Building a Sustainable Writing Practice with Stefania Gomez, Maggie Queeney, and Holly Amos, Plus More Writing Prompts

January 24, 2023


The Poetry Magazine Podcast: Building a Sustainable Writing Practice with Stefania Gomez, Maggie Queeney, and Holly Amos, Plus More Writing Prompts

(If you notice a mistake in the transcript, please let us know by emailing [email protected])


Holly Amos: Welcome to the Poetry Magazine Podcast. I’m Holly Amos. The idea for this episode started because January is often a time for resolutions and commitments. It’s a time to begin again, to get into new habits and routines. And we wanted to share some ideas to refresh or restart your writing practice. But this episode is also basically for me. I have not been writing for a while. I’ve written a poem here and there, but I really do not have a writing practice currently. And I don’t feel great about that. I want to have a writing practice. It first started for me because I work with poems for my job. I’m an editor at Poetry magazine. So writing poems started to feel a little bit like I was still on the clock, and I was really struggling with that. Then, you know, the pandemic started, things were going on in my personal life that were sucking my energy. And so, it sort of just dragged on into this really long period where I have not really written much. I definitely know it’s okay to take breaks, and I believe in that, but I also want to be writing more. I feel better when I’m writing and it does help me process things. So today, I brought my colleagues and friends Stefania Gomez and Maggie Queeney to join me. Stefania and Maggie both work at the Poetry Foundation library. They’re both educators. And they’re both writers. I’m excited that they’re here with us today. Stefania and Maggie, welcome to the podcast.

Maggie Queeney: Thank you.

Stefania Gomez: Thanks for having us, Holly.

Holly Amos: So just to get us started off, why is writing so hard, you guys? (LAUGHS)

Stefania Gomez and Maggie Queeney: (LAUGH)

Holly Amos: I mean, really, my question is, you know, why do you both write, even though writing is so hard? Let’s start there. Maggie, how about you?

Maggie Queeney: I mean, I feel most like myself when I write. And writing for me, is like a practice or a place that I can engage with everything else that makes life super difficult, not that anything gets solved. But it’s also a place where, in my experience, we can talk about things that we don’t often talk about in our daily lives, but are things that are really defining. So, I don’t know, I mean, for me, it’s like a connection to myself, and it helps, like, keep me connected to the world, even though it’s also a really intimate personal practice. I’m interested in what Stefania’s gonna say. (LAUGHS)

Stefania Gomez: Yeah, well, the poet Eduardo C. Corral once told me that, that it is like a, to be a writer, and maybe just to be a creative person in general, it’s a serious obligation and a serious responsibility. And I guess like, in that sense, it is difficult because you, it’s not always something you want to do. But if you really have that within you, you kind of have to, like, grin and bear it and just honor that part of you.

Maggie Queeney: Yeah, I would say that, I mean, actually, the difficulty of it is like a part of the enjoyment of it for me, it’s like what keeps me engaged. I mean, even if I write, like, the best poem ever, the best poem in the entire world, like, I still have to get up tomorrow, and I’m going to want to write another poem. But that, to me, is part of the pleasure of poetry. If it was really easy, I don’t think that—a lot of us wouldn’t be as engaged for decades, right? For a significant amount of our lives with this art form. So I don’t think difficulty, like difficulty and pleasure can coexist. And I think, for me, difficulty and pleasure almost always coexist. (LAUGHS) I also think we, I mean, we live in societies that basically, at least from where I’m positioned in the US, basically, everything is conspiring to not have any of us be creative in any parts of our lives ever. And I think that is important to recognize, so that anytime you sit down and have any period of creativity, if it’s 10 minutes, like, that is in some ways, subversive and radical. Like there’s really nothing in our society that (LAUGHS) that will award you for doing that. So, I mean, I think it’s, it’s one of those things that it’s good to know why you’re being creative, like what is propelling you to go to the page. And that can be play. Like play is, I think, serious, which I know sounds paradoxical, but like, when we’re small children, like, play is how we figure out how to be in the world. So, even when we’re playing on the page, we’re figuring out other ways to be in the world.

Holly Amos: Yeah, I want to actually bring in this clip from Jordan Peele talking about writing Get Out, which really surprised me. When I first heard the clip, I honestly, I thought he was talking about making Nope, which to me is a, is a pretty fun Jordan Peele film, (LAUGHS) compared to his other films. I mean, there’s always like fun in them. But let’s just play this clip of Jordan Peele talking about his process of writing Get Out.


Jordan Peele: It wasn’t like I was every night, I was like, na na na na na na for five years. It was, I allowed it to be my hobby, I allowed it to be the project that I would go to instead of watching television, that would be the most fun thing I could do with my time. And when you’re having fun writing, that’s when you get like the East West bullshit, you know, where it’s just it works. Fun works. And that’s what I, that’s kind of my advice to anybody, writer or artist dealing with writer’s block, which we all deal with, you know, follow the fun.


