Pixelated is the digital, double-blind, lit-inclined conversation series.
In each episode we put two writers on a sort of blind-date, and have them interview each other. The result? Who the hell knows. All conversations are 'manuscript-first', meaning they were typed as you see them.
Andrew: Welcome to the nineteenth installment of PIXELATED. I’m here with two writers and poets: Dasha Kelly (ALMOST CRIMSON, a novel, Curbside Splendor, 2015) and Sonya Vatomsky (SALT IS FOR CURING, a book of poetry, Sator Press, 2015).
From Curbside Splendor: “For as long as she can remember, CeCe has taken care of herself. With her father gone and her mother crippled by chronic depression, CeCe struggles to find fulfillment in the sacrifice required to keep their lives together. As her mother's condition worsens, CeCe is forced to stay close to home and stifle her dreams. With the poetic dexterity of Nikki Giovanni and an unforgettable cast of compassionate characters, Dasha: examines one woman's struggle to choose between her obligation to care for her mother and living life on her own terms.”
From Sator Press: “Salt Is For Curing is the lush and haunting full-length debut of Sonya:. These poems, structured as an elaborate meal, conjure up a vapor of earthly pains and magical desires; like the most enduring rituals, Vatomsky’s poems both intoxicate and ward. A new blood moon in American poetry, Salt Is For Curing is surprising, disturbing, and spookily illuminating.”
As a spoken word artist, Dasha has performed throughout the country. Sonya, as far as I know (and correct me if I’m mistaken) usually sticks to pen and paper. This is the first episode where I’ve had two poets on and I expect big things.
Let’s start easy: where are you two and what do you see?
Sonya: Hello! I do mostly stick to pen and paper – I've tried doing a few readings but honestly I'm pretty bad at leaving my house so it hasn't been super impactful, I think. Dasha, I'm looking forward to this weird little cyber-chat.
I'm actually at work right now, taking a lunch break. I do UX & marketing writing for an online retail/tech company in Seattle. I see a bunch of people hunched over their desks in an open-office floor space.
Dasha: I am, as well!
I'm at my office. Cozily surrounded by stacks of mail, folders, books and scribbled notes. A large picture window in front of me faces a busy city street, transporting folks downtown. There's a bus stop on this corner, which I like to think of as my own personal theater. Amazing what folks will say / do when they don't consider eyeballs might be on the other side of that tinted glass
Andrew: Which city are you in Dasha?
Andrew: OK here's a starter: what is your earliest memory writing or producing poetry?
Sonya: I wrote some poem about a crow when I was still in Russia – my family moved to America when I was 6, so I was maybe 4 or 5. So, um, definitely always a poet. A moody poet. Probably not always a great one.
Dasha: I wrote a poem in first grade and mailed it in to Highlights Magazine. They didn't publish it. I didn't give poetry another look until my late twenties. With fiction, I remember my mother telling me about a story contest at the local library. She told me I could even use her typewriter. Sold.
I was nine or 10
Andrew: Highlights Magazine was definitely anyone's first taste of the world of literary magazines.
Dasha: Moody poets are my favorite, Sonya. Angry poets are my second favorite : ) Yes, I loved Highlights!
Sonya: Angry poets are pretty great!
I have no idea what Highlights Magazine is – for years, my poetry writing/exchanging happened on places like LiveJournal rather than any kind of official "establishment." We're only about to hit my first anniversary of really seeking any kind of publication.
Dasha: It's a magazine for kids, pre-K to, maybe, third grade. It has stories, puzzles, picture games, little articles. It was a cool thing to be seven and receiving mail with my name on it ... with stuff I could actually read.
What made you decide to take the leap into publication?
Sonya: Oh, that does sound really great! I remember a teacher in middle school bringing a similar sort of magazine to our English class & being so into reading work from peers.
Peers who actually liked writing, specifically.
Nothing very concrete started the publication thing. Fellow Seattle poet Jocelyn Macdonald was chatting me about sending something to So to Speak Journal's next issue, and I decided to send something. I think what hooked me was the spreadsheet thing where you keep track of your submissions. I like spreadsheets.
Did you start publishing fiction before poetry, then?
Dasha: hahaa! Please tell me you saw a YouTube video on the spreadsheet! I want to grad school with the guy and got to see his Spreadsheet presentation. It made the whole submission process feel more manageable. I don't submit very often, either.
