Welcome to the three hundred and eighth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with poet and essayist Robbi Nester. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Robbi. Please tell us something about you.
Robbi: I am a poet, primarily. I also write personal essays. I do not seem to be able to produce fiction, though I love to read the stuff, and enjoy teaching it too. In graduate school, I wrote my dissertation on Nabokov (University of California, Irvine, Ph.D., M.F.A.).
Morgen: I’m the same with poetry – I finish them (on the occasions I write them) but they’re rarely ‘done’. We have our niches, don’t we? Where have you published to date?
Robbi: I have had a number of poems published, mostly in online journals. I publish quite a lot in the journal Qarrtsiluni, which has themed issues and guest editors. My poems have appeared in the most recent issue, Imitation, and before that Imprisonment, Health, Water, Insecta, Hidden Messages, going back to 2008. Because there have been a number of different editors, it has been almost like publishing in various journals.
I have also published in Inlandia, a journal that publishes writing related to the region in which I live, Southern California. But I also published a poem in Floyd County Moonshine, a print journal based in Floyd County, VA, a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains which happens to be my husband’s hometown. That is also a region in which I have spent some time, having gone to college at Hollins College (now University), near Roanoke, VA.
The journal Caesura published one of my poems a couple of years ago. I’ve also published a review of David Landrum’s chapbook, The Impossibility of Epithalamia, at Switchback, an online journal. A poem is forthcoming at a new journal, The Northern Liberties Review
Also, more recently, two of my poems appeared in Victorian Violet Press, and this is how Karen Kelsay, editor of that journal, became acquainted with my work. Subsequently, she began a chapbook series, White Violet Press, which published my chapbook, Balance. Recently, she began another series specifically for free verse collections.
Balance is composed of 15 poems of 15 lines each that follow a sequence of yoga poses developed by B.K.S. Iyengar to promote emotional stability. They are accompanied by line drawings done by my cousin, Nina Canal, who is also a fabric designer and musician. This is my first book, though I have a full collection of poems, A Likely Story, that is currently looking for a publisher, if anyone knows of one likely to welcome it.
I have also published two personal essays in anthologies in the past year or so, one in Easy to Love but Hard To Raise, about raising a child with disabilities (DRT Press), and the other in Flashlight Memories (Silver Boomer Press), a collection of essays about reading.
Morgen: Wow, that’s a catalogue. Do you write under a pseudonym?
Robbi: I write under the name I use in most of my life, Robbi Nester. Everyone has always called me Robbi, though that is not my legal name.
Morgen: Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Robbi: You ask whether I have had any rejections. What writer hasn’t? I have had many more rejections than I have acceptances! I deal with them by moving on to the next thing.
Morgen: Some haven’t but then they’ve either not written much and been fortunate or haven’t submitted anything, which would help. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Robbi: I have not thus far won any competitions outright. I did get some sort of runner-up in a contest awhile back, but I couldn’t accept the prize, which was 20% off on a workshop in my choice of three countries. Though it would have been fun, I still couldn’t afford either to take off the time from work or to pay for the workshop though.
Morgen: Oh, what a shame but then 20% off something (sometimes) really expensive isn’t all that helpful. Is your book available as an eBook? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Robbi: My book is available, in print form only, from Red Room.com, an online place where writers can build pages to store their published work, etc. That site has a bookstore royalty program and other perks for members. I’ve also made a FB page for the book, at www.facebook.com/balancepoetry.robbinester. People are free to visit me at either place or to join me on Facebook.
I’d like to recommend Richard Dillard’s new book, What is Owed the Dead, and Marly Youman’s new novel, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage – both authors have been so important in my growth as a writer and a person. I also did a guest blog for Marly, entitled The Lydian Stones: Nester chooses Blake, when my book was released. This and my other published works can be read at my Red Room page.
I recently read a poetry book in that format, Ode to Tools, by Dave Bonta. Dave is one of the editors of Qarrtsiluni. It is a terrific chapbook, and I enjoyed reading it as an eBook, though a longer collection might have been more difficult to manage in that format.
Morgen: I do think eBooks will be the making of short forms and as a short story author (in the main), I’ll all for that. Did you have any say in the title/cover of your book?
Robbi: I designed the cover of my book, Balance, at least the photo on it, and am very proud of it. It came from a sudden vision I had of an origami lotus made from the pages of a book. However, I could never have realized my fantasy without the assistance of the artists who made the origami lotus in the photograph, who have a store on Etsy, and the photographer, John Genesta, who took the photograph itself. I also owe a lot to the considerable gifts of my publisher, Karen Davies Kelsay, a poet herself, and a mean hand at laying out pages.
Morgen: What are you working on at the moment?
