What would you like to share with our readers about the work you contributed to the Bellingham Review?
“Next” appears in my just-released collection of poetry, SIX, which was selected by C.D. Wright as the winner of the A Room of Her Own Foundation’s To the Lighthouse Poetry Prize. Even though the book was published in fall 2016, the poem itself was a written a decade earlier in the fall of 2006, just a few months after I completed my MFA at the University of Pittsburgh. And the impetus for the book stretches back even further in time—to 2002 in Bellingham, in fact! When I was a graduate student at Western Washington University in Bruce Beasley’s experimental poetics class, he made a statement one day that took root in me. He said that most people only write about “six things their whole lives”—so the challenge is to find new ways of probing resident issues, questions, and themes formally, given that our core content is ultimately unlikely to change. I found myself wondering what my “six things” are, and each poem in SIX became an occasion to meditate at length on one of those things, or perhaps better clarified, those clusters of things. At the time I wrote “Next,” the last poem in the series (and the last poem in the book, as it happens), I was thinking a lot about posterity and lineage and visibility as a gay woman who was neither a wife nor a mother. I didn’t know in 2006 that I would ever be able to marry my partner legally—which I did (also in Bellingham!) in 2014—so one of the questions at the heart of the poem is “How will there be a record of our life together?” What does it mean to have made a life with someone and yet to be virtually invisible as two women who are not attached to men and who do not have children attached to us? And even though I am married now, I recognize in the poem many of the same feelings and questions that still haunt me in my life in 2016—chiefly, how to move freely and honestly and usefully in a world that isn’t often primed to see my relationship as fully real, fully valid, or fully equal to the heterosexual marriages that surround me. If this world isn’t able to recognize me for who I am and perhaps doesn’t always want me as I am, then how can I contribute to it? What can I give that will be of value?
Tell us about your writing life.
I’ve been writing all my reading life—since I was three or four years old. I write because I like writing, which sounds plain and simple enough, and perhaps it is. In school, when we had art class, I always wanted to make a “literary art” instead of a drawing or painting or sculpture. I preferred the challenge of placing words on a page and striving to find a compelling sequence and sonic quality to those words more than I favored any other challenge or form of recreation. So when it came time to be a grown-up with a real-world job, I was fortunate that I was steered by my teachers toward creative writing. I didn’t know writing would become so integral to my actual job, but I always knew writing would be integral to my life—that it was and would continue to be a kind for vocation for me. From childhood through adolescence, I wrote mostly fiction, stories about imaginary people’s lives. But if you asked me about myself as a child, I would always say, without hesitation, “I’m a poet.” I didn’t actually start writing poems until high school, and I don’t think I wrote a good poem until graduate school, but I had this sense of myself as a poet from the very start. It was a perception rooted in a certain philosophy, I guess—that poets were concerned with the nuances of language. So even in my fiction, both the short stories and the interminable novels, I labored over every word, the prosody of every sentence. Eventually, I found my way to the work of living poets, and once I knew you could be a real poet in the vernacular of our time and place, I was sold. And creative nonfiction arose as a lovely fluke when I signed up to take a class in “Autobiographical Writing” as a college sophomore and found myself enraptured.
Which non-writing aspect of your life most influences your writing?
Almost everything in my life is connected with writing in some way. I think teaching writing probably influences my writing most significantly, and I feel honored every day that I get to teach the genres that I write to writers at every level, from Introduction to Creative Writing through undergraduate Poetic Techniques and Special Topics in Creative Nonfiction courses through MFA seminars in memoir and the lyric essay. Reading is connected to writing, many of my close friends are fellow writers and teachers of writing, and I love to go to readings that aren’t given or hosted by me to remind myself of the pure joy of listening to literature read aloud. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but everything in my life seems to dovetail with writing, one way or another. Even my favorite form of exercise—spinning—allows me to be active physically while my mind is free, and what I’m almost always thinking about on the spin bike is something I’m writing or something I’m teaching related to writing.
What writing advice has stayed with you?
Well, in addition to “those six things” from Bruce Beasley’s class, I can say that I’m still contemplating a question posed by David Seal, who taught my undergraduate Autobiographical Writing class. The question comes by way of Plotinus, the Platonic philosopher, but it is in essence, “Why did you choose your parents?” David Seal asked us to consider that question on the first day of class back in 1998, and I am still considering it. I am writing poetry and memoir and lyric essay to this day because I can’t answer that question with any ease or certainty. And all my best teachers have reinforced the idea that we write to discover what we most want to say and what we most need to know about ourselves and the worlds in which we find ourselves enfolded.
