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Guest Bloggers

The Poet's Notebook -- [by Andrew McCarron]

Interview with Carley Moore

Carley Author Photo 2020

[Guest author note: Of all the contemporary poets and writers I know, few are as bracingly honest, funny, and heartfully transgressive as Carley Moore. In addition to being an NYU professor, and proud mother, Carley is author of the novel The Not Wives (Feminist Press, September 2019), the essay collection, 16 Pills (Tinderbox Editions, 2018), the poetry chapbook, Portal Poem (Dancing Girl Press, 2017), and the young adult novel, The Stalker Chronicles (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2012). I am so appreciative that Carley agreed to be interviewed for this blog. Thanks Carley!]


AM: When did you begin keeping a notebook as part of your creative process?  

CM: I started keeping a diary when I was in the third grade. After a hospital stay, my parents bought me a small plaid diary with a matching pencil from the hospital gift shop. That diary was probably the beginning of my journal writing, which after high school and college morphed into more of a space for my creative process and lesson planning. 

AM: What roles have your notebooks played in your creative process over the years?

CM: They are essential to everything I write, whether it’s poetry, fiction, or essays. I do some freewriting at the beginning and end of every writing session and it helps me hold onto what I’ve been working on that day and also figure out what might come next. A few years ago, I did The Artist’s Way, and that really helped me get messier in my journal, and introduced me to the concept of “Morning Pages,” which are just three pages of mess, never to be looked at again. I didn’t stick with the idea of never returning to the writing, but I’m grateful for the encouragement to be a messy writer, to write almost as if painting. I’ve since moved into bigger notebooks and paintbrush like pens and I really love that.

AM: Can you reflect on an instance in which you wrote something into your notebook that ended up being the final version with minimal editing when you got around to typing it out?

CM: Some parts of my dissertation were free-written and stayed much the same when I moved from notes to the final document.  Poems often undergo minimal transformation too. I lately write poems as Instagram posts and those are completely as is/whatever tumbles out of me. Typed into the Insta platform and not my notebook, but really the same idea.

AM: What happens when you write in a notebook that doesn’t happen when you type?

CM: I try very hard to bring the freedom of the notebook into the computer, like I want the typing to be as messy as the stuff in the notebook, but invariably, I tend to get a little fussier with sentences and sentence structure when I type. In the notebook, everything is a lot more fragmented and list-like and I don’t really worry very much about sentence structure or grammar.

AM: Would you like your notebooks to be read by others, or are they private?

CM: They are private. I don’t want anyone else to read them. Not necessarily because they are full of secrets although they do contain some of the worst—grouchiest, whiniest, crabbiest—parts of me, but mostly because they’re my space to play and do whatever and they are not anything finished or for the public. I give my students the same space in their private freewriting. We all need something that is completely our own and is just never bothered or scrutinized by anyone. 

AM: What do you do with your notebooks once they are full or finished?

CM: There are different places on my bookshelves where I have them. Many older ones are in a big plastic bin in my hallway closet. I don’t tend to reread them or take them out. I’m not interested in them in that way. I do look at the previous notebook for a couple of weeks because there’s cross over and especially with novels, I may have taken notes that I need to remember or hold onto to keep going. 

AM: Can you reflect on the experience of seeing the notebooks of a poet whose work you admire?

CM: My great grandmother kept a diary that I’m hoping to inherit at some point. It’s very mundane, but I love it. She wrote things like, “And then we walked up over the hill.” I also love the look and feel of journals and notebooks and the kinds of pens people have used. I may have seen some of Emily Dickson’s fascicles which I became obsessed with for a while—these are the hand-stitched chapbooks she made of her own work. I think I also say Emerson or Thoreau’s journals a long time ago, which were fascinating too. 

AM: Do you incorporate non-linguistic elements into your notebooks (e.g., line drawings, doodles, collage, painting, etc.)? Is there something that makes your notebooks or your “notebook practice” distinctive?

CM: I doodle a bit and make a lot of squiggly marks, but mostly it’s just messy cursive. I went to Catholic School until 3rd grade even though my family isn’t Catholic and handwriting was very serious, a whole subject unto itself. I was crowned (with a Burger King crown!) handwriting queen in second grade and was very proud of that. My writing up until a couple of years ago, has always been very neat. I’m glad to have freed myself from that tidy work. 

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