Amy Allen

Pine Row Issue No. 3 Spring 2021 - Featured Poet

Tiny House

Mud season, Vermont’s weakest offering

the white cabin walls stark

against so much brown.

Drawers cleverly tucked

into stair treads, less quaint

when they jammed against their runners.

You flipped a switch and the fireplace

hummed orange. We played gin on the loveseat

and the cards slid between the cushions.

When we made love I drew

your damp forehead against mine, knuckles

grazing the ceiling, the bedding smelled of garlic.

In the morning, as you descended to join me

I noticed I could nearly reach

to pour you coffee from the toilet.

After the sunrise and omelettes

it was clear we’d exhausted

the square footage. Perhaps to nourish

the desire for such close quarters,

the potential must exist

to stand up and walk away

Interview with Amy Allen

by Pine Row Editorial Board

Has your relationship to poetry changed in any way during the pandemic?

Yes, but in two stages. The first stage lasted from the beginning of the quarantine in March of 2020 until about December of 2020. I felt paralyzed creatively; I couldn’t write a thing. I felt no inspiration nor creative impulse, which felt particularly devastating as I was just coming off a very prolific period. I’d traveled to Erice, Sicily in the fall of 2020 with Middlebury’s Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and I had returned from there so inspired and was writing quite often. It troubled me that I’d lost my ability to write throughout the quarantine period, but I replaced the void with reading. I read voraciously; I couldn’t get my hands on enough books. Gradually, though, as my anxiety lessened and as I felt some hope for a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, I finally had the poetic spark return. There were three owls living in the woods behind our house, and their calls in the evening and throughout the night had made me feel less alone during the quarantine. I was inspired to write a poem about their presence in our pandemic lives, and once I wrote that piece, the spigot slowly opened further and I began writing poetry again in earnest.

What inspires you to write poetry. Why do it?

It’s a great question, and one that I sometimes ask myself on the days when I choose to spend my work hours writing poetry vs. completing other projects for which I know I will be compensated. I think in large part I write to process life events and to understand both myself and the world around me. For example, I recently spent eight days sleeping in a chair next to the bed of my daughter who was hospitalized. It was one of the scariest and most unsettling times of my life to date. In the quiet hours of an afternoon there one day, I wrote a poem about what it was to be a parent with a child in the hospital, and the odd connection I felt to the other parents I passed in the hallways or chatted with briefly in the lounge. It wasn’t until I wrote it, that I quite understood how I felt about being in the situation I was in. And it wasn’t until I shared it with my spouse and closest friend that they probably truly understood my feelings either. In many ways it was easier for me to have my loved ones read the poem, as personal as it was, than it was for me to talk through the depth of emotion I felt in a conversation. I do also write with the hope of forging connections or moments of resonance with readers as well.

How do your poems transition from inspiration to draft to final version?

Like many writers, I am struck by ideas at all times of the day, often when I am exercising or driving. I use my phone to jot down an ongoing list of notes, words, phrases and concepts. Then I spend a lot of time writing out the lines in my head. I do this when I walk the dog, go for a run or bike ride, or even take a shower. When I finally feel like I have enough to say, I sit down with the computer in a quiet, candlelit room, the way I used to in college when we had to crank out a poem for class the next day, and get as much of it down as possible. For me it’s important to take breaks when I get to a real impasse. I find I almost always come back with a better line after some time away from the poem. And then I just revise, revise, revise. I have a writing group too, with whom I share work monthly. I do that when I feel I have a pretty solid draft, and then I use their feedback for revision. I don’t feel like my poems are ever really “complete”, and I’m tempted to edit even my most finished of poems every time I look at them.

What book is currently on your nightstand?

Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage by Anne Lamott. I am about halfway through, and I have described it to friends as the book I didn’t even know I needed until I began reading it. I am not a big reader of nonfiction essays, but her brutal honesty in this collection resonates with me deeply, and her writing is admirably skilled.

Will you please name a few poet/s (or people / role models) who inspire you?

Even prior to living in Vermont, I have always admired the work of many Vermont poets and loved both studying and emulating them in college writing workshops. My favorites include David Budbill, Hayden Carruth, Ellen Bryant Voight, and Sydney Lea. The subject matter of many poets based here in Vermont appeals to me, e.g. a focus on trees, landscapes, mountains, farms, animals, as well as an emphasis on simplicity, peace, and connection to the natural world. These qualities are very much a part of what led me to call the state home when I moved here 21 years ago, and I enjoy both reading and writing about them.

Do you have access to a community of writers / artists / poets?

I do, and I am lucky. I have the aforementioned group of writers which formed out of our Bread Loaf Sicily experience, as well as two local poets I’m lucky enough to call friends. Years ago, I attended local writer, Yvonne Daley’s Green Mountain Writers’ Conference on Tinmouth Pond in Vermont, and a lovely friendship with her and her journalist husband Chuck Clarino grew out of that. Getting to know Chuck and learning his writing process was a bonus; at the time, I didn’t ever think I’d write anything but poetry and fiction. Yet as it turned out, I ended up in a role with a school where I wrote multiple articles for publication weekly, and that experience of learning about Chuck’s craft was a gift when it came time for me to put on a journalistic hat. Additionally, another Vermont poet whom I met at the Yvonne’s conference, Verandah Porche, is a Facebook friend; she writes prolifically and posts new poems almost weekly. Reading those is both inspirational and makes me feel wonderfully connected to a fellow writer.

Do you have a routine, such as where or when you write?

Mostly I need to have total quiet and be uninterrupted, and that is hard to come by these days with everyone working and learning from home! I write in my bedroom, as it has big windows out to the woods in our backyard and a perfect view of the birds (and squirrels) who come enjoy our bird feeder. Generally, my chocolate lab is at my side while I write as well. I have learned to adapt to some family interruptions, and I think the pre-writing that I do in my head also helps with that, as by the time I sit down to write I don’t need too terribly long to get something down. Once I have it down, the revising process is one where I can tolerate more interruptions. At the end of the day, the most important element of my writing routine is a view to the outdoors.

Anything else you'd like to add?

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Amy Allen studied English literature with a focus in creative writing as an undergraduate at Skidmore College, and was lucky enough to participate in a fiction writing workshop as part of her coursework for a Ph.D. in English literature from Drew University. Additionally, she has taken part in the Green Mountain Writers Conference led by Yvonne Daley, as well as Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Erice, Sicily. Her work has also appeared in the journal Months to Years. She lives in Rutland, Vermont, where she owns a freelance writing/editing business, called All of the Write Words.