Sweet Poetry: Q&A with Christen Leppla

Today’s Q&A is with Christen Leppla, a contributor of poetry to issues #001 and #002 of Sugared Water.

Christen Leppla currently lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Originally from Cincinnati, OH, she traveled to Lake Superior to write, teach, and study as a Poetry/Fiction MFA candidate at Northern Michigan University.  Christen lives with her dog, Dr. Watson, who spends most of his time sleeping while she works on her first novel-length project.  Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry Quarterly, Sugared Water, and East Coast Literary Review.

a little taste of “Some Kind of Reflectionfrom SW#001:

There are trees that grow up from my toes
with millions of rings in their trunks, I am sure.
If I could pull them through my heels like splinters,
I would pull apart my muscle and reach between the folds,
snap my bones like an apple tree limb
and touch the pith, the part that is soft,
if only to know it for myself.

SW: What are you currently reading?
CL: Right now I’m reading Tampa by Alissa Nutting. I just moved to a new apartment, and this novel is the reason my boxes are still unpacked.

SW: What are you working on now?
CL: I’m working on a novel set in Southwest Ohio, a region that crosses over into what is technically Appalachia. I’m playing with what it means to be part of an Appalachian community, but also resistant to and separate from Appalachian culture. It’ll be the first novel I’ll have seen to completion and I’m excited, scared, irritated, and hopeful about the book—all of the normal emotions that hit a writer in the middle of a novel project, I think. I’m also working on getting a chapbook together, pulling poetry I’ve written over the last couple years and writing new poems that I hope will find their way in.

SW: What writers/works have inspired you?
CL: Too many to name them all. I’m always inspired by what I read in some way, whether it’s the way a poet breaks a line, the way a writer pulls me in to sit in the space of a sentence, or a character that makes me feel something unexpected. I recently read Bulawayo’s We Need New Names, and it did all of those things for me. Ever since I read Beloved as an undergrad, Toni Morrison has been at the top of the list.

SW: Where do you seek inspiration?
CL: Everyday things. The other day I was at the airport and an older man sitting alone took out a package of peanut M&Ms and dumped the whole thing into his shirt pocket. He then proceeded to pick them out one by one and ate them while he waited for his plane. Right away, I knew I would write about that man and his M&Ms.

I read a lot.

I also try to be a sponge around writers who know more than I do. Being in a MFA program has put me in a place where I’m surrounded by talented people who have incredible ideas and are accomplishing ambitious goals. They’ve been a huge source of inspiration for me over the past year. They push me to take risks and imagine more for my writing.

SW: Would you talk a bit about your writing process?
CL: It’s funny, I have always tried to force a process on myself. I used to think, “Writers always wake up and write in the early hours of the morning,” or, “if I’m going to be a writer, I need to write every singe day without exception.” Once I stopped forcing myself to adhere to someone else’s process, I wrote more. I don’t write everyday, though I try to do revision or research on days I don’t write. Reading is also part of my process, whether that be nonfiction as research or something that achieves a technique I’m striving for in my own writing. I spend more time revising a piece than I do writing the first draft. When I think I’m finished with something, I put it away for a while so I can get some distance and be more objective during my final read-through. That said, I try to be open to my process changing. What works for this project may not work for the next.  I’m okay with that. Maintaining schedules has never been something I’m good at.

SW: With what are you obsessed?
CL: My dog, Dr. Watson, and coffee bags. They’re like tea bags, but with coffee! One of the greatest inventions of our time.

Christen Leppla | SW#001 | SW#002

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