Holly Amos: Yeah, I just love that. And I guess, I understand this idea of, like, art being serious business. But for me, I think I’ve gotten to a place where like, that isn’t working for me. Like, in my creative practice, I’m like, I don’t want to feel my feelings. (LAUGHS) I want to do fun stuff. And so I love clip of Jordan Peele. And I guess maybe that just also speaks to figuring out like, what it is we need in the moment, or like maybe where our needs are not getting met, and like how our creative process can be part of that. Like that’s something I’ve been thinking about, like, you know, I know, when I’ve been in relationships, like I was writing about those, or, you know, like writing about joy, because I was super happy and I needed a place to put it. I don’t know. So yeah, I love this idea of fun. And I guess the question it makes me think of in relation to all this is like, how do you make writing lifelong and sustainable? I mean, I think both of you have been writing for a good amount of time at this point, like, you know, I know a lot of people, they’ll go to school, or they’ll kind of have these bursts of writing, and then it can sort of like veer off, and it sort of doesn’t come back. So I’m curious, if you, either of you have any sort of, yeah, thoughts on making it a sustainable practice.

Maggie Queeney: Something that I think about often in writing is that it is not, it’s not a sprint, right? Like, this is like a race we’re going to be running all of our lives. So each of us needs to figure out how to make it a part of our every day lives, whether that’s reading a poem every day, or, you know, creating something with your hands every day. But however that fits in. And it’s going to look different. So, the times in my practice, where I’ve felt maybe most frustrated, or disillusioned, or blah blah blah is, I think, when I’ve been taking other folks’ external measurements, and trying to apply them to my own practice when things were not working. So I think everyone needs to define for themselves what that looks like. If writing a sentence every day is what makes your life creatively sustainable, that’s valid. And that’s great. I just finished Ross Gay’s Inciting Joy, which is his new essay collection. In the beginning of it, he has this really powerful essay where he’s talking about how he defines joy as us holding our sorrows together, and basically throwing our sorrows a party and like, feeding them and introducing them to each other. And like that for me is like the kind of joy that like I’m like, Oh, that is something I recognize, that is something that is, like, adjacent to my life. And I think that for me, poems are places that we can hold our sorrows together in community, and where I can hold sorrow (LAUGHS) joyfully, on the page, right? So it’s not always like one thing or the other. Because I always feel a lot of pressure when it’s like, it has to be fun, or you have to be joyful. And I’m like, cool, but I live in this world. And like, a lot of stuff isn’t joyful right now.

Holly Amos: Yeah, Stefania, what about you? How do you make your writing life sustainable?

Stefania Gomez: Well, it’s just so funny, first I just wanna say that that’s the exact kind of party that Maggie would go to.

Maggie Queeney: (LAUGHS)

Stefania Gomez: Is like a party where only your sorrows are invited. (LAUGHS)

Maggie Queeney: (LAUGHS) And y’all, y’all would be invited.

Stefania Gomez: You know, yeah, we’d wear all black. It’d be great.


Stefania Gomez: But no, I take your point. And I think, it’s a cliché, but to say, you know, that, obviously, it’s a practice, it’s a muscle that you have to develop. It’s a discipline, it’s important to have discipline, but I think and another way of framing it maybe is that you’re trying to commit and have a practice of being open and more open to the impulse within you that creates and that is an artist, and you’re sort of like trying to coax it from yourself and get in touch with it, and kind of get it, like, unstuck. And I think that’s, if you think about that, then it’s a little bit more of like a process of, like, discovery, rather than, like school, you know? And it’s amazing that that’s something that you can kind of like excavate. For me, it’s been amazing it’s something I can excavate from within myself. Because it is, it’s an expression of, like, freedom and agency and humanity that people just like, create things for, just for beauty, you know?

Holly Amos: Stefania, can you talk specifically about like, what does it look like for you to, like, work that muscle and create that openness?

Stefania Gomez: For me, I think it’s being kind of surrounded by things that inspire me. Like, I love to go to readings. That is when I get a lot of ideas. I take a lot of notes. I have, like, really chaotic Google Docs. Inspired by the writer, something I heard the writer Ottessa Moshfegh talk about, where she just has like a very chaotic email chain, just to herself of all her notes. Oftentimes, when I read too, it helps me feel like I’ve actually, like, absorbed what I’ve read to just like, take a few notes about it as well. And then talking about my work with a lot of different kinds of people. Because sometimes people aren’t your audience. And they’ll make you feel like what you’ve written is just like the stupidest thing of all time. And some people will be like, “Oh, sounds so exciting, or like, this resonated with me,” you know. So I think that is what kind of like, jogs my artistic self. And frankly, a lot of times, it’s just sitting and staring at the wall for literally hours on end. And then suddenly, like, the muse will visit me. But you have to be kind of like in the practice of it, or at least I do. I’ve been the practice of it, and be prepared for that visit. Oh, and then one final thing I wanted to add, (LAUGHING) is that something that really helped me was getting treated for my mental illness?

