An Interview with Nolan Liebert

Hey, guys, this week we’re talking to the awesome Nolan Liebert. Besides being an amazing author and poet, Nolan is also Editor in Chief of Pidgeonholes, a journal that consistently puts out fantastic work. You can find some of Nolan’s prose poems right here at Unbroken. We featured The Petals in our Inaugural Issue, First Blue in Issue 2 (March/April, 2015), and Reducto ad Humanis in Issue 3 (May/June, 2015). And we nominated First Blue for The Pushcart Prize, and also for Best of the Net. Be sure you read that one, it’s a beautiful piece that really stays with you.

RLB: Nolan, thanks so much for being a part of our series. Let’s start with what attracts you to prose poetry? What does it do for you?

NL: I like forms that live between expectations. Prose poetry, inhabiting the space between flash and poetry which currently make up the bulk of my publications, allows me the freedom to explore ideas in new ways, or at least ways that are new to me. Traditional narratives are often restricted by the desire for a linear chronology. Lineated poems are often restricted by form, or at least by formal elements. By denying these restrictions, prose poetry offers a freedom that isn’t easily matched by other forms of writing.

RLB: There really is a freedom there, and I think it allows for a stronger, unbroken (pun not intended, but I like it) expression. Could you share your process with us for writing a prose poem? Do you start with an idea, a feeling, an emotion, a title? How does it work for you?

NL: I get phrases stuck in my head that I can’t shake. Sometimes the words form an image, sometimes they represent a feeling, but when they happen I know I need to use them. These phrases become the seeds for much of my fiction and poetry, including prose poems. My first step after the initial idea is to find a grounding element. With so much freedom, it’s easy to let the words get away from you. So, I find a central image or theme that seems to fit with the phrase rattling between my ears and free-write about it. From there it’s a sequence of edits to trim, refine language and diction, strengthen images, and build a proper conclusion, which the initial drafts often lack. It’s intense work, but never tedious.

RLB: I like that you find that central image or theme to keep you focused. So, I know that you write in lots of different forms. What makes you decide that a piece needs to be in prose poem form, rather than a lined piece of poetry or flash fiction?

NL: Truthfully, I’m never sure what form something is going to take. Some flash pieces have wound up as lined poems, some poems have wound up as short stories. A lot of people will tell you to choose what form/POV/etc works best for a piece and then work within those constraints. While this idea offers some control, it also imposes unnecessary limitations on a work early in its development. My prose poems, or even some of my flash that borders on poetry, such as “Bloom” in Plasma Frequency or “Oil and Cherries” in freeze frame fiction, would have been very different had I decided to limit myself to a given form.

RLB: Totally agree, putting constraints on a piece in the early stages is not a good idea. Any tips for someone new to prose poetry who would like to give it a shot?

NL: Just try it. Seriously. Don’t limit yourself. Don’t sit back and analyze it. Don’t balk at it because it has that scary/pretentious label of  “poetry” attached. Sentiment is okay, but don’t get sappy – prose poems aren’t journal entries or high-school love letters, they’re art, just like any other form of literature. Rip the language apart and put it back together. Gut your images. Shoot your themes from a cannon. Respect the form, trust the form, and it won’t let you down.

RLB: Super advice! I love it. Before you go, can you tell us what you’re working on now? What will we be seeing from you in the near future?

NL: I have lots of ideas and projects percolating. First is The Ballad of Lucy and Lily, an experimental chapbook that crunches elements of science fiction, fantasy, and religion in an attempt to examine the ideas of freedom, identity, and growth. I’ve been working on it for over a year, and it is currently undergoing a relatively major overhaul after some initial rejections. The second is a hybrid chapbook in the vein of Thomas’ The Map of Love, comprised of sudden fiction and poetry surrounding the themes of loss, ghosts, and the resonant parts of our lives that connect us to others. It will contain some currently published work, some currently unpublished work, and at some point it may get a title other than silo // bunker. I talk about most of my other projects on my blog and twitter pretty regularly, so anyone interested can always follow along with what I’m up to.

RLB: Sounds great! Guys, be sure to follow Nolan and watch his blog for his work, and stop by Pidgeonholes, too. Nolan publishes some incredible work over there. Nolan, thanks again for being a part of this, and a part of Unbroken. We wish you huge successes in all your writing projects and also with your journal.

NOLAN LIEBERT lives with his wife and children in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Their house is not a covered wagon and has indoor plumbing. His proximity to the Sanford Underground Research Facility feeds his obsession with dark matter, as his farmboy roots fed his obsession with plants, herbs, and alchemy. His literary experiments appear or are forthcoming in An Alphabet of Embers (Stone Bird Press), My Cruel Invention (Meerkat Press), Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry, and other publications. You can find him on Twitter at @nliebert.