19 January 2009

Spotlight on.....Lisa Forrest

The new year is upon us and after some careful consideration, I've decided I needed to change things up a bit. I had this really lovely email exchange with my friend Lisa Forrest and she said, "Lauren: why don't you go further with your blog-- interview people.... " She also had a lot of other sage advice- and now my mind is reeling with all the possibilities. It's like a little ball of light opened up over my head and the angels were singing-"aaaaahhhhhhh." Then, there was a "duh, why didn't I think of that?" realization. So- with this post, I'm so thrilled to initiate the first of what I hope to be many interviews with friends.

And of course, because it was her idea, my first interviewee is Lisa Forrest. Lisa and I met at the wedding of a mutual friend back in 2003?.... She sort of rescued me from the doldrums of moving back to a city where I grew up but no longer knew anyone by taking me under her wing and bringing me in to her circle of friends. Among many other things, Lisa is a fantastic creative collaborator, a talented poet and writer, the creator of the Rooftop Poetry Club at Buffalo State College where she is an academic librarian, and a singer/songwriter with the band, Shady Grove. Wintering is the name of her blog.

Tell me about all the different interests you have and how you fit them into your life?
Well, I've been writing mostly poetry since I was around 10 years old. But over the years, I've picked up other interests...I enjoy writing radio commentary (writing to be heard is so different from writing to be read) and I've recently started exploring a bit with the "flash fiction" genre. My biggest love though is music. I started playing the guitar a couple of years ago (the guitar was a gift from my father, who was also a musician and poet in his own right) and decided to teach myself how to sing. So, I've been taking lessons weekly from this beautiful 85 year old woman-- who has given me a singing voice! So, now I write my own songs too. Again, writing songs is completely different than writing a poem-- although I have tweaked some of my poetry into song lyrics. As far as finding time for all of these things: It is a constant struggle (especially when you have a day job)-- but like anything else you deeply care about... you just make it a part of your life. I usually write in the mornings when I'm pumped up on caffeine...and music is done at night when I'm feeling mellow.

What is your writing process?
For poetry, usually something sets me off—once it was a tumble weed going across the 90 E (“This is our love song tumbling”), once it was a pile of logs that looked like bones (‘there are more bones than you can count”)…and from there, I sit down at the computer and take lines from my journals that fit this image somehow. Then I play around with the language on the page—adding and moving and tweaking—for HOURS and DAYS. I read everything out loud a gazillion times over and change it some more. My poem “Wintering” took me about 2 years to get it right.

What is your day-to-day schedule?
I work a full time job as an academic librarian—so that takes up most of my daily schedule. I’m at my best in the mornings, so I wake up early (around 6 am) and use that early-bird energy to my advantage. There’s nothing like early morning solitude. In the warmer months, I like to go for early walks. When I pass other morning birds, we sort of greet one another knowingly…like “yeah, it’s our secret.” People always ask me “how are you so productive?” and I really think part of it is realizing when your best time is to work. Some people are their best at night—whereas I’m usually in bed by 10 pm.

Do you write, sing, research, imagine, ______ every day?
I try and do something creative everyday, yes. Even when I’m crazy busy. While studying to be a librarian, I used to write poems in class (totally influenced by the lectures!). You know how people always bring a travel journal along on big trips? I think everyday should be treated like a “big trip.” You’d be surprised how much material is around us (that seems mundane at first) that can be used in art. Studying language poetry taught me this. If you are struggling to find time for your art, try carrying a journal around with you all the time. It’s all one life—so instead of compartmentalizing when and where you can work on your art, carry it into everything that you do.

What has been your greatest challenge, creatively?
I think I might be experiencing it now! My book “To the Eaves” was published last spring, and since then I’ve been struggling with what to do next. I’ve been working on some new “flash fiction” and I still feel like I’m floundering a bit with it. I’ve also been writing really sad poems all my life, and know it’s time to try something new—but writing outside of that sadness is also difficult for me. I’m doing it—but I am conscious of the need to evolve! Also, learning music has been something that I’ve really had to work at…I love it more than anything…but it is a lot of work. Poetry comes naturally to me, where as learning the guitar and figuring out how to sing is WORK. I take weekly music lessons and practice almost everyday. In the beginning, I wanted to give up (and I think my neighbors wanted me to give it up as well!)…but something (stubbornness) kept me at it. I’m really glad that I persevered through learning those first chords and all of those voice exercises!

