A few questions with Prof. Eli Burrell - My Clarion News: Arts

A few questions with Prof. Eli Burrell

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Posted: Tuesday, February 3, 2015 1:31 pm

LINCOLN UNIVERSITY - Professor Eli Burrell has published a new book, The Skin of the River. I asked him a few questions about the process of writing and what inspires him.

How long have you been working for Lincoln?

This will be the third year I’ve taught creative writing, literature, and composition at Lincoln. I received my Bachelor of Arts in English at Lincoln University, so it is particularly thrilling to teach in the same building where I was once the student.

When did you start writing The Skin of the River?

There are some poems in the new book that were birthed right here on Lincoln’s campus. Most of the book was written as I studied writing and literature at Bennington College in their MFA program. Their motto is, “Read a hundred books, write one”—and I did exactly that.

Is there a common theme that inspired most of your poems in your newly published book?

When writing The Skin of the River, I consciously opened myself up to whatever thing I felt needed attention. In the book, a reader will find semi-confessional poems about blues singers, faith, cock fighting, and boyhood, among other things. There’s a section near the middle of the book that discusses, metaphorically, what it is to suffer immense loss and not understand why. To that end, I watched my mother grow very sick from cancer as I wrote most of these poems.

When will your book tour dates begin?

It’s already begun. The English department threw a fantastic book launch for me, last semester. The great number of my colleagues and students who made it a point to come out on a frigid evening—to hear poetry—was humbling. That, I suppose, was the best of all ways to begin sharing the book in the world.

Can you give me a list of some of your book tour stops?

Over the next few months, I’ll be reading and signing books in Minnesota, Texas, Indiana, Tennessee, Illinois, and Arkansas. Also, I’m very excited to have been asked to read in Greenwich Village in April. I love New York City.

Have you started writing pieces for another book?

I was already writing new poems before the publisher accepted The Skin of the River. I didn’t want to get stuck in a pattern of sending the book out, place-to-place, and not moving on from it. Many writers get their second or third books taken before their first books. I convinced myself to keep pushing, keep writing. I think I’m a little more than three-quarters done with the next book.

Tell me a little bit about the process of getting your book published?

I sent the book out to various contests and publishers for just under two years. The competition is very fierce—there are a great many poets (literally thousands) vying to get their books taken at any given time. I believed in the book, believed it could be successful. Although I faced levels of rejection like I never had before, I kept submitting it. In all honesty, I saw the entire ordeal as a marathon. I wanted, desperately, to see the book taken (and released) before my mother’s sickness progressed—before it was too late. And it worked out. The book was published in August of 2014. Mom passed in December. She loved the book.

What inspired you to become a writer?

Here’s a vague answer: Everything and everyone I’ve ever come across. Here are a few slightly more specific answers: I’ve always been in love with artists (in any medium) who have something new to tell me in unexpected ways. I’m continually inspired by beauty, captivating language, and the mysteriously unexplainable. Also, never underestimate how valuable it is in this life when teachers and instructors encourage you. There’s inspiration to be found whenever one’s eyes, mind, and heart are open to it. The important thing about inspiration is making sure you respond to it.

What is your writing process?

I write whenever I can—and I must be ruthless with my time. My family, the full load of courses I teach at Lincoln—these lovely things present a challenge when trying to carve out an organized writing schedule. I continually look for interesting images, compelling situations, and fetching language in every situation. I write it all down in a notebook. When time opens up for me, I have to be ready for it. Nothing makes that possible like a good notebook. Once I’ve got the thing down on paper, the real work begins. The real work is the revision—every word counts, and that’s true whether I’m writing poetry or prose.

What do you like to do other than write poetry?

I love to be near my family and friends. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing—life is too short not to be near the people you most adore. I love to travel. I do my best writing when I’m on the road, encountering strange new things. I like to write and play music. When I’m not writing, I’m reading. You just can’t write unless you read.

(Blake Cox is journalism student at Lincoln University and on the staff of myclarionnews.com)

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