Robbi: I am working on sending things out, writing more poems, putting together a new collection, which I just started about 6 months ago. I also have some non-fiction, mostly autobiographical essays that could be gathered into a collection, if I write another half dozen or so. I even have a title for it, At the End of a Line. Also, I am constantly trying to come up with new ways to market my book and trying to talk people into let me read from it, so I may introduce more people to my work.
Morgen: Well, I hope this helps a little. You sound so busy, do you manage to write every day?
Robbi: I do not write every day. It might be a good idea, but I cannot bring myself to do it. However, I am working on something, like a blog entry or something, every day. Just not poems. I have a blog, Shadow Knows, at http://robbi-shadowknows.blogspot.com, though I do not write in it that much these days. I also have a writer’s page, http://redroom.com/member/robbi-nester, where one can find my published poems and essays and also an occasional blog I write there in response to prompts from the site, Red Room. It is a good place for writers to showcase their work, and has a bookstore from which I sell my book.
Morgen: Ah yes, I’ve heard good things about the Red Room. Are you involved in anything else writing- related rather than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Robbi: I am currently trying to transition from academia, where I have taught writing as an adjunct professor in colleges and universities for 32 years. It is difficult just now to find that kind of work, so I am trying to pick up some freelance writing or editing. That’s not so easy either. I did write a review of Lev Grossman’s novels for The Hollins Critic that will be featured in the next issue, and would love to write more reviews of books, movies, or even restaurants. I am a bit of a foodie, who likes to read food-related articles and watch cooking shows and even do a bit of cooking myself! I will never be a great chef, but I like puttering about in the kitchen, most of the time.
Morgen: I get asked to do book reviews and have to turn them down (no spare time but I do review short stories) so I’ll have to send them in your direction. What do you do when you are not writing?
Robbi: Yoga is an important part of my life, as is reading. A writer can never read too much. I like to hike occasionally, though I am rather slow. There are some beautiful places to hike around here, and the company is good. I also sing in a choir, which is fun. I belong to a Torah group at my synagogue as well, and am contemplating joining a bookclub.
Morgen: I read while I’m walking my dog. I’ve perfected (I think) the art of not running into or stepping in anything and edit sometimes. Writing on the go is more difficult as it makes my writing wobbly but I do it when I think of a great idea. I belonged to a book club last year to get me reading more and it did (we started with Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader, which I loved, then Julian Barnes’ Arthur & George, which I’d have rather just been George, then were going to move on to Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina) but I’d started this blog by then and had no time to read books that I wouldn’t have chosen myself so that was it. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Robbi: I am on LinkedIn and Facebook, and find these to be wonderful tools for writers to use to make all sorts of connections, like my connection with Morgen Bailey herself!
Robbi: I am also in an online writing workshop, Zeugma, which has some gifted poets on it who offer me valuable commentary. My friends on Facebook teach me new things all the time, and it is wonderful to be connected to old friends from the distant past on that forum. However, the best comments and writing-related assistance I get is from my friends who are also writers, like my friend Marly Youmans, an incredibly talented writer and poet whom I met at college, a long time ago, but who generously offers suggestions on how I can further my writing career. You can meet her on her blog, at http://thepalaceat2.blogspot.com. Also, my teacher, Richard Dillard, at Hollins University, still offers assistance, and my husband, Richard Nester, whose poetry should be much more recognized than it is, comments on poems and generally provides support. I could not have done my writing without him.
Morgen: How lovely to have a fellow writer in the family. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Robbi: Don’t give up. Keep reading and writing, and be willing to rewrite as often and thoroughly as you need to. The point is the process, not just the work you produce.
Morgen: Absolutely. Thank you, Robbi.
Robbi Nester is the daughter of an international family, among whom one will find the WW I poet and artist Isaac Rosenberg (her great-uncle). Her mother was born in South Africa, her father in the U.S., where she herself was born, in Philadelphia, PA. She studied at Hollins College (now University), near Roanoke VA, a school well-known for its writing program, and went on to the University of California, Irvine, where she received an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature. Robbi taught writing of various kinds for 32 years until this past summer. Now she is focusing on her writing. Her first book, Balance, has just been published by White Violet Press. She is available for public readings, guest lectureships, and paid writing or editorial assignments, and can be reached at email@example.com.
Update from Robbi September 2012: I had poems published recently in Poemeleon and Philadelphia Stories and have poems forthcoming in Lummox and Jenny.
My book of poems, A Likely Story, is currently making the rounds of publishers.
I took part in the Inlandia reading series this past July and will appear with other poets at a reading in Ventura, CA at Bank of Books bookstore.
I’m still interested in getting the book stocked by bookstores, and anyone with an interest in carrying it can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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