What has been your greatest reward, creatively?
I would have to say that would be writing my first song, and then hearing it performed by other people. It’s been really wonderful to write lyrics and put it all to music. I also love singing—but didn’t always have a voice. I’ve been working at it constantly—going to lessons and doing all of these crazy voice exercises- and my voice has really improved. So, I think singing now in my band, Shady Grove, and having strangers come up and say they love my voice. That is really rewarding to me….

It’s also been incredibly rewarding for me to organize all of the community poetry projects that I’ve done—especially the Card Catalog Poetry Project. I love collaborating with other artists and have been so blessed to have so many wonderful artist friends.

Oh, and the book—that was a really wonderful thing to see come to life as well. I’m so grateful to Geoffrey Gatza, who runs BlazeVox Press, for giving me the opportunity to publish my work!

How do you get through bouts of writers block or self doubt-- if you have either?

Hmmm. Wine helps. Or, if I’m nervous before a gig-- a shot of whiskey!

What projects are you working on now and thinking about for the future?
Right now, I’m working with my amazing boyfriend, Andrew Rippeon, on a letterpress project. We’re making a handset book of my bird poems on the “old school” letterpress. He’s such a talented bookmaker, and I am so excited to be collaborating with him. As far as the future goes, I see myself getting into more autobiographical flash fiction. Musically, I’d like to keep going with my song writing, keep working with the band, and also try and to find a duet partner!

How did the Rooftop Poetry Club come into being and where do you want to see it go?
I had this idea to start a poetry club at the library (my way of trying to not compartmentalize my life- but instead bring all of the pieces together!)…and so I called a meeting and found a few supporters. From there, it was just a matter of promoting it. Dennis Reed has been instrumental in creating the Website and doing the podcasts. The club itself has had a life of its own. Poets are always looking for venues, so it has never been hard for me to find readers….If I have an idea for a workshop or project, I just try it! If it doesn’t work out, “oh well”…we try something different next time. All of our past projects are listed on our webpage .

What are you inspired by--how do you feed your creativity?
Nature really inspires me…so taking a walk or sitting by the water usually stirs something up. Being around other artists also helps me to feel more creative. I love my friends—each of them is so unique and full of beautiful energy! And reading really inspires what I write of course. I just finished Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and that led me to write a new poem that had sort of the same empty world feeling…reading is important.

What's on your reading list right now?
I have this problem of reading numerous books at one time. So, it takes me a long while to get through an entire book! Right now, I am reading “As I Lay Dying” by Faulkner, "One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, poems by Lorraine Niedecker, and diving in an out of “Swann’s Way” by Marcel Proust.

Who and what have been the most influential people, writers, books and mentors, in your life?
I tend to think that we all take a little piece of everyone we love, if that makes sense. Maybe one person introduces you to the poems of Creeley, and one to the music of Hank Williams….and then there’s someone who says “What! You’ve never had sushi?!” and so on…it’s all life. I’m influenced by it all. Good and bad.

Lisa A. Forrest is a Senior Assistant Librarian for SUNY College at Buffalo and the founding member of the school's Rooftop Poetry Club. She is the recipient of the 2008 Excellence in Library Service Award from the Western New York Library Resources Council (WNYLRC), and a 2007 and 2008 Pushcart prize nominee. Lisa's writing has appeared in a variety of local and national publications, including American Libraries, Artvoice, Buffalo News, eco-poetics, foursquare, Lake Affect, Not Just Air Literary eJournal, WordWrights, and Yellow Edenwald Field. Her commentaries have been featured on WBFO, Buffalo's local National Public Radio station. Lisa's first collection of poems, To the Eaves (2008), is available from BlazeVox Books.

(Photo Credit: Paul D. Van Hoy II)

Thanks Lisa!!