?
Sandra Marchetti: Honestly, I sat in my undergraduate faculty adviser’s office the year before I was to graduate and couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I was never so great at holding down jobs–I worked in telemarketing and did some nannying. I was fired a couple times. I really wanted to write–I was just getting going with publishing things and the end of my undergrad and felt that I had found my calling. My adviser cautioned me though. She said, “Well, after you complete an MFA, then you can decide if you really want to do this writing thing.” I was shocked. I figured signing up for grad school would indicate that I was “all in.” But Anna Leahy was right. A bunch of folks in my MFA program are no longer writing. It really tests your mettle.
Geosi Gyasi: You were the winner of the 2011 Mississippi Valley Chapbook Contest for your volume, The Canopy. Why do you think you won this content?
Sandra Marchetti: Well, the contest was regional, only open to Iowa and Illinois writers, and thank goodness. I met the judge, Erin Bertram, and the reading committee after the fact and it was made up of naturalists like Trisha Georgiou and Sarah Gardner who love ecopoetry about the Midwest. It was definitely a right place, right time situation. When a poet asks me where he/she should send a book, I always say to go for the limited demographic contest or press–it really helps your chances!
Geosi Gyasi: What is your greatest achievement as a writer?
Sandra Marchetti: Probably seeing Confluence through from an ill-formed graduate thesis to a published book in readers’ hands is my greatest achievement. However, having poems accepted into dream journals like Blackbird, Southwest Review, and Ecotone this year comes in a close second!
Geosi Gyasi: Do you regard writing as a profession?
Sandra Marchetti: It is. When I introduce myself, I am prone to saying I am a writer or a poet rather than a teacher right off the bat. It is what I wish to spend my days doing, even if that isn’t always the case. This year there has been some small monetary gain involved, which makes me feel a bit more legitimate.
Geosi Gyasi: You currently teach writing at Aurora University. What are you subject areas or your interests as a teacher?
Sandra Marchetti: I teach English composition and literature, but I also teach writing intensive interdisciplinary studies courses in which I love to expose students to contemporary art, dance, and poetry. These classes are a bit more free form and focused on the humanities, largely, so they are fun to teach.
Geosi Gyasi: Is it difficult to teach students how to write?
Sandra Marchetti: Absolutely, yes! I think many of them haven’t had a teacher that appeals to their common sense. As a creative person, maybe that seems counter intuitive to hear. These students, though, need to know how they will use writing in their every day lives, and poetry is something we can and do use in our every day lies as well! I try to talk to them about practical applications for creative thinking. It’s sneaky but effective. Once they know why they are being taught the curriculum, they seem much more receptive.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the first thing you tell your students in their first class?
Sandra Marchetti: I give them Annie Dillard and we talk about the Steve Jobs/Apple slogan from the early 2000’s: “Think Different.” I tell them this isn’t a writing class per se, it’s a thinking class. Annie Dillard thought different and saw things others didn’t know were there in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Jobs saw things differently and revolutionized how we live, essentially. It’s also important that that phrase, “Think Different” isn’t the more grammatical, “Think Differently.” It has a punch. We remember it, which is what good writing does.
Geosi Gyasi: Which writers have had great impact on your writing?
Sandra Marchetti: The usual suspects and some others. The writer who made me want to write poetry was F. Scott Fitzgerald, curiously, was a prose writer. He had such an aptitude for the lyric. Sharon Olds made me think I could actually pull it off, as I said above. But the folks I return to now are Octavio Paz, Elizabeth Bishop, Annie Dillard, Li-Young Lee, Carl Phillips, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and a few others. I’m not biased to one period or country. I’m looking for beauty, and something like celebration, or dare I say, truth.
Geosi Gyasi: How do you know when you’ve come to the end of a poem?
Sandra Marchetti: I’m coming close when I have the poem memorized, or close to memorized. When it rolls off my tongue like that, I know the words are in the right place. I very rarely abandon poems, and try to see them all to completion.
Geosi Gyasi: how do you often start a poem?
Sandra Marchetti: How often do I start one? Once every few weeks or so. I am not prolific. I wrote 20 last year and that’s quite a few for me! How do I start it? Well, often it begins with a walk. I’m kind of a wannabe transcendentalist in that way. Sometimes I’ll see or hear something that sparks a poem, or more likely in the last couple years, reminds me of a line from someone else’s poem, and then I’ll want to write.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you know the next book you intend to write after “Confluence”?
Sandra Marchetti: Well, this and the last question go together really well. I am currently working on a project that takes lines, the ones that are like song lyrics to me, lines that I can’t get out of my head, from other poets’ poems and puts them into my own work. Sometimes it’s just a line, or a title, or the poet’s name. I’ve snatched bits from Louise Gluck, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and many others. It’s fun, and in some ways a continuation of Confluence, in which I relied on and called upon my influences often. I’m working on another new project which is about my experiences rooting for a baseball team over the years, The Chicago Cubs, and about the sport itself and ballparks. So, I’m excited about that one too.
Geosi Gyasi: I am wondering how you arrived at the title, “Confluence”?
Sandra Marchetti: I went to a conference in Pittsburgh, where there is a true confluence, and that’s where the word was implanted in my head many years ago. The Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers flow together to form the Ohio there. I loved the idea of the landscape and lovers in the book flowing to a confluence. I also think triangles are an important shape in the book, and rivers are crucial to the work too, so the idea confluence seemed to fit.
Geosi Gyasi: When was the last time you received a fan mail from a reader?
Sandra Marchetti: Fan mail? I have, and especially in the form of Facebook friend requests. He he. But seriously, I published a poem in Thrush Poetry Journal in January 2014 and since it is a really popular online journal (due to Helen Vitoria’s genius), with a very dedicated readership, I have connected with many folks through that poem. These people are from various countries and have since written reviews of my work or translated it into other languages. What a blessing.
Geosi Gyasi: In just a sentence, convince any potential reader to pick up your book, “Confluence”?
Sandra Marchetti: Sex! Trees! Surrealism! But seriously, if you like poetry that sings, or books that will provide a momentary stay against the madness of the world, read Confluence. You’ll feel the pleasure. And if you do want a copy, here’s the link to get one:
Thank you so much, Geosi!