Maggie Queeney: Word. Yes, thank you. Yeah.

Stefania Gomez: Because there’s this idea that you can’t make, you know, good art, if you’re, like, medicated, if you like, you make the best art if you’re really sad, or mentally ill, but in my experience, that is a total lie.

Holly Amos: Yeah, I had this professor in grad school, the poet Tony Trigilio, and I just very distinctly remember him being like, “Yeah, there’s this idea of like, the starving artist, but it’s really hard to write when you’re hungry.” And yeah, I think that’s right along the same path. Also, Stefania, what you’re talking about, staring at the wall reminds me of the poet Vi Khi Nao who’s a really prolific writer and writes in different genres and has all kinds of different projects. But she’s like, really into boredom as being powerful and useful. So I want to share her talking about boredom.


Vi Khi Nao: I think boredom is a sustained state of awareness, but it makes us feel jittery. I get bored easily. But when I say I get bored easily, it often means that I’m not engaged enough. But when I talk about a book that’s boring, I was thinking more from the reader’s or the viewer’s perspective. And I think those who demand so much attention, people have to sort of drop our reality in order to continually be embraced by it. I think sometimes things that are hyper entertaining makes you really awake, but then you forgot, you forget everything. So I believe in a form of like hyper boredom, or some sort of things that are not that exciting on first sight, but as you dive deeper and deeper into the work, its engagement switch from boredom to awareness.


Holly Amos: So yeah, for myself, currently, I have like no energy. And you know, listening to Vi talk about boredom, I was like, Oh, how can I make the boring things I’m doing, because that’s all I really feel I have energy for, how can I make them, like, useful? How can I take these low energy things and still generate some work? So here’s a prompt I made that I’m going to try for myself. And I hope you’ll all try it too. This is the boredom prompt. Also, I wrote this for people like me who are actually very uncomfortable being bored. Vi talked about like, that it makes you jittery, which I get that, where you’re like, “I need to go multitask.” So, yeah. So this is like a prompt where you’re bored, but not really. So do something boring. It can be sitting in front of a window, staring at the wall like Stefania does, watching a boring TV show, listening to a podcast, but just don’t multitask. Just sit there, do the thing. Do it for as much time as you have, 15 minutes if that’s all you have, 30 minutes if you’ve got longer. And while you’re doing whatever boring thing you’re doing, have a timer go off every three minutes and when it goes off, just write down three words. Whatever words come to you. Don’t try too hard on that. Now use the words you wrote down to begin your poem. What do they have in common? What’s the thread you’re finding? Or just string them all together for your first line.


Holly Amos: So, Maggie, you’ve talked with me actually quite a bit about rest as a form of resistance. Can you speak about where this idea comes from and how it relates to your writing?

Maggie Queeney: Yes. It’s definitely not my idea. It’s the idea of Tricia Hersey, who is a Chicago artist and theologian, performance artist, writer. And she just came out with a book called Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto. And it’s interesting to me like when you talk about boredom, I kind of think of it as like rest or stillness or silence, which is also often deeply uncomfortable for me. And what she advocates for is basically this idea that the grind culture that all of us live in, (LAUGHS) is detrimental to who we are as human beings. And that rest can be a portal into dreaming a new world and a new way of being. And I’ve been thinking about it recently with the idea of a poem being a moment of rest or respite, or a space of rest, and how that can be a portal into a different world, or a different way to be in the world.


Maggie Queeney: I’m sure like many people listening to this, I hold myself to a pretty high standard. And as much as I like to talk about process versus product, you know, it’s also important to me that my work is in the world and like, I like to be published and, you know, send my stuff out to prizes, things like that. Sometimes for me, that like, creeps into the making of it. And that, for me, is kind of like a poisoning. Number one, like, the poems are really bad. (LAUGHS) But number two, like that saps out like, any kind of joy that I might have in, in writing, and in creating. So I’ve been working to, like, divorce those as much as possible, right? Like, what happens at my desk on the page when I’m creating is one thing, what happens if the work gets into the world is another thing. So yeah, I don’t know. Like, I think that creating is labor. It is also a type of rejuvenation. It’s not the same thing as rest, but I think it’s rest adjacent. I think just like the societies we live in tell us not to create stuff, they also tell us not to ever rest. They don’t want us to dream. So yeah, so those are some things I’ve been kind of like grappling with, at the moment. Also sleeping more. It’s winter.

Holly Amos: This whole idea of like rest and work and creativity and how they’re all kind of like jumbled together, also I think is really related to CAConrad, who talks about relating writing to factory work, and like how to change that, how to make it not factory work.


