An Interview with Angela Williams

1. I’ve had the privilege to carefully read your book Live From the Tiki Lounge. I haven’t yet been able to read your first book With a Cherry on Top. Apart from the fact that With a Cherry also features stories, recipes, etc, how does your poetry in each book differ? Are there certain stylistic traits that you feel have evolved over time? What is similar between the two?
 
I chose to not include my own poems in the cherry book because I felt my work, my mission was to make the connections between things—to write the connective narrative, do the research and find the right way to order things so that it would not be a typical anthology, but more fun and informative…more accessible to the general reader.
 
2. You grew up in Michigan and currently live in Michigan, and the state seems to play a strong role in your writing. Is there something about Michigan that keeps you here? What ways have you noticed Michigan influencing your poetry?
 
When I was a little girl, maybe three years old, I got a globe for Christmas.
I was perplexed. My dad showed me what it meant by telling me to look for
the mitten. And while I’m not a particularly religious person, I am fond of recalling that he told me that the mitten was where God put down his hand and that’s why it is so beautiful and we’re blessed to call it home.
 
I can’t help but be a poet of place as I am strongly connected to the idea of home, of belonging somewhere. And if Good Morning America is willing
to announce it as the most beautiful place in America (for 2011) I’ll have to agree heartily and be thankful that I can drive through its splendor on a daily basis, through all of its moods, all of its weather. That in itself influences my writing.
 
3. In addition to studying creative writing, you also studied drama. Can you tell us more about that choice and the ways that drama has influenced your writing?
 
The study of theatre, not just drama, is the study of the human condition. I made that
choice in order to be a stronger, better informed writer, and because I could have a great deal of fun. I’ll bet very few accounting majors would ever put Mr. Bubble in a campus fountain and go swimming in it after midnight in formal wear.
 
My most purposed studies included script analysis and playwriting, as well as the historical aspects of the arts. Not one form of the arts can exist without the other arts and the corresponding influence of the sociological currents running through daily life. To have a grasp on that as definitive theatre itself, a better informed and crafted poem or story can come.
 
4. Reading Tiki Lounge, I recognized at least two allusions to Shakespeare. With your experience in theater, I suspect Shakespeare appeals to you both as a writer and dramatist. Does he appeal to you more in one way than other? What do you personally find so inspiring and influential about Shakespeare? What would you tell young students who might shy away from his writing?
 
I took to reading his work quite early because there was little to read at home and there were so many copies of his plays at the Benzonia Library where I used to go. One of my dearest treasures is the leather-bound collected works my mom gave me for my 16th birthday. The inventiveness and imaginative nature of his work was huge for me.
 
How can you not just adore “Out! Out, damn spot!”? I still have two contrasting monologues on tap, which was expected and required as a major at WMU.
 
Shakespeare should be better taught to children so there is an accessibility given it. Young people should be given the opportunity to take in performances of his work, so that it makes sense more readily. With the available technology of youtube and other online resources, this is more possible and should be fully utilized. Shakespeare doesn’t have to be the broccoli of literature.
 
5. There are several images and ideas that reoccur throughout Live From the Tiki Lounge: mythological characters, seasons, cultural figures. What do these images mean to you? Do they differ from poem to poem or, as the writer, do these repeated images general evoke the same emotion and meaning for you each time you use them?
 
We all have our own symbology based on our experiences. The moon, bodies of water, the visual arts are all part of who I am. I’m not afraid to implicate myself. They may differ in each poem, because each is of its own experience and I was a different person each day writing them as we are a different person every day we wake. There is a frame of reference for each of these things such as the seasons changing, and the moods of the places we live. A poem that comes is from what we
bring of ourselves to that frame.
 
6. How else do you find inspiration for your poetry? Are there other topics or themes you see recurring in your work?
 
I am inspired by everything. Odd things. Simple things. Absurd things. The way that we take in our world, how we look at it, is pivotal if not just for poetry, but for living. A news item might take our mind to the way violets grew in the forest when we were children or the chaos of an accident scene might take us somewhere else for some reason. The way a birch bends back into the forest might remind us of the nurse in the photo in Times Square at the end of WWII. The glee of a well-fed bird could equal a happy child. It’s important to me to be aware because that is being present in the world
 .
I am greatly influenced by the visual arts and am polishing a series of poems
based on paintings by Edward Hopper. Not about the painting themselves, but from within the perspective of the paintings’ subjects. A form of ekphrastic writing, but taking it a step further. There is one within Live From the Tiki Lounge on his painting “Chop Suey”which made me realize this was something I wanted to pursue as a project and I’m hoping to have it put together as a chapbook shortly.
 
7. Apart from writing, what other career experiences have you had? How have these experiences shaped and influenced you as a writer?
 
I am an administrator at a cherry processing facility in Leelanau County. I’ve been there since 1997 and it’s a fine day job. It keeps me connected to the natural world quite literally and provided fodder and connections for my first book, With a Cherry on Top. There are some pieces written about and by some individuals who are part of the cherry industry. I tried to keep it real and that made writing it most enjoyable.
 
8. How does writing play a role in daily life? Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?
 
I’m not as disciplined as I could be and hope to be. My process involves keeping poetry in my daily life—if I’m not researching or finding something inspirational to get down, I read work by many poets and work in other genres. With winter coming on, I hope to get more down on paper.
 
9. What are some of the challenges you have faced as writer? How have you overcome these obstacles?
 
When support and understanding by those who mattered to me were unavailable
I continued to write. In high school I joked with my friends I’d have my first book out by the time I was forty. So I did. A lot led me there and a lot stood in the way, but it was possible. Now I just have to keep going.
 
10. What advice would give to aspiring young poets?
If you’re not writing, read. If you’re writing, read. Take risks. If you think something is your ugly child, you might be wrong—it might just be something remarkable. Beautiful, even.


Works by Angela Williams

Through the 3rd Eye was supported in its inception by the Grand Rapids Humanities Council and is currently made possible by continued volunteer effort and private support. Copyright 2013.