Poet in the Mirror: Paige Lewis
We’re so proud to share some insight into the lives and hearts of today’s poets with our Poet In The Mirror series. This week, Paige Lewis—author of last year’s fabulous Space Struck (from Sarabande Books)—shares the joy of finding courage in submissions, what it’s like in “poetry heaven,” and a great bit of advice: write one poem at a time. We’re also excited because Paige is one of the current judges for the Award for New Poets, closing this weekend!
On Rejection & Revision
Paige Lewis: It’s hard to give a particular answer of time here because the manuscript went through so many changes over the years. The manuscript that became Space Struck had been out to presses for around 6 months before getting accepted. But I had sent out earlier proto versions of the collection for years! And I’m so glad I got those early rejections because it just wasn’t ready yet. I’m lucky to have had so much extra time to spend editing and writing new poems for the book.
I’m such an anxious person–it’s so strange to think that the Paige Lewis who used to cry when tagged out in tee-ball grew into someone who actively sends work out knowing that a great deal of it will be rejected. But here I am sending poems out and getting rejections and revising and then sending poems out again!
On Becoming “Professional”
I didn’t start writing poetry until my junior year of college. I was certain I was a fiction writer, but I had to take a poetry workshop for my degree. After that first workshop, I switched over to writing poetry and haven’t really looked back. I just wanted to stay in school to learn more about poetry and poets for as long as possible.
And I’ve been so lucky, because after getting my PhD, I’ve had the opportunity to teach poetry to university students. I’m in poetry heaven—I get to work with other poets and help them discover new works and experiment with their own writing. It sort of feels like I’ve never left school.
Reading and writing poetry brings me so much joy, it helps me to feel connected with others. And I don’t know that I think of poetry as being a professional endeavor as much as I think of it as a necessity.
On Re-Energizing (Even During a Pandemic!)
I find that I work best on a schedule. It’s hard for me to just jump into writing if I haven’t written for a few weeks. I always freeze up a little because there’s this weird internalized pressure to create something amazing right away. But if I sit down to write every day, that pressure melts away, and then I have a lot more fun with my writing.
When I need to re-energize, I like to do other creative activities that aren’t directly tied to writing. I paint a lot. And I’ve just started learning how to play the ukulele, which is way harder than I thought it’d be.
I don’t know anyone who isn’t struggling to create during the pandemic. It’s disruptive for sure, but I’m lucky to have writer friends to help me through it.
Some Advice for Emerging Poets
I’m bad at offering advice, but I can offer my experience. When I was writing the poems that turned into Space Struck, I didn’t write them thinking about how they would fit together in a book. I wrote them because I had to write them. We all have our obsessions, and those obsessions come through in our poems (whether we want them to or not). And my obsessions ended up being the threads that connect the poems to one another in Space Struck. I guess what I’m saying is, focusing on just one poem at a time was super helpful for me. Maybe it could help other poets, too.
Paige Lewis is the author of Space Struck (Sarabande Books, 2019). Their poems have appeared in Poetry, American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. Lewis is the curator of the YouTube series Ours Poetica. They currently teach at Purdue University and in the low-residency MFA program at Randolph college.