Sonya: Ha – no YouTube video for me. But I think I read a bunch of articles on how to organize submissions. And was SO excited about Submittable. Though I actually have some kind of Submittable curse where almost all of my acceptances come from journals that still do email submissions.
Dasha: I did, although impatience drew me onto a different tract. I sent around a short story collection and one of the stories attracted the attention of an editor, who then became my agent, who became my former agent before anything even got started. By then, I could see that "this writing thing" might do something. I self published my novella. I'd started traveling with my poetry and spoken word by then, so I could entwine the two pen pursuits. I focused on poetry professionally after that, dabbling with this manuscript on and off over the years.
Andrew: [BRB—will return in five, do continue!]
Dasha: How often do you write essays? How different is your process for getting from idea to page when you're writing in that form?
Sonya: The world needs more spoken word artists who do poetry, or vice versa! That performative/connect-with-the-audience aspect can be so missing in poetry readings.
Dasha: Yes, lawd!
Sonya: Idk. Maybe one a month? Sometimes more. It frequently depends on how many things I'm upset about that month haha. When I started doing the publishing thing I initially thought of doing more general essays, kind of about feminist issues etc etc. Basically what Lindy West and Jess Zimmerman do. I love them. But I had to come to terms with being more into emotional, intimate pieces.
(I'm looking at one of the other interviews Andrew has done and the two people there are doing one sentence at a time where we're doing these huge paragraphs. Kinda funny for poets.)
Dasha: lol. Writers can forget that the audience wasn't with them at the coffee shop mincing those lines, so they might need a bit of help connecting to what I call "the so what" of the poem. Interestingly, the fiction side of things has a similar challenge. I've touring all summer and repeatedly heard comments on how authors don't always know how to make their readings engaging. One attendee said, "You know what to do with every word." Why, thank you!
Sonya: Yeah, I know what to do with every word in a dark room in my apartment. On stage, not so much.
Dasha: Ha! Breathe and believe what you're saying. That's all you need. Don't do the whole pretend-the-audience-is-naked business. Scary business.
Sonya: Attendees have sworn they couldn't tell I was absolutely terrified, which is the best reading compliment I'm aiming for.
Dasha, do you think someone kidnapped Andrew?
Andrew: I am here!
These things go better the less I talk—that I've learned
Sonya: Haha ok.
Dasha: I like writing essays, and welcome opportunities to do more. I fall in between the emotional pieces and the platform pieces. On one end, I feel as though I should have THE answer to said social issue and on the other end I'm not always inclined to peel back my skin.
Sonya: I'm a perpetual skin-peeler I think.
It's what I enjoy reading the most as well. Longform with a lot of the personal mixed in.
(Away from the computer for just a sec!)
Andrew: We're actually at time either way—so I'll ask for last thoughts now.
Dasha: I got my MFA in fiction, and had a chance to "genre jump" one semester. I couldn't WAIT to do CNF and essays. My professor pointed out that the blogs I'd written previously all had a point, a message, an epiphany. His challenge was to discover the point by writing and shaping the story. Specifically, he said to "dwell." I was instantly less excited about my genre jump. I mean, I'd worked so hard to pack up all my issues. Whyyyy would I take those boxes down, undo the pretty red bows and dwell in the muck in there? lol
Last thoughts? Could you lob a question at us instead, Andrew?
Andrew: Alright, how about this: what have you learned about yourself through this interview?
Dasha: I learned that Sonya and I were the students in school who did not terrorize the substitute teacher and were probably the kids who could easily fill our idle time with hours of doodling, scribbling and Crayola plans to better the world.
Sonya: Ah, I'm back, sorry!
Just in time to say goodbye, haha.
I learned that I should stop doing poetry readings.
Kidding. But also not kidding. Dasha, if you make it to Seattle sometime soon I will come and watch and learn your secrets.
Dasha: Even better, I was reminded that mortals are on the other end of these posts and titles and book spines. Mortals who also rejoiced at the ideas of submission spreadsheets, wondered if their words were "strong enough" to leave the nest, work at figuring out what to do with all these words sometimes.
Absolutely, Sonya! Seattle is on my visit list within the year. Same if you make your way to the Midwest
Andrew: Thanks for your time Dasha and Sonya, and your words!
Dasha: I'm reading your piece in Entropy now. Looking for ...Twitter? Instagram?
Sonya: @coolniceghost on both! you?
Dasha: Twitter: @dashakelly IG: dasha_kelly
Dasha: Have a great week, you two