Crystal Simone Smith is not just a poet/writer or editor. She is who we all want as a friend, a neighbor, a motivational force that keeps us moving towards the goal. Elizabeth Mobley states in her review of Smith’s collection that “[s]itting down with Running Music is like sitting down for coffee and conversation with Smith.” Real and accessible, the welcoming feeling that comes through in her work also translates through her personality. And not only is she committed to her poetry, but also to providing a platform for other writers to succeed. We hope you enjoy what she has to say in her interview below.
Blotterature has a strong connection to our place–industrialized Northwest Indiana–and it is reflective in our writing. Tell us where you are and how your place fits into your art.
As a runner I’m often in nature, at times, in complete accord with my surroundings. Running Music captures many facets of my city Durham, NC. It’s a diverse, progressive city in the south, no less; historically known for its thriving tobacco industry. Place frequently makes its way into these poems, detailing runs on paths alongside private golf courses, or on the namesake tobacco trail that runs through the suburbs and areas of urban blight, ending in the revitalized downtown that hosts so many local races.
Who/What has impacted your work the most and how does that come through?
I love visceral poets with unapologetic voices, able to render their truths with a candor that is as haunting as it is triumphant, poets like Lucille Clifton (Book of Light), Sharon Olds (The Father), and Nick Flynn. Because of these influences, I’m never afraid to go to the darkest corner and shine a reflective light, never afraid to utter the unspeakable.
How do you generate new ideas for your work?
When I need inspiration and my own experiences can’t supply it I read avant-garde poets, the more abstract the better. I tend to be a concrete thinker so it expands my mind. I write in form as well—Terza Rimas, Sonnets, and Ghazals.
When have you been most satisfied with your work?
I compose stronger poems when I’m concerned with grief and quiet rage. Those poems come from a raw place and they are a necessary release. After a few revisions I’m usually pleased with the work. Pure satisfaction, even after publication and praise, is rare for me. I always regret a line or not giving a particular verse enough attention.
How do you know when a piece is finished?
I know more often when it’s not because it bothers me so. It’s finished when I’m content with the opening, the turn, and the ending is nailed. When it’s polished enough to send out.
What has been your biggest failure and what − if any − lessons were learned?
I wouldn’t call it failure, but I don’t have enough time, nor the discipline to always carve out time so I don’t produce the amount of work I could. It’s a disappointment I live with until I do make time.
Tell us about your commitment to the writing community. Outside of your work, what else do you have going on? Or what do you see starting up in your future?
I operate a small literary press, Backbone Press. We publish poets of color and cultural writing. You have to be involved in the community in my opinion. It’s how you maintain connections to the craft, find opportunities, and grant opportunities to others if you’re able. I attend readings, festivals, conferences, and I host events. It can be exhausting but it’s part of the exchange. The writing community is small so we support each other.
What is your biggest pet peeve with the writing community, trends, etc. today?
Like any society, it has its cliques. Sometimes, I feel myself wanting to belong to a group I feel I’m worthy of, but I’m not invited and so I think I’m not worthy. A person who’s serious about the craft, with a proven record of publishing and involvement, should never have to feel that way.
What are you working on right now?
I’ve been doggedly writing haiku daily. Haiku is the shortest and hardest form of poetry. It’s almost a discipline that implores you to engage your senses; to see, in nature, human nature. I’m pretty happy, and challenged right now. The practice also enhances your free verse poetry.
What are you reading right now?
I’ve just finished Citizen, Claudia Rankine. I’m reading lots of haiku, Wally Swist, Peggy Lyles, kjmunro, old issues of Haiku International, any haiku I can get in my hands.
Blotterature would like to thank Crystal for her words and time. We look forward to reading more from her in the future.
You can find out more about Crystal Simone Smith on her website at crystalsimonesmith.com.