An Interview with Rebecca Siegel

Rebecca Siegel lives and writes in Vermont. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Moist Poetry JournalBoats Against the CurrentVisual VerseBloodroot Literary MagazineDust Poetry MagazineAnalog MagazineZócalo Public Square, Container’s Multitudes series, and elsewhere.

Rebecca’s poems Exposure and Mothering in the time of COVID appear in Pinhole Poetry’s launch issue.

Would you like to tell us a little bit more about your poems? For instance, how or why you wrote them, or perhaps provide some extra context? 

Like many of my poems, “Exposure” began with several disparate observations and obsessions that met up on the page when I sat down to write. When I read about Regina Valkenborgh’s beer can pinhole camera that captured 8 years of the sun’s path across the sky, I couldn’t let go of the thought of that long span of time condensed into a single image, the notion of that open staring eye of the camera. Then of course I thought about my own transit of time (don’t we always?) and all the mundane and miraculous things that happen in a year or a day or overnight that we collect into an open-eye image that becomes our life, even if they leave no evidence or memory. 

“Mothering in the time of COVID” came from the feeling of guilt I and many parents feel about the things that happen to our children, especially the things we have a hand in. We start out thinking we can protect our children from everything bad if we’re careful, observant, and patient enough. And then we begin to see how we are complicit in the harms that come to them. The images in the poem are from when my daughter was small, but I wrote the poem as I watched her, now a young woman, navigating her life in the mess of the pandemic, climate change, social injustice, and political acrimony.  A mess that she and her generation had no part in creating.

Do you have a collection of poetry or even a single poem that acts as a touchstone or a lodestar?

It’s difficult to choose just one, but right this minute, I’d say reading Jane Kenyon’s “Let Evening Come” always resets me when I feel like I can’t find my way.

If you didn’t write poetry, how do you think you might access the same fulfillments that poetry offers in your life? 

I find some of the same sort of creative fulfillment in my two other creative obsessions:  baking bread and taking photos (which, oddly enough, kind of grew together because I learned about photography when taking pictures of bread I was baking for a project). In all three, there’s the element of the desire to create something meaningful (or beautiful or delicious), and then there’s the serendipity of how it actually turns out. Light, temperature, and time are essential ingredients for them all.

What are you working on now?

One thing I’m working on is a long-term project of doing erasures from each page of Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport. I’m about 50 poems/pages in after two years, so this may take the rest of my life. I’m also working on assembling a chapbook of found poems I wrote based on Ernest Shackleton’s South. And I hope to begin work later this year on my first full-length collection.

How do you make space for poetry in your daily routine? 

I find it really hard to do. I always want all the other things done so I can clear a mental space for writing, but of course that never happens, so writing always seems to be delayed unless I force time for it. The one thing that works for me is to commit to writing something every single day for a specific span of time (often a month), often with others. I see it as a dedicated sprint where I have a defined start and end point, and then I give myself some fallow time afterwards. If I set myself deadlines and check-ins for that span, I find it relatively easy to make writing part of my daily routine. Otherwise, I can easily get to the end of a long day and find I’ve written nothing at all.

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