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10 Questions for Nancy Miller Gomez

The dress bound my body
like a bandage staunching a wound.
Lace choked my throat.
My arms were cinched in tourniquets of tuelle.

I was a hand grenade of a girl
vacuum packed into a costume,
my fingers poised in the fuselage of my lap.
I'd chopped my hair short.
—from "My First Grade Picture," Volume 61, Issue 1 (Spring 2020)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
I published my first collection of poems when I was ten. It was written in cursive on multi-colored construction paper held together with brass brads and filled with bad drawings of peace signs and flowers. The opening poem in that “collection” was called “Freedom.”

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
I’ve always read voraciously, so any list would be long and incomplete. That said, a few of my poetry influences include: Ellen Bass, Dorianne Laux, and Belle Waring (so sad she only published two books). Also, the men and women who’ve participated in the poetry workshops I’ve taught in the county jails deserve to be mentioned as a source of inspiration. It takes courage to show up and write under challenging circumstances and I aspire to match their level of honesty and commitment.

What other professions have you worked in?
To paraphrase Wislawa Szymborska, few people get to choose a job out of passion; the circumstances of their lives chose for them. That’s mostly been the case for me. In Kansas, I mucked out stalls at a local stable for five dollars a day. My first job in California I worked as a waitperson. I couldn’t carry more than two plates at a time. If customers yelled because I forgot to bring them a refill or another napkin or their order wasn’t right – I cried. I was also clumsy and prone to knocking things over. I once spilled catsup all over Truman Capote at a sidewalk cafe in LA. He was wearing a starched white shirt and was very sweet about it, but I was fired anyway. Although I wanted to write, I was a young mother who needed to keep a roof over my kid’s head and shoes on her feet, and because I’d gotten fired from every waitressing job, I decided to go to law school. I became a litigator and then in-house counsel for several entertainment companies including Paramount Pictures. Later, I ran a production company and produced television for many years.

What inspired you to write this piece?
I have the photograph on which it is based. I can’t look at it without remembering how I felt wearing that dress. Also, I went through a period as a girl where I didn’t know how to smile. More precisely – I didn’t know how to smile on demand, so in pictures I often look agitated. This still happens to me sometimes. In this particular photo it appears as if I’m trying not to explode.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined that influences your writing?
I read an essay once about a man who was in love with a woman he dreamed about but he wasn’t sure if she was real or if he had ever met her. That’s how I feel about home. It’s a physical place I’ve spent my whole life trying to find though I’m not sure it exists anywhere. The longing for it is tangible even if the memory of it isn’t. That longing influences my writing. From this imagined place I can see sky reflected in a pond past the edge of a grassy slope. It is dusk and the porch light behind me is just beginning to glow, which now that I think about it – sounds a lot like where I grew up in Kansas.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
I typically don’t play to music while I write because I find myself listening and not writing. When possible, I keep my doors and windows open so I can hear the birds. Their calls arrive and subside at certain times of the year so there is always a fresh playlist: Golden-crowned Sparrows in fall, an Olive-sided Flycatcher in spring, Acorn Woodpeckers year round.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
I like to write late at night or first thing in the morning. When I’m stuck, which is often, I read until inspiration strikes. Or I take a walk. Or I make soup. I make a lot of soup. My kids call me the soup witch because my soup will cure what ails you.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I love to discover and create worlds, so photography and assemblage with found objects in the vein of Joseph Cornell’s shadowboxes. I’m currently shooting a series of photographs called Dolls in the Wild. Also I collect objects for their potential use in future dioramas. For a while I was recovering vintage TVs, ripping the guts out of them and using them as environments for found objects. But they take up too much space.

What are you working on currently?
I’m working on a full-length poetry manuscript tentatively called, “Love in the Time of Extinctions,” as well as a collection of personal essays entitled, “Self Deception for Survival: A Handbook.”

What are you reading right now?
“Under the Net,” by Iris Murdoch, “Bluets,” by Maggie Nelson, and “Indigo,” by Ellen Bass.


NANCY MILLER GOMEZ's work has appeared or is forthcoming in River Styx, Rattle, The Bellingham Review, Verse Daily, American Life in Poetry, Nimrod, and She was a semi-finalist for the Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize. Her first chapbook, Punishment, was published as part of the Rattle Chapbook Series. She has a Masters in Fine Arts in Poetry from Pacific University and currently volunteers as the director of The Santa Cruz Poetry Project, an organization that provides poetry workshops to incarcerated men and women.

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