Originally from small-town Southeast Texas, Natalie Giarratano received her MFA and PhD in creative writing from Western Michigan University. Her first collection of poems, Leaving Clean, won the 2013 Liam Rector First Book Prize in Poetry and was published in June 2013 by Briery Creek Press. D.A. Powell selected her work for inclusion in the 2011 edition of Best New Poets, and she won the 2011 Ann Stanford Poetry Prize from Southern California Review. She co-edits Pilot Light, an online journal of 21st century poetics and criticism, teaches writing at American University, and lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, Zach Green, and their pup, Miles. After you read this interview, I hope you'll check out some of her poems, because they're just incredible. I'm still reeling from reading "Asena, the Gray Wolf, to Tu Kuëh after Many Years."
Who are you?
I’m Natalie Giarratano—poet, editor, teacher, animal lover. My first collection of poems, Leaving Clean, was published in 2013 by Briery Creek Press, and I’m co-editor of Pilot Light: A Journal of 21st Century Poetics and Criticism. Or: I’m the something that flickers in the periphery when you’re out walking at night; the divot in the sidewalk waiting to trip you awake; the not quite black sheep of the family but more like the platypus.
Where can you be found online? Do you have a blog or other online receptacle for your work? If so, how would you describe it to a stranger you've just met while on vacation? Remember, you're in a hot tub with them on a clear cold night, stars twinkling above you. They want all the details. If your work doesn't live online, tell the hot-tub-stranger about your writing in such a way that makes them urge you to get an online receptacle for it.
Some work can be found at www.nataliegiarratano.com. I’ve never been much into blogging, but I love reading others’.
My most recent poetry publications can also be found online. “Big Thicket Blues” is up at TYPO and “The Translations” is in the newest issue of Tupelo Quarterly (these are both fairly long—2014 seems to be the year of finally getting the long poems published). The former poem is an eight-section meditation on place and not belonging and racism and what happens when we ignore violence and other injustices done to human beings. The latter is more personal and deals with what it’s like in a partially-deaf person’s mind; how she has to find music in her surroundings even when she can’t make out individual voices in groups of socializing folks.
What inspired you to start writing/blogging? When did it happen?
When I was all of eleven, I asked my mom for a journal—one in particular that had a stuffed bear wearing clothes and pretending to write at a desk (I have never claimed to have good taste)--in which to write poems. Not sure why then or why poems. I definitely read all the fiction I could get my eager hands on, loved to get lost in those worlds/characters and pretend to be someone else for a while. My parents were pretty over-protective/conservative, so imagination is where I hung out quite a lot.
Why do you write?
Looking back, I think that poetry meant tackling the big questions I had about the world. My first poem in that clothes-wearing-bear journal was then aptly titled “What is the World?” Ha! Still figuring that one out with every poem I’ve written. My world has gotten larger instead of smaller, which makes learning/understanding more complex. Instead of writing solely about autobiographical incidences and hang-ups, I’m writing on buried news stories about the warring in Iraq or giving voices to characters or people that I see as voiceless, many of which are women. My concerns have grown up even as that basic question evoked by my first (freakin’ awful) poem has not disappeared but evolved.
Your writing inspires me. Who inspires you?
Yusef Komunyakaa and Lynda Hull—the way they have snake-charmed jazz and blues onto the page; CD Wright—that she’s not afraid to engage with unflinching anger; I could go on and on, but here are a few more whose work I do not want to live without: Virginia Woolf, Allen Ginsberg, Frank O’Hara, Walt Whitman, Muriel Rukeyser, Toni Morrison, Jeanette Winterson, Mary Ruefle, Tracy K. Smith, Khaled Mattawa, Jake Adam York, Major Jackson.
In keeping with the admittedly loose travel theme of Not Intent On Arriving, if you could have an all-expenses paid trip anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I’m lately obsessed with genealogy. I’ve traced my Acadian Louisiana relatives from my mother’s side back to France via Nova Scotia (where they were uprooted/kicked out of by the British in the mid-1700s). I’d love to make the backwards version of the trek they made.
What is your favorite place on earth?
Right now it is a tree house in Moloa’a Bay, Kauai.
Anything else you'd like us to know?
I’m currently working on a chapbook of poems very different from my first two books/manuscripts. These poems confront the current state of Iraq and the lack of network coverage of the issues there. I don’t think I’ve ever written about a place in which I’ve never set foot—it’s tricky, to say the least.