Interview with Olivia Braley
Damon: Congratulations on the Pushcart Nomination and your chapbook launching soon, is there anymore exciting news for you to share?
Olivia: Thank you! I’m thrilled and humbled by both, really. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember but just began submitting work around this time last year— my first acceptance was in the Winter 2020 issue of Longleaf Review. So to have a Pushcart Nomination and chapbook around the corner is kind of unreal, in a really good way.
As for other news, my life has been pretty quiet! Stone of Madness is putting out our next issue in January, and I’m not sure how much I should share but… I’ll just say we have some really cool ideas for writing events currently in the works with our friends at Mixed Mag. Stay tuned!
Damon: I love the imagery in your work and the flow of it, is this something easy for you or do you actively write this?
Olivia: Thanks so much! I don’t know if I’d say it’s easy for me to do, but I do think that things get easier and come more naturally with practice. I pay attention, though! In editing drafts, whether poetry or prose, I often mouth or whisper lines to myself. I guess that’s my way of getting a sense of the flow. Even if there aren’t poetic lines, there is a cadence, rhythm, and pacing to a piece and that’s something I’m always trying to perfect, to make the flow as natural as possible for the reader. I don’t want them to have an active awareness of the devices at work, I’d rather it sort of enter their mind subconsciously and sweep them up in their reading of a piece.
Thinking about imagery, I’m drawn to images in writing that are as concrete and specific as possible, so I think I try to emulate that. Specificity is what really elevates an image for me. Tell me something I haven’t heard before. Poets write about the moon all the time. It’s easy to write a cliché about the moon. But tell me why you are writing about the moon— why does the moon have to be in this poem at this moment? How do you see the moon in a unique way that will make the reader look at it differently afterwards? Those are the kinds of questions I consider when writing an image.
Damon: How are you dealing with the craziness of this past year and is there anything you are looking forward to in the coming year?
Olivia: I’m dealing— some weeks are better than others. Probably that is true of any year but I think we’re all feeling it a lot more acutely this year. I think 2020 has forced me to confront some bad personal habits of mine and develop a routine to give some structure to my life. I’ve never been the most self-disciplined so that’s been a bit of a challenge for me. But I try to appreciate the good things that have happened as a result of the basically unimaginable circumstances we’ve found ourselves in. I was unemployed for the first several months of quarantine which allowed me to evaluate what I want to be doing and find a new job which is much more fulfilling. I probably wouldn’t have done that had I not been away from the job long enough to realize it was making me pretty miserable. L and I started Stone of Madness, which has been such a positive and special experience. I’ve taken up cooking with my partner. We got three cats in May which helped. Overall, I recognize that I’m really fortunate to be in the position I am in.
As for next year, I’m most excited about my chapbook!!! SOFTENING has been years in the making as a sort of amorphous work and to see it finally come together and be published is going to be indescribable. I’m not sure it’s fully sunken in yet! I began the piece for a project in undergrad in 2017. I was at a very low point. I didn’t even turn it in on time because I was having what I now know was somewhat of a mental health crisis. That version actually had original drawings I did on the pages after I printed them out, along with photographs and some Jenny Holzer references. Since then it’s gone through a lot of drafts and seen quite a few rejections, but I’m so thrilled it’s finally found its home at Emerge.
Aside from SOFTENING, next year I turn 25 and will graduate from my Master’s program at St. John’s College with a M.A. in Liberal Arts. I’m hoping to move out of the area once I graduate, so I’m looking forward to whatever comes next.
Damon: Finally, how are you?
Olivia: I’m busy, but I’m doing well! I’m in the final two weeks of my semester so I’m pretty bogged down in papers and readings right now. I’m also in the last few weeks of the Intro to Creative Writing classes that I teach, so I’m working on developing some fun lesson plans to help the students finish strong. After that I hope I’ll have more time to read and write! I got a new idea for a project recently so I’m eager to see where that goes. One never really knows.
Olivia Braley is a mostly-poetry writer from Annapolis, MD, where she is pursuing her Masters of Liberal Arts at St. John’s College. She is a cofounder and Editor in Chief at Stone of Madness Press and a Reader for Longleaf Review. Her work has appeared in Longleaf Review, perhappened mag, The Daily Drunk, Versification and other places on the web. Keep up with her work on Twitter @OliviaBraley.