CAConrad: Well, I come from a factory town in rural Pennsylvania. And it was a place that I knew that I had to leave when I was very young in order to be a writer, because I didn’t want to be in the factory. Being in the factory meant that you weren’t going to be able to do anything else. Working in the factory destroys so many parts of you. So I ran away. From ’84 to 2005, I’m doing exactly what I want. I’m writing poems. And I’m enjoying my life tremendously. And then in 2005, I go back out to where I grew up for a family reunion. And it was on that train ride home that I had realized that the factory had followed me. I could see it on my desk the moment I got into my apartment. I could see that factory tabulating poems for magazines, etcetera. This was a crisis. It was a real crisis. So I stopped writing for the better part of a month. And I realized, going through this, that I’d written a line at the top of this list, the sentence or the phrase, “the inability to be present.” I realized that was the problem. My family cannot be present because why on earth would you want to be present in a factory job? So they’re either depressed about the past or anxious about the future. That’s where they live. They don’t live in the present.


Holly Amos: Maggie, do you want to talk a little bit about yeah, like how this, CA talking about this, how that relates to the way you think about writing?

Maggie Queeney: So I mean, I, I graduated from my MFA program in 2009. And my first full-length book, thank goodness, is going to be coming out next year. And part of that is that I had periods where I didn’t write, but I more importantly had a few years after grad school where I didn’t send things out for publication really at all. And the reason I did that is because I think I had a moment, like CA talks here, about realizing that I was writing in the hopes that someone would publish me because I thought that’s what I should be doing. And I thought that’s what the work was about. And so I stopped. I stopped sending things out, I stopped writing full drafts of poems. And at the time a few folks, you know, who I was in conversation with were a little bit worried about it. But for me, that’s what I needed to do to decouple how capitalism was kind of warping not any individual poem, but how I felt about the work, why I was working, what I wanted poems to do, why I sat down to write in the morning or in the afternoon. And so yeah, I mean, I think that gets back to the idea of like, rest as resistance, like, usually we’re not told to stop, right? We’re told to like muscle through it, to push through it. And that sometimes is the answer. But for me, it was to really be quiet for a while, and to really rethink or even just think about maybe for the first time, why I was doing what I was doing, right? Like, I got my BA in creative writing, and I got my MFA and in poetry, in part because people told me I was good at it. But I think there’s also a point that I hadn’t asked myself until then, like, until these years after my MFA, is this something I actually want to do? And that sounds like really bananas to think about. But I know a lot of folks have had similar experiences.

Holly Amos: Stefania, I would like you to talk a little bit about Felicia Rose Chavez’s Inspiration Lab, because I think that is also super, it sounds very related to me to sort of what CA is talking about, and just uncoupling these things and like paying more attention to, you know, what your why is, I guess?

Stefania Gomez: Yeah, so I really resonate also with CA’s work, I love it a lot. And relating maybe to something that Maggie said earlier about how capitalism doesn’t want us to be creative. And I think it also only wants like a certain kind of person to be creative. And that’s why it’s, I feel that it’s quite a political act, to kind of like fiercely foster and protect this creative impulse. And one person that I look to is the writer Felicia Rose Chavez. And she wrote this book called The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop. And a practice of hers that I’ve stolen and modified in my own teaching is the inspiration lab that she talks about in her book. Essentially, it’s a kind of a workshop that asks participants to think about when they feel the most creatively inspired, when they don’t, how to cut those moments out and really prioritize the creativity in the day-to-day. Her book came out in 2021, I think. And it’s specifically critiquing a certain kind of writing workshop, the Iowa model. You know, the person who’s being workshopped doesn’t get to speak. Felicia found kind of alternatives to this model that she felt was more inclusive to like, first generation students, students of color, and kind of all marginalized identities. And one of the models that she uses to kind of shift the classroom to be more inclusive is this method of getting more in touch with what inspires you.

Holly Amos: I love that. So yeah, I think all of these, right, we’re talking about capitalism and labor, and also like the idea of disrupting those things, like having these, you know, CA talks about having this sort of aha moment of like, “Oh, I have brought the factory with me into my creative practice, like, it has been infiltrated by this thing.” And, you know, this sort of like aha moment is then what led CA to start doing somatic rituals, which if you’re not familiar with those, they have—there are full books that you can get. I think you can also find a lot online for free as well. But they literally are like prompts. They tell you what to do. And then you see CAConrad’s, like, writing piece that came out after it, but you can very much do them your own. And yeah, CA talks about their first somatic ritual, which, you know, I think is this, like, great disruption. You know, they talk about eating a single color food for a day for seven days. Like so they started with red and would wear red, they wore a red wig. You know, creating this thing that is like uncomfortable for, you know, I imagine CA might have been a little uncomfortable. Maybe not, maybe that was not uncomfortable. But you know, it’s an intense different experience than what the day-to-day just going through the motions looks like. Here’s CA talking a little bit more about that.


CAConrad: The first ritual that I did was to eat a single color of food for a day for seven days. I started with red, and I would wear red. I wore a red wig that was abandoned in a garbage dumpster behind a Beauty Academy. It was pinned to a Styrofoam head, but it was half permed and half straight. It was very strange looking. So that experience of being on the streets of Philadelphia wearing this strange wig, eating only red foods, and making direct eye contact with people continuously who were weirded out by me, created the language in a way for the poem in such a way that it would have never happened otherwise.


