Monday, May 11, 2009

Midnight Voices: An Interview with Deborah Ager

A big thanks to all those Writer's Center members who participated in this blog's first ever Member Week last week--and thanks to all you out there who read those posts!

Last month, you may recall, I interviewed a raft of poets on all manner of questions, from Brian Brodeur and his beard to Jody Bolz and Poet Lore. It gave me such a warm fuzzy to reach out to poets and ask them a bunch of questions that I've decided to make it a regular part of this blog. Won't be just poets, though. Look for writers of many different stripes to come through this blog at some point. Today we do have another poet, this time Deborah Ager. Her first book, Midnight Voices, came out last month.

Your first collection, Midnight Voices, was recently published by Word Tech/Cherry Grove Collections. Can you tell us how long that book was in the making?

When I studied at Florida, a mentor told me that I'd probably decide to include none of the poems from my thesis. He said he found that true with most of his former students. I did end up including a few -- "The Healing Dirt of Chimayo" and "Santa Fe in Winter" -- which were published in the New England Review. That means this book was roughly 10 years in the making.

Now that your book is out, you're giving readings and promoting the book. What should new poets expect once they publish their book(s)?

I don't know that a new poet should expect anything, and I don't think poets should be satisfied with that.

We all hear how the poetry audience is shrinking. Every poet should work to increase that audience. Where is that audience? They were born last week and will be born tomorrow. You see them in car seats and strollers. Some are in elementary school and others are twelve.

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting a class called "Poetry and Performance" taught by Daniel Nester at the College of St. Rose. Most of the students in the class are education majors. Part of what he teaches them is how to share poetry with children. What can you, dear reader, do to develop an audience? I'm asking myself this same question.

You've received fellowships from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. In addition, you were a Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers' Conference. How important were these experiences to you as a writer? What would you suggest for young writers interested in applying for writers' conferences and retreats?

To a young writer, I'd say send in the application and then return to your work. Do your best not to fret.

Each experience introduced me to new creative people and their ways of thinking. Conversations with other artists have spurred poems, ideas for future projects, and artistic collaboration. At the same time, these retreats, for me, are mostly about silence. I can sit in complete silence for several hours and write. I developed a rhythm of waking, eating breakfast and then heading to work for several hours.

Then, I'd stretch my legs with a walk in the woods and revise in the afternoon. The VCCA is a wonderful place; I highly recommend applying.

You co-direct the Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Reading Series. What is the reading series and what kind of poets are you looking for? Which poets have appeared?

In 1976, WordWorks writers gathered inside Miller Cabin for poetry workshops. Eventually, a reading series grew out of that. We host eight readings on Tuesday nights in June and July at the Joaquin Miller Cabin in Rock Creek Park. Readers have included Stan Plumly, Temple Cone, Tun-Hui Hu, Kyle Dargan and Sarah Browning. I'm not sure I'm allowed to say yet who will read for 2009. Please visit the website. Soon, it will be updated with 2009 news at

32 Poems--the magazine you founded and edit--is a young publication. But poems in that journal have already been honored in anthologies like Best American Poetry and Best New Poets. What would be your advice to anyone interested in starting their own literary journal?

I'd suggest that anyone who wants to start a journal write out their vision for it, so you can remember it when the process becomes hectic.

Consider the following questions:

How much will it cost you?
Do you want to create a print or online journal?
What is your main reason for creating the journal and how will it differentiate itself?

After lugging large literary journals onto the metro with me, I decided it was time to start a magazine that I could carry around town without breaking my shoulder. 32 Poems was born. Although it weighs little, we publish 64 poems per year and publish anyone from talented undergrads to talented Pultizer-prize winners. 32 Poems blogs at

Deborah Ager's first book, Midnight Voices, was published by WordTech/Cherry Grove Collections in 2009.

Her poems appear in Best New Poets 2006, Best of the Tigertail Anthologies, The Bloomsbury Review, New England Review, The Georgia Review, Quarterly West, and elsewhere. She's received fellowships from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She was a Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers' Conference.

She codirects the Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Reading Series in Washington, DC.

She is founding editor of 32 Poems Magazine. Many poems first appearing in 32 Poems have been honored in the Best American Poetry and Best New Poets anthologies and on Verse Daily and Poetry Daily. The magazine publishes 64 poems per year. Visit her online at


Serena said...

Great interview with Deborah. I've had a great time working with her on the 32 poems interviews and I have her new book for review.

C.M. Mayo said...

Congratulations on your new book Deborah! I am very much looking forward to reading your poems.