What is your favorite book? Favorite writer?
Probably like most people, and certainly like most writers, there’s a long trail of moments that springs to mind—encounters with salient texts that awakened something in me, spoke to me, made me want to do my version of what that writer had done. In high school, I could feel my body quivering as I read Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. The impact of the book was visceral. Something similar happened when I read the poem “In Mind” by Denise Levertov. It happened when I read Mark Doty’s memoir, Firebird, and it happened when I read Toi Derricotte’s The Black Notebooks, and it happened when I read “Splittings” by Adrienne Rich and “When I Was a Lesbian” by Denise Duhamel. Now that I have the privilege of reviewing books and even blurbing books, I’m always aware of writers who unhinge my jaw a little, rattle my ribs. Recently, this happened with Lauren Shapiro’s poetry collection, Easy Math, and Stephen Mills’ A History of the Unmarried, and Aaron Smith’s Appetite. I try to bring books into my own classrooms that undo me in a visceral way: Bluets by Maggie Nelson, A Cup of Water Under My Bed by Daisy Hernandez, The Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez, Butch Geography by Stacey Waite, Rose by Li-Young Lee, What the Living Do by Marie Howe, Homecoming by Julia Alvarez, Now You’re the Enemy by James Allen Hall, The Leaf and the Cloud by Mary Oliver, Slow Lightning by Eduardo C. Corral. I’m not even touching the tip of the iceberg here—or the first of the palm fronds, in Miami speak. But I can say also that my students are writing some of the books I’ve been waiting to see in the world. Mothers of Sparta by Dawn S. Davies, The Hour of the Ox by Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, Magic City Gospel by Ashley M. Jones, and All My Heroes are Broke by Ariel Francisco are just a few of the brilliant debuts on the literary horizon.
What are you reading right now?
For a class I teach, I’m re-reading Jon Pineda’s memoir, Sleep in Me, Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place, and Eula Biss’s Notes from No Man’s Land. (All of these books, by the way, do to me what the best books do—they strike at my core and make deep contact.) I’m also reading Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa by Rigoberto Gonzalez in joyful anticipation of his visit to our campus later this week and a collection of poems I’m planning to review by Annie Christain called Tall As You Are Tall Between Them, which is eerie and wondrous and oracular.
What project are you working on now?
In poetry, I have a couple of collections in circulation, DRIFT and Must Be Present to Win, and I’m working on a new volume called Quick Change Artist. In the lyric essay realm, I’m circulating a collection called The Hourglass: Meditations on the Body as well as a more narrative creative nonfiction collection called The Missing Sister & Other Stories: A Coming of Age, and a work of personal essay/cultural critique called The State of Our Union: A Collage. I’m also working on a collection of essays called The Regulars and another work of autobiographical storytelling called Other Peoples’ Mothers.
Anything else our readers might want to know about you?
As I write this, I’ve spent time in 43 states, but I’m going to Alabama for the first time next week, so soon I will have been to 44! I am resolved to visit all 50 states (airports don’t count), which leaves Vermont, Michigan, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alaska for future adventures, whether literary or otherwise.
Where can our readers connect with you online?
www.juliemariewade.com and @manyplums
JULIE MARIE WADE is the author of eight collections of poetry and prose, including Catechism: A Love Story (Noctuary Press, 2016) and When I Was Straight: Poems (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2014). Her first lyric essay collection, Wishbone: A Memoir in Fractures (Colgate University Press, 2010; Bywater Books, 2014), won the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Memoir, and her newest collection of poems, SIX (Red Hen Press, 2016), was selected by C.D. Wright as the winner of the AROHO/ To the Lighthouse Poetry Prize. Other volumes include Small Fires: Essays (Sarabande Books, 2011), selected for the Linda Bruckheimer Series in Kentucky Literature, and Postage Due: Poems & Prose Poems (White Pine Press, 2013), winner of the Marie Alexander Poetry Series. Wade teaches in the creative writing program at Florida International University and reviews regularly for The Rumpus and Lambda Literary Review. She is married to Angie Griffin and lives on Hollywood Beach.