Holly Amos: I don’t know, I just, yeah, this idea of like this disruption, and I know CA also has one where they talk about reading poems to dogs at the dog park, (LAUGHS) which going back to fun, sounds very joyful to me. Like just find a different audience for your work, Stefania, like you were saying, not everybody’s gonna get your work. So, I don’t know. (LAUGHS)

Stefania Gomez: I love it. It’s almost like that movie Everything Everywhere All at Once.

Holly Amos: Yeah.

Stefania Gomez: Where you kind of have to do something like crazy kooky to make the magic work. But I, in a more serious note, I think what CA was talking about is the way that their family was so like alienated from their labor, and the way that capitalism can coopt your labor, and the state can. That’s another reason why creativity is so important, because it’s something that the state and capitalism can’t coopt. And it’s something that’s yours.

Holly Amos: Yeah, it also, it’s making me think too of like, this conversation where we started with, like, fun and seriousness, right? Like, if you listen to these somatic rituals, in many ways there’s like a funness and a silliness to them, but they’re very serious. I mean, to like, be pulling a wig out of a dumpster and like, looking people in the eye like, that is a serious undertaking. I, you know, if you aren’t like, serious about it, you would just be like, “Oh, God, this feels too weird. I’m not going to do this today,” right? And then those poems would never come to be.

Maggie Queeney: What you were just saying, Holly, reminds me of like, how I think about humor also, right? Like, there’s, like, the most effective jokes are jokes that are at there, core or kernel, also very, very serious. Yeah. And I was also, I was also thinking, like, some of the things that CA talks about doing are things that like, in some cities might get the police called on you, and you might get assessed for your mental health. So they are funny, but there’s also like, a certain amount of danger. And then I was also thinking about, like, what Stefania you were saying about who gets to be creative. And do some people get to disrupt in that way without threat of like consequences of incarceration. It’s complicated. It’s really complicated. I don’t know if I would, I don’t know if I would do that. If I would be able to do that, right, like to put on a red wig and stare people down. I guess maybe there’s only one way to find out, right? (LAUGHS)

Holly Amos: Let us know how that goes, Maggie. (LAUGHS)


Holly Amos: I actually, I think that also brings me to the idea of reading, like in order to write, which is sort of like, that’s like the first piece of advice I think any writer gets basically is like, you just need to read more. Just read more, that’ll make you a better writer. But it’s sort of like, okay, I don’t know, that’s okay advice. But the poet Anne Waldman takes that advice like a little step further. So here’s Anne.


Anne Waldman: Read a lot. Read, read, read, go pick somebody who you’re drawn to and read all their work. Read in that way, you know, read in an attentive way, rather than—and don’t read for the fashion or what you think you should be doing, “Oh, I need to read this because this is what’s hot,” you know, stick to your ethics around that. And the discipline of course, that every day you’re giving some time, whether you, whether you’re actually writing or reading or studying or taking notes or reading something aloud or talking about it, just that there’s a command or demand for your attention to poetry. And a lot of people made sacrifices, a lot of people have died to keep doing their work. A lot of people have been locked in prison. There’s so many issues around freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Just keep the big picture in mind, and you’re doing a, it’s a sacred act. Have some value for it. It can be beautifully witty and entertaining and, but it’s a serious commitment. And also realize it’s been going on for lots of years, since, I don’t think there’s any time in recorded history without poetry. So you’re in a good realm, a good zone.


Maggie Queeney: That makes me think about like, what Stefania was talking about earlier with Eduardo C. Corral talking about like, the obligation. Maybe something that we’ve been circling around, like, in this conversation a little bit is like you have an obligation to yourself as a poet and to your practice and to your work to take it seriously, and center it in your life.

Stefania Gomez: Yeah, and not to put too much pressure, but, and an obligation to the lineage that you come from creatively or biologically. Those people are kind of like with you, when you’re writing and you have to kind of honor that.


Holly Amos: This is kind of a stupid question, but there’s so many books out there. I personally get really overwhelmed trying to figure out like, what to read, where to put my time. How do you all choose a book or a journal or a poem? Like, what’s your process for that? Stefania, let’s start with you.

Stefania Gomez: I think I was one of those people who put a lot of pressure on themselves to read what I thought that I was supposed to read, what I was told to read. And I would beat myself up if it didn’t resonate with me, or if I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. (LAUGHS) And I think, what I’ve learned is that, you know, books can come into your life at kind of the wrong time. And I’ve rediscovered a lot of work. And it was just kind of about my own development and arc, as a writer. So, yeah, don’t beat yourself up is advice that I would give.

