An Interview with Poet Brook Bhagat
If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make?
Leonard Cohen. Cigarettes for him. Peach jam and a spoon for me.
What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?
Running out of ideas. I just do my best anyway. When you put in the time, something always comes.
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character?
Leonard Cohen and Anne from Anne of Green Gables.
What books are on your nightstand?
The Bottom of the River by Jamaica Kincaid, To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, and some Mark Strand collections are in another room somewhere.
Favorite punctuation mark? Why?
The space. The words are only there to remind us of the space.
What book were you supposed to read in high school, but never did?
Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn. Lots of books. I faked a lot of reading in college, too. Shakespeare was my worst grade in college.
What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgments?
The baby swing. Coffee. The trampoline.
If you could write an inspirational quote on the mirrors of aspiring writers, what would you write?
You are not your writing. It’s just something you do. Take a class or join a writers’ group if you get lazy like me.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Energizes me for sure. I like writing when I first wake up.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Thinking poetry is hard and full of rules. It’s the opposite.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Talking about ideas before writing them.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
No, there are a million good things to read. I just don’t do it. I love reading work from author friends and the Nearby Universe, my writers’ group. I enjoy reading my students’ work, and I am lucky enough to get paid for that. But in my spare time, I am more likely playing outside with my kids. Like I said, we have a trampoline.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Who doesn’t feel emotions strongly? No, I guess there are people whose energy goes mostly in thinking instead of feeling. Maybe they are plotting strategies for getting more money or power, like politicians. They could be successful in writing books for other people like themselves, strategy books. Or maybe there are thinkers who don’t want kids or lovers or friends or cats, they just want to philosophize all day. They could write books for each other too. Their job is easier: thinking is already in words. But I wouldn’t want to read their poetry.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
It’s always feedback, laughter, commiseration and encouragement, like any friendship. The poet Kelli Allen, who began as my professor. Carrie Cook. Carina Bissett and Amie Sharp and everyone in my writers’ group. My husband has given me some wonderful feedback too.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Voice happens, I guess, but I want each book to have its own flavor, like Nicholas Samaras or Pink Floyd.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
I never knew revising so many times could help so much.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Getting my MFA in Creative Writing online at Lindenwood University. I thought I just needed the deadlines, but I learned a lot and grew a lot. About half the pieces in Only Flying were first written in my classes there. “Chapter Twenty-six: The Map,” is an excerpt from the novel I began in the program.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
My mom used to whip an egg and add it to ramen for nutrition, but my little sister Robin wouldn’t eat it if she knew it was in there, so my mom told me not to tell her. I did, and she didn’t eat that ramen, and I marvelled at my power.
There’s a better story, though, about that 70s song, “Dust in the Wind.” I must have been about five when it came on the radio and I told my parents it was about us, about my baby brother who died the day he was born--Dustin, the wind.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Medicine Woman by Lynn V. Andrews.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
I choose the tiger but the salamander chose me.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
It depends on the person. Most of my characters are not based on anyone. My grandma in the book is my real grandma, and she’s the reason I became a writer. And my beloved in the book is my real beloved, my husband. But I owe them everything not because of that, but because of how they have loved me.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
One complete early readers chapter book, about two little kids in India; ¾ of a literary fantasy novel; ½ a new poetry collection; and one secret idea.
What does literary success look like to you?
Success in all fields is measured the same way: either you’ve been a guest on Sesame Street or you haven’t.
What’s the best way to market your books?
My favorite way would be word of mouth.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Not using words like “auburn.”
What did you edit out of this book?
“Bella is Suzanne,” for Leonard Cohen and my friend from college.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
I love teaching. I loved being a gardener, and I loved painting houses. If I could get paid for it, I could be an artist or illustrate children’s books. I was working on a book of poetry for children with my grandmother when she died, her poems and my paintings of animals. I hope to still finish it one day.
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