Can writing with your wrong hand beat writer’s block? Are maternity leave and creativity at all compatible? Danielle Pieratti, The Dewdrop’s featured poet this week, knows. The author of ‘Fugitives‘, a collection that won the 2016 Idaho Prize and the 2017 Connecticut Book Award for Poetry, she has also published two chapbooks: ‘By the Dog Star’ and ‘The Post, The Cage, The Palisade’. Danielle teaches English in Connecticut where she lives with her husband and two children. Here she talks to the Dewdrop about the challenges of writing and putting a book together over a period of several years.
1. How do you write?
Much of my writing nowadays takes place on a schedule and with limited time, so I do a lot of writing on the computer. But if I had more time to write, I’d do more drafting on paper. I’m really fascinated by mark-making and process work; during a stint of writer’s block in college I taught myself to draft with my left hand (I’m right-handed), and I still have all my left-handed writing journals since the 1990s.
2. Why do you write?
I write because I’m a different person on paper than I am in the world–I’m better at writing than at being. I was encouraged at a young age and was very fortunate to find myself in multiple educational settings with rich, supportive creative writing communities. Teachers played a huge role in fostering my sense of self as a writer–now that I’m a teacher myself this role is something I’m tangibly aware of on a daily basis.
3. How did your latest collection, Fugitives, come about?
Putting the book together was a long, fumbling process, because the poems spanned periods of personal and stylistic change that made it difficult to assemble them cohesively. Over a ten-year period I probably sent multiple publishers some version of the manuscript three separate times. I went through many drafts and structural alterations, and often I found myself whittling the collection down so much I no longer had a book-length manuscript. It finally came together when I was home on maternity leave with my daughter in 2015 and had some time to sit with it.
“I write because I’m a different person on paper than I am in the world–I’m better at writing than at being.”
4. What aspects of your own life contributed to writing that collection?
I wrote the earliest poems in the book when I was still a graduate student in my early twenties, before I got married, had kids, or started a career, so ultimately my own transition from girlhood to womanhood became an anchor for the book.
5. Which themes do you find yourself coming back to?
Although my first book focuses mainly on the experiences of women, lately I’ve been drawn to writing about issues of equity, violence, and social justice. The book I’m currently working on mostly explores shame. That said, I find it really difficult to control what my poems are about–if there are any consistent themes, I’m likely the last to realize it.
6. Who has inspired you?
There are a lot of writers whose work inspires me, but a handful stand out not just for their poems but also their life’s work. I’m especially inspired by poets like Naomi Shihab Nye and Marilyn Nelson, who have delved into children’s literature and K-12 education; and Claudia Rankine’s collaborations with artists and her Racial Imaginary Institute also really excite me.
“I find it really difficult to control what my poems are about–if there are any consistent themes, I’m likely the last to realize it.”
7. Do you share your work in progress with people who are close to you?
Yes–I have a trusted writing group that gathers about every other month to share ongoing work and offer feedback. I also am the Writing Programs Leader for the Connecticut Writing Project, which allows me to lead Saturday workshops and weekend retreats for teacher-writers about once a month. Both of these collaborations have helped me continue to make writing a priority, despite so many other competing family and professional commitments.
8. Is it difficult to make work about current relationships?