Maggie Queeney: What I tend to do is I tend to find someone that like I gravitate towards, and then it seems a little stalkery, but I will, like, look up interviews with them, find out like, what their influences are, and then follow those. So that I’m reading who they’re reading. But I think that also extends like what Anne Waldman was saying, to like, everything. It doesn’t have to be poetry, like, I read a lot of fiction and nonfiction, comic books, like if you watch movies, like I think that all of those are ways to be connected with people who are creating things. And I think for me, that also extends to like, conversations that I have with people in workshops, right? Like we, Stefania and I are both educators and like, so we read a lot as educators, we discuss works a lot as educators. And for me, that’s all part of my writing practice. Yeah, more and more, I’ve been thinking about like listening at the core of everything that I do that could be kind of like constellated around like a poetry practice or a creative practice. So like even writing a poem is just like listening, even if that’s just listening to myself. Or allowing myself to listen to something that wants to speak. And so I think we can listen to anything. Like, I often write poems to metal music, you know, like, and, like, that’s a part of my practice sometimes. Sometimes it’s, you know, true crime really, part of my practice, sometimes.

Holly Amos: Time is super limited. And so I’m just curious, I mean, you know, you guys both have jobs, (LAUGHS) you know, writing practices and other creative practices. Where does the reading happen? When does the reading happen? Like, how do you find that time? Any like, super practical tips you have?

Maggie Queeney: I mean, I have a 45-minute commute a few days a week, right? And so that’s when a lot of my reading happens. But also, there are some things that I like cut out, like I don’t have time for. Like I don’t watch a ton of TV. And I’m not slamming TV, like, TV is great when I watch it, I love it. But so I should take a step back and let you know that I’m a Taurus. So like, basically, if it was up to me, I would just eat cake all day, and like, just watch like, Investigation Discovery Channel. So instead of being like, “Is this something I want?” I’m trying to think about, “Is this something that’s actually like, nourishing? Is there any nutrients in this thing that I’m going to do?” Because I think often we think about or we talk about like, treating yourself as like cupcakes or like binge watching a show and like, that’s fun. But like it always leaves me feeling kind of crappy. Yeah, I mean, there are some things that you won’t have as much time for. So I think it’s like, what you prioritize.

Stefania Gomez: Yeah, I agree. I do think that for folks who want to figure out who to read, just, you know, looking at the presses and the magazines that the poets that you like publish at. When I was in college, I became obsessed with the writer Renee Gladman. And she’s on Wave. And then I just like, I discovered Dorothea Lasky and Tyehimba Jess, and all of the people who are on that press. And I would just like go down rabbit holes.

Holly Amos: Yeah, I’ll also just shout out audiobooks. I know there aren’t as many for poetry, but I, you know, got a library card and like, you just have access, especially with audiobooks. Like, it’s great. Like, you can just put on an audiobook and close your eyes if you want, (LAUGHS) which is really nice. Yeah, I also, I heard this interview on Seth Meyers, where Ocean Vuong describes where he wrote his first novel. And when we talk about like, we’re talking about like, where do you read and that sort of thing, like, maybe it’s on your commute, but I think where you write is also a thing to think about. And yeah, Ocean talks about writing On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. And so let’s hear Ocean talking about that.


Ocean Vuong: I had noisy roommates, they had kids, and I struggled. You know, I was an adjunct at NYU. And I would go home, working on this book, and, and I looked at the corner of my room, and I said, “Where can I, the furthest place I can go from these folks?” They were kind folks, but they were so noisy. And it was the closet.


Seth Meyers: Oh, wow.

Ocean Vuong: And the closet was the furthest place away. And I know, for a gay writer, it’s, the irony is not lost on me.


Ocean Vuong: You go in there and what was once a prison for me, I turned into a portal to write this book.

Seth Meyers: That’s fantastic.

Ocean Vuong: I went in there with a little lamp and my laptop, and it was perfect.

Holly Amos: Maggie and Stefania, can you talk about where you write? Like what’s the space look like usually?

Maggie Queeney: I’m like, I’m a little bit more omnivorous with where I write. Like, I have a place where I paint, because like, that has to get set up, and like, if it’s not set up, it’s not going to happen. As we were listening to that, I was thinking about Machado, Carmen Maria Machado. And I think it was her first collection of short stories. She wrote, Her Body and Other Stories in email drafts to herself while she was working temp jobs. Not that I write poems in my email drafts, bosses at the Poetry Foundation, don’t look into them.

Stefania Gomez: (LAUGHS)

Maggie Queeney: But I think that like you should kind of always, yeah, I think I like write throughout the day. Like not continuously, but like, I’ll write for two minutes on the bus. And then I’ll write for 10 minutes on my lunch break. I think for me, too, it’s actually really important because like, being away from a desk or the page, like I’m still thinking about what I’m writing, and that’s part of the process for me, is like standing up and getting away from it. And then coming back and putting down language. And then standing up and going to go do something else.

Stefania Gomez: It’s just awesome actually to learn about Maggie’s writing process, because I love her work. (LAUGHS)

Maggie Queeney: I like hearing about yours, too. Maybe we could—we should like, go to lunch and talk.

Stefania Gomez: We should. (LAUGHS)

Maggie Queeney: It’s a date.

