Tina Parker grew up in Bristol, Virginia. She now lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband and two young daughters. Her poetry chapbook Another Offering will be published by Finishing Line Press in July 2015, and her full-length poetry collection Mother May I will be published by Sibling Rivalry Press in 2016. Learn more about Tina at www.tina-parker.com.
Geosi Gyasi: You grew up in Bristol, Virginia. Can you tell us something about growing up?
Tina Parker: I loved sticker books, reading, and writing in my diary from an early age. I was completely happy spending time in my room by myself, or sometimes in the hall closet where I’d write in my diary by flashlight. My family was quite active at sports events and in the church—we were at church every time the doors opened, and the faith of my childhood, which I later questioned as a young adult, figures largely in my poems.
Geosi Gyasi: When did you regard yourself as a writer?
Tina Parker: In college. As an English major, I was introduced to authors from Central Appalachia for the first time. I learned that people from my home place, who sound like people I know, can be writers. At the same time, I took creative writing workshops in both fiction and poetry and fell in love with writing.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you remember your first piece of writing?
Tina Parker: I remember my first diary, a tiny read one with a lock and key that I picked out myself when I was eight years old. It was the first in a series of diaries and notebooks I’ve kept ever since. From that age, I learned to process my world by writing about it.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you aim to achieve with your writing?
Tina Parker: Writing is very much about the process for me. I don’t set out to create a certain type of piece, or achieve a certain goal. I do aim to make space to write, which allows me to pause and interact with what is happening around me.
Geosi Gyasi: Can you tell us about your forthcoming chapbook, “Another Offering”?
Tina Parker: It’s a series of linked poems that tells the story of my growing up in Central Appalachia and in the Southern Baptist church. The poems explore girlhood, coming-of-age, family, faith, and the little mysteries children unravel as they grow into adulthood.
Geosi Gyasi: What sort of preparation goes into the writing of a chapbook?
Tina Parker: For me the preparation is always writing in my journal, messy and nonsensical as it is when the words are fresh on the page. I write my pages and sift through them for poem nuggets. After there are many poems, I look for themes and see how poems might go together in a book and begin to fill in the gaps from there.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you show your manuscripts to friends before you send them out to publishers?
Tina Parker: Yes, absolutely. I begin by showing individual poems to other writers. Then for both my chapbook and full-length collection (Mother May I, which will be published in 2016 by Sibling Rivalry Press), I wanted professional writers to read the entire collection as well. In 2013, I received a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, which included funds for me to work with a mentor. I also used the writing mentor program offered at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, Kentucky.
Geosi Gyasi: What is your greatest moment as a writer?
Tina Parker: The greatest moment is when I’m writing and completely present; time falls away, and it is this delicious bubble of imagination, awareness, and words.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about the “form” in which you write?
Tina Parker: I care most about the sound of what I write. It needs to have a certain feel to my ear; it needs to flow; it needs cadence.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific audience you write for?
Tina Parker: It’s my hope that my poems reach the people who need them most.
Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your poem, “The Midwife”?
Tina Parker: Giving birth to my daughters. I had plenty of writing material but had difficulty shaping my experience into a poem—it was just too overwhelming, until I landed on the idea to write a persona poem in the voice of a midwife.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write, “Pitting Cherries”?
Tina Parker: This one came about, just as the title says, by pitting cherries. Seeing the bright red splatters on the cutting board reminded me of the very scary experience I had while pregnant with our oldest and was sure I was having a miscarriage. Sometimes ordinary routines can be an entry for writing about these highly emotional, overwhelming experiences.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about critics when you write?
Tina Parker: Oh no, not at all.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific place where you often sit down to write?
Tina Parker: I write wherever I can. I don’t have an office, or separate writing room; I don’t even have a desk! I gave up a long time ago on waiting to have the ideal writing space—I just write where I can.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the best time to write?
Tina Parker: There’s no best, or magic, time. It’s when I can. I would love to write all morning, every morning, but I am easy on myself; sometimes I write only a phrase; sometimes I make lists; sometimes I fill my journal with the messiness in my brain!
Geosi Gyasi: Can you define your voice as a writer?
Tina Parker: That is a great question! I have had long-time poet friends define my voice as deceivingly simple, sparse, and surprisingly humorous.
Geosi Gyasi: Who are your favorite writers?
Tina Parker: My favorite poets are Beth Ann Fennelly, Rachel Zucker, Sharon Olds, Denise Duhamel, and Marie Howe.
Geosi Gyasi: What are you currently reading?
Tina Parker: The current issue of The Missouri Review and Lillianne’s Balcony: A novella of Fallingwater.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have formal education in writing?
Tina Parker: I was able to take a couple of advanced level creative writing workshops when pursuing my MA in English, which I completed in 2001. Since that time, I have pursued a less formal education by taking community writing workshops, studying my craft, and being active in writing groups.