Amy Billone has recently published a book of poetry called “The Light Changes” (Link to my review). She holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University and is currently an Associate Professor of English at the University of Tennessee. She lives in Knoxville with her two sons.
1) Why do you use poetry to write? Have you ever tried any other forms of writing to express yourself?
I have always written poems since I was a young child. For this reason, I think—because I associate poetry with my first written words—I have never seen it as being inaccessible or alienating as a genre the way others sometimes do. I need to write analytically for my job as a professor so that is another form of writing I will always work in. However, I am driven to find new forms of creative writing and I will try anything I am able to do. I am excited about the idea of discovering or inventing a new genre to write in: one I have never tried before. Anything is possible for me at this point.
2) Who are some other writers that you admire? What are you currently reading right now?
My favorite poet in English is William Wordsworth and my favorite book of poetry is Wordsworth’s The Prelude in all of its versions. I am currently reading the 667 page volume of the 1798, 1799, 1805 and 1850 versions to my sons who perhaps to humor me recently asked me if I could read the book to them again when I finished it. I laughed and told them I would happily read it to them as many times as they wanted until they move out (they are 6 and 7 years old). My favorite living poet in English is W.S. Merwin. I just re-read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray together with the sonnets of John Donne and George Herbert for the two classes I am teaching at the University of Tennessee. I love to experience the interaction between dissimilar works and to notice the impact that earlier writers have made on very popular art forms across a wide range of media today.
3) How has the reaction been to “The Light Changes” so far? Do you find that poetry suffers from a ‘stereotypical’ image that keeps readers away?
Overall I have been happy about the reaction to The Light Changes. I was extremely moved by the starred Kirkus review. I do think poetry suffers from a stereotypical image that keeps readers away. My own book is full of references to other writers, poets like Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Jack Gilbert and Sylvia Plath and fiction writers like Virginia Woolf. If you do not know these writers’ biographies or their writing, some of what I am trying to do in my book might be lost. Poetry can be difficult to read.
4) Are you planning any new writing projects in the future?
Yes. I am currently completing a scholarly book about dreams and childhood. In terms of my creative work, I have hundreds of pages written but not yet with a specific form or shape. This is actually how I write most of my poetry in the early drafts. Right now, I am still trying to decide what form I will put these particular words in. I keep imagining alternate genres. I am eager to find a voice that will reach as many people as possible and that will reach them in the most effective way.
5) Does your role as associate professor help you with your writing? Do your sons inspire you to write?
I think my work as an Associate Professor and my work as a mother to my sons complexly give me inspiration for my creative writing and at the same time give me hurdles to overcome. Both are very time-consuming jobs. The challenge becomes how to channel the incredible intellectual and emotional energy that is generated by these different aspects of my life into my creative writing while at the same time remaining a serious scholar and a devoted mother.
6) Do you (Or did you do any) public readings of “The Light Changes?” If, yes, what was the experience like for you?
I have not yet done any public readings of The Light Changes. I became excited about the idea of making an audible version of the book, which is now available on Amazon, Audible and iTunes. I discovered that I loved narrating my poems—performing the various voices in the book, as if it were a kind of play. Reactions to the audiobook have so far been very positive.
7) You used Goodreads.com to promote your book. What was that experience like for you? Have you used any other social media websites to promote yourself?
I used Goodreads and Kirkus and Facebook and Twitter to promote The Light Changes. Goodreads and Kirkus both did Giveaways of the book. The Giveaways were a bit frightening for me. I have had to realize that not everyone will respond to my book in the same way. So much of this process for me has been about taking risks. At the moment I can say I have no regrets about the way the book has been promoted. I long for an audience.
8) The illustration on the cover of “The Light Changes” is very interesting. Is there a special link there for you?
My discovery of Maria Klawe’s Starling Flox (2005) as a cover image for my book was a miracle made possible by the digital revolution. After years of thought, I decided to search Google Images for the word “starling.” I was drawn to starlings because the last poem in my book is about watching starlings fly from a tree to a river at sunset. When I saw Klawe’s painting it blew me away. I felt everything I was expressing in the book was brilliantly conveyed in her gorgeous art. I was thrilled when she gave me permission to use her painting on my cover.
9) You seem to talk about a lot of travelling in “The Light Changes.” Are you planning any big trips soon?
I will be travelling to the University of Houston to chair a panel devoted to dreams and nineteenth-century energies at the Interdisciplinary Nineteenth-Century Studies conference at the end of March. I will also be travelling to the UK this summer to present at a conference that will celebrate the 250th birthday of Gothic writer Ann Radcliffe at the University of Sheffield. I have a passion for travelling.
10) How has living in Tennessee been for you?
I had never been to Knoxville, Tennessee when I interviewed for my job at the University of Tennessee in 2000. At the time, I lived in New York City. I have always loved big cities. Living in Knoxville has been relaxing. It is a quiet contained place where I can gather and focus my energy in between trips to other places, whether real or imaginary.