Stefania Gomez: Yeah, I, yeah, I feel like it is quite similar. I’m writing notes kind of all throughout the day in this crazy Google Doc that I have. And sometimes when I have, you know, when I’m not at work, or I’ll have like an afternoon free, I’ll go and I’ll really try to push myself to write one full draft in one sitting. Because oftentimes, to be honest, I don’t even use the notes that I take or very rarely. And then in my studio at home is where I tried to edit into an actually like cleaned up kind of real draft. And that is also where like an immense amount of the actual writing happens, I think. I know it’s like a cliché again, but editing is like a huge part of the process of writing for me. My studio is also where I have my sewing stuff, and I have a mannequin that’s named Dolly. And just kind of like all of my poetry books surrounding me, and lots of like, art that my friend just made and trinkets that kind of have like good juju. So I tried to have a little nest there.

Maggie Queeney: Am I the only one who wants a tour?

Stefania Gomez: (LAUGHS) Yeah, you’re welcome into it.


Holly Amos: Yeah, so I want to close this out with one more prompt. I feel like we’ve talked a lot about how writing is very difficult. And that there is a lot of struggle and that, you know, one of the big takeaways for me is like, setting aside some time, if that’s on the bus, like, you know, commuting or on a walk or whatever to like, think about the whys of writing, what makes me want to write, and to be intentional, right? I guess intentionality is really a lot of it. I also think, Maggie, you said something earlier about, like, taking the time to rest and dream. And I think that that’s like a really beautiful part of writing. And even hearing about your studio space, Stefania, like, that sounds to me like a dreamy place, right? You took time to put that space together. So I wanted to close out with a prompt that kind of like forces me/you to do that same thing. This prompt actually partially came out of when the Powerball was, (LAUGHS) or the Powerball, the Mega Millions? Whatever the lottery was that was really high, a friend of mine told me that she made a spreadsheet of what she would do with the money if she won.

Maggie Queeney: (LAUGHS)

Stefania Gomez: Oh my god.

Holly Amos: And I thought it was actually like, really a fun practice to just be like, a dream practice, right, like, and so I actually spent this walk with my dog, picking out like, what house would I buy? And it was helpful in this way of being like, what are the things I wish I had in my life that I want? Like, what would bring me joy? Does it mean being outside more, right? Having a yard. Even if I’m not going to have a house with a yard, like I can still get those in certain ways. So I wanted to make a prompt where you sort of have to do this for yourself, because I think it’s a little bit of a gift.



So, envision the place where you’re writing in 10 years in your dream life. So it might be your dream house, your dream outside space. Spend 10 minutes and just write down in as much detail as you can, what does that space look like? Who’s there? What’s there? Do you have a mannequin named Dolly with you? How tall are the ceilings? What’s the light like? What are all the things in that space? So really get into that space as deeply as possible. Then after those 10 minutes, now that you are embodied in that future self, who has access to that future space all the time, write a poem “remembering” your old writing space. So, write a poem remembering your current writing space.


Stefania Gomez: I just want to say that I wish that we lived in a world where it was less of a financially precarious situation to be a poet.

Maggie Queeney: Yeah, that’s all.

Stefania Gomez: I think that would help with creativity a lot.

Maggie Queeney: Yeah, and if poets had things like healthcare.

Holly Amos: Maybe that’s the next prompt, right? Writing a prompt from the world in which those things are covered. I hope that like 100 years from now, there are some other people recording some sort of like alien transmissions and they’re, they have other things that they’re like, I wish poets had spaceships because you got healthcare covered, we’re super good on that front.

Maggie Queeney: Yeah, and they’re gonna look back and be like, how did, how did they exist when people didn’t all have health care?

Stefania Gomez: (LAUGHS)

Maggie Queeney: I also wanna know whose, I wanna like, see everyone else’s, like, political lineage, Stefania, Holly, do you all have that written out?

Holly Amos: I mean, I definitely don’t have that, but it made me realize in this conversation like, who I studied with at Columbia, the professors, Tony Trigilio and David Trinidad. Tony’s work isn’t necessarily like super fun—well, I don’t know, he has a lot of joy in his work. And David certainly does, too. And I think that also maybe is part of why I’m like, it needs to be fun. Like, I need more—I gotta stop taking it all so seriously, I need to put some, inject some fun in here.

Stefania Gomez: Yeah, this was another actually a good question that I heard from the VS podcast, which was like, what are the three people across genres or across disciplines that like, we need to understand before we understand your work? But and I was thinking one of mine would be Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Holly Amos: (LAUGHS)

Maggie Queeney: (LAUGHS)

Holly Amos: I love it.

Maggie Queeney: Oh, I love that.

Holly Amos: I love that so much. (LAUGHS) Maggie, who ...

Maggie Queeney: Mine’s like 20 people long, so.

Holly Amos: Throw a couple out. Throw a couple out.

