blackbirdonline journalSpring 2017  Vol. 16 No. 1

Contributors on Process

spacer Graham Hillard
   The Best Library in the World

Cindy King
   Different Lyrics, Same Melody

Caitlin McGill
   Blindly Threading the Needle

Colin Orr
   Risky Business

Dustin Pearson
   The Stable Ambivalence

Heidi Vornbrock Roosa
   A Knowledge of Crisis


Since 2007, we have invited contributors from the annual Introductions Loop to comment on their creative processes and sources of inspiration. For these emerging writers, stimulus takes many forms: careful attention to instinctive and recurring questions, a commitment to intentional observation, persistent drafting and redrafting. In this issue, Graham Hillard, Cindy King, Caitlin McGill, Colin Orr, Dustin Pearson, and Heidi Vornbrock Roosa continue the tradition in “Tracking the Muse.”

Graham Hillard’s poems arise from the space where determination and stubbornness intersect with interest. Here, he argues, muse and method are inextricable; his inspiration comes from “a door with a lock” and “a computer without email access,” but only after reading, researching, and fanning the spark of curiosity. In a beloved library or anywhere else, poetic stimulus, for Hillard, “live[s] alongside the science textbooks and dictionaries of world history.”

Cindy King roots her creative impulse in openness, acknowledging that to “start from a place of ‘knowing’ . . . blocks the path to discovery.” She often looks, too, at “the poetry of others” for examples; standout poems serve as a “framework, foundation, or scaffold” through which her poems push out, toward “memory and feeling.” And while the process of composition changes constantly, the impulse to “make more observations and fewer judgments,” King argues, is essential.

Caitlin McGill sees the task of assembly—within the individual essay and the larger collection—as an opportunity for meaning to emerge from juxtaposition. Writing, she argues, is instinctive. Experience stokes a particular line of questioning, then the subconscious mind takes over, elucidating “lingering” questions. It is her task, ultimately, to “connect [her] mental landscape with the physical one,” to tease out the connections intrinsic to what’s witnessed and what it begs.

Colin Orr often begins a story in the realm of “what if,” allowing conjecture to mature toward plot and narrative. From there, he considers his drafts to be a crucial investment, composing page after page in search of something unsettling “just below the surface of the material.” Once discovered, Orr’s task then becomes one of compression and excision, carving the story down to expose what previous drafts revealed.

Dustin Pearson is less concerned with the literal, with “writing how things are or were.” Rather, he writes toward feeling and what emotions “might look like at their extremes.” His poetry aims to destabilize his subjects and render them uniquely, and to elevate lived trauma through interiority. And on a broader scale, his work seeks to capture a stabilizing “ambivalence” that balances “violence . . . on either end.”

Heidi Vornbrock Roosa draws inspiration from those around her, often looking to “someone known . . . or known only in part” and extrapolating toward character and narrative. Her work also frequently coalesces around theme or “the small seed of a wondering,” but it’s human connection—particularly the personalities encountered in her work as a researcher—that has inspired a seven-year composition process and a hard-fought struggle to craft multidimensional characters.  end