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A Mixed Berry Galette: An Interview with Featured Author Cathryn Shea

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Cathryn Shea’s poem, “Procreation or Not,’  is  is featured in this year’s summer issue. We asked her some questions about writing. Here’s what she said.

Q: Do you have any super secret rituals that help your writing process?

A: I pick over the bones of a bountiful smorgasbord of poems, scavenging metaphors and similes and  evocative language. Instead of buying clothes and trinkets, I buy poetry books and magazines. Like so  many poets, I store scraps and odd bits from years ago. I have a notebook handy at all times and I write  crazy thoughts and observations down. Once I’ve written piles of images and phrases in my notebook, I  meditate on (or actually stare at!) the words and after awhile I feel an arc and start building lines and  stanzas and move things all around. I obsess over words and constantly dig for the roots and when they  were first used in English. I also get lost in Roget’s Thesaurus. After a poem starts to take shape, I  worry over every comma and preposition. I hack at line breaks and stanzas. I kill my darlings. Nothing  is safe until an inexplicable moment when I feel a poem is complete. Then things settle down and I  move on to the next heap.

Q: What parts of your writing have you put the most focus on?

A: Because I’ve been in the computer industry for so many years, it has sometimes felt like the wrong part  of my brain has developed. I’ve worked on specs and extremely technical projects and documentation  for years. When I was little, I diagrammed sentences until there was no tomorrow. Spelling and  grammar come naturally for me. I work the hardest on simile, and ultimately metaphor. I also work on  sound. I value the feedback I get from fellow poets and poetry appreciators.

Q: When did you first become serious about writing? Do you have other artistic talents?

A: As a child I kept secret notebooks in which I drew and wrote all sorts of weird stuff. I wrote poems and  short stories in high school and college. I tried several times to start a novel. However, after being a  mom, wife, and worker, and having so many roles in life, one day I actually said to myself, “I want to  write poetry.’ That was probably about twenty years ago. You could say this was an epiphany. I felt  that poetry was the best path for me in writing.

I completed an Art Minor in college and I loved working with clay and metal especially. Over the  years, I’ve mostly done beading and wire wrapping and crochet. I went through a phase a few years ago  of selling bracelets that I made on eBay. I have a good stock of charms, beads, and findings left over. I  love charms.

Q: What types of books (or other art) keep you filled with a sense of wonder about literature?

A: I always have best sellers in fiction and non-fiction on my Kindle and I read approximately a book a  week. I download books from the library. You have to get on a waiting list for the most popular books.  I read everything from Pulitzer Prize-winning books to fairly literary books to “fun’ reads in many  genres. I even read book reviews. I do not read romance or what I consider to be too mushy. Some of  the recent books that I’ve loved are “The Martian,’ “All the Light You Cannot See,’ “Everything I  Never Told You,’ and even a very dark novel by Adam Johnson about North Korea, “The Orphan  Master’s Son.’ I love reading a diverse assortment of books. I also have stacks and stacks of poetry  anthologies, magazines, and books I’ve picked up all around me. I go to readings and I am part of  several small poetry groups that meet regularly. I go to a “free writing’ group that a friend runs in a  small community center in West Marin. I love going to local small art galleries too. We have poetry  readings in galleries, cafes, and libraries.

Q: If this poem were a pie, what kind would it be?

A: This poem would be a mixed berry galette from the lady at the Fairfax farmer’s market.

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Cathryn Shea’s poetry is forthcoming in Absinthe, and has appeared in MARGIE, Gargoyle, Blue Fifth Review, Quiddity, Quercus, Sierra Nevada Review, Soundings East, Poet Lore, POEM, and elsewhere. Cathryn’s chapbook, Snap Bean, was released in 2014 by CC.Marimbo of Berkeley. She was a merit finalist for the Atlanta Review 2013 International Poetry Competition. Cathryn is included in the 2012 anthology Open to Interpretation: Intimate Landscape. In 2004, she received the Marjorie J. Wilson Award judged by Charles Simic.Cathryn served as editor for Marin Poetry Center Anthology, and worked as a principal technical writer at Oracle. She lives in Fairfax, CA with her husband George. She is a fourth-generation Californian, having grown up and lived in northern California and the northwest most of her life.

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