Maggie Queeney: There’s nothing as cool as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but for me like, Paul Celan is always like a lodestar. The Blunt Research Group who I really love, who I bring up all the time and will forever. Also Ovid, like I really like Ovid. And I think that’s another thing it’s like when Anne Waldman was talking about, don’t worry about what’s fashionable. I remember reading a long time ago, like a really small quote from the poet A.E. Stallings that was like, “You should write the poems that you want to read,” which like, duh, of course, but for whatever reason, I was like, “Oh, that never occurred to me.” (LAUGHS) And so I was like, oh, there can be like zombies in my poems.

Holly Amos: (LAUGHS)

Maggie Queeney: There can be people that like, turn into like, rocks and stuff. So, yeah, write the poems that you want to read.

Holly Amos: Yeah or like, write the poems that you want to live in. I don’t know. I love this. I love all this.

Maggie Queeney: I think, I think also an important thing about being a poet that we didn’t talk about is how nosy you have to be. Like, I just want to like look at people’s stuff.

Holly Amos and Stefania Gomez: (LAUGH)

Maggie Queeney: Like I really want to see Dolly now.

Stefania Gomez: I’ll take a picture of her.

Maggie Queeney: (LAUGHS) Okay.

Holly Amos: I think this is why sunglasses are very important tool.

Maggie Queeney: Sunglasses are a very important tool.

Holly Amos: Yeah. Gotta sit out on the sidewalk and people watch, observe.

Maggie Queeney and Stefania Gomez: (LAUGHS)

Holly Amos: Maggie and Stefania, thank you so much for being here with me. I feel, I feel really good.

Stefania Gomez: This was awesome.

Maggie Queeney: Thanks for having us. Yeah, I’m gonna go think about my, like, dream writing studio.

Stefania Gomez: It was nice to talk to both of you.


Holly Amos: A big thanks to Maggie Queeney and Stefania Gomez for joining me in conversation today. And thank you to all of you, our listeners. May 2023 be filled with lots of writing, lots of reading, and sharing poetry in whatever ways are most fulfilling to each of us.

Maggie Queeney is a writer, artist, and educator. She’s the author of In Kind, which won the 2022 Iowa Poetry Prize, and of settler, published by Tupelo Press in 2021. She is the library associate at the Poetry Foundation.

Stefania Gomez is a queer writer, teacher, and audio artist from Chicago’s South Side. And she’s the education and youth services assistant at the Poetry Foundation.

Special thanks to Tin House Press and Between the Covers, a literary podcast hosted by David Naimon, who interviewed Vi Khi Nao. And thank you to the Louisiana Channel and the Louisiana Literature Festival in Denmark, where Anne Waldman was interviewed about the sacred act of reading.

If you are not yet a subscriber to the magazine, that is one great way to bring more poems into your life. You can use the link to subscribe, and you’ll receive a year-long subscription for just $35. That’s The show is produced by Rachel James. The music in this episode came from Resavoir, Alabaster DePlume, John McCowen, Rob Mazurek, and Irreversible Entanglements. That is it for today. Until next time, be well, stay safe. And thanks for listening.


For the month of January, we’re focusing on what keeps us writing. How do we refresh our writing habits and routines? How do poets sustain their writing practices? Today, Holly Amos enlists the help of poets and educators Stefania Gomez and Maggie Queeney. Stefania and Maggie both work in the Poetry Foundation library, and they share some of their inspirations, tips, challenges, and resources. Holly offers two writing prompts, and we hear advice on how to keep making via clips from CAConrad, Jordan Peele, Vi Khi Nao, Ocean Vuong, and Anne Waldman. 

Links and writing prompts mentioned in the episode:

–Tricia Hersey’s Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto
–Felicia Rose Chavez’s The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Classroom
–CAConrad’s website contains many (Soma)tic Poetry Ritual links, and here’s CA speaking about them on Poetry Off the Shelf
Vi Khi Nao on boredom on the Between the Covers podcast from Tin House 
Jordan Peele on writing Get Out at the 2017 Film Independent Forum 
Anne Waldman gives advice to young writers at the Louisiana Channel
Ocean Vuong talks about where he wrote his first book on Late Night with Seth Meyers

Boredom Prompt

   1. Do something boring. It could be sitting in front of a window, watching a TV show that is boring, listening to a podcast that's not that engaging, but don't multitask—do just the one thing, and do it for as much time as you have (fifteen minutes if that's all you have, or thirty if you've got longer).

   2. While you're doing whatever boring thing you're doing, have a timer go off every three minutes, and when it goes off, write down three words. 

   3. Now, use the words you wrote down to begin your poem. What do they have in common? What's the thread you're finding? Or string them all together for your first line.

Dream Writing Space Prompt

   1. Envision the place where you're writing in ten years in your dream life. What does that space look like? What's there? Who's there? How tall are the ceilings? What is the light like?

   2. Spend ten minutes writing in detail about the space. Embody that future self in that future space. 

   3. Now write a poem “remembering” your old writing space (so “remembering” your current writing space).

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