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Interview with C.E. Laine
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Lily — An Online Literary Review

Volume 2, Issue 6, May 2005

 

C. E.  Laine — The Left-handed Poet

By Patricia Gomes

laine3.jpg

C. E. Laine is a two-time Pushcart Prize Nominee (2004 and 2005). She lives in Virginia, in the shadow of crow’s wings passing over as they fly off buildings shorter than the Washington Monument in nearby DC.  She is left handed, was once an “extra” in a movie with Nicolas Cage, and spends spare time (when there is any) flying around in old warbirds.  She has written three full-length volumes of poetry (Allegory, The Weight Of Dust, and Postcards From A Summer Girl) and three chapbooks (Suburban Fairy Tales of Brilliant Ash and Blue Sins, with Michael Paul Ladanyi; Alice in Wonderland; Origami Flower).  She is editor of Little Poem Press, VLQ (Verse Libre Quarterly), and Erosha. Her work has appeared in several anthologies and countless publications, both in print and online.

 

PG: Editor, publisher, writer—this is all C.E. Laine.  Which is your favorite hat to wear and why?  

CEL: Of the three, writer.  I enjoy the other two also, but do them mostly as a way to give something back, even if it is a very small way.  

PG: Speaking as an editor, what do you look for in a poem?

CEL: Unusual language.  I tend to lean toward minimal work, so I like that quality in poems.  Even longer poems can be minimal in presentation; economy of words is crucial to me.  

PG: Name three things in a manuscript that will make you instantly reject it.  

CEL: Only three? If you have an hour or two, I’ll give you a list!  Just kidding. Sort of. Anyway, three things that will certainly kill any interest for me are:  

    a .   Poet did not bother to read my submission guidelines. Honestly, if a person isn’t interested enough to read the guidelines, why should they expect  me to be interested enough to read their manuscript? On principal alone, I won’t do it.
 
    b.   Cover letter begins with a list of work previously published by Poetry.com. Now, don’t get me wrong—lots of good poets have been duped by those folks. I might continue to scan, but rest assured, any mention of P-dot-C makes my antennae quiver painfully, and skepticism inevitably follows.
 
    c.  Any sort of cover letter that desperately tries to evoke sympathy, or is dripping in flattery. On the latter, I admit to enjoying a kind word or two, if sincerely put, but too much makes me jittery (see antennae comment under b). On the former, I’d rather see a poet submit work with confidence in the merit of that work.  If s/he has to tell me that s/he is now a quadriplegic and has always dreamed of being a poet, it seems as though I am being asked to publish something based on sympathy or compassion, rather than because I think the poetry is compelling.  I’d rather only put work out there that I find truly compelling.  That’s not to say I don’t have a lot of sympathy … I just won’t publish  based on sympathy.
 
PG:  Wearing your writer's hat now, on average, how many poems do you estimate you submit per month?

CEL: Heck, I really don’t know. Some months, I submit several. Some months I don’t submit any. It’s an adult ADD thing: I detest schedules and confinement of any sort. When I don’t have to plan a thing, I’d rather just go with the flow.  

PG: Finish this sentence: "I will never write about __________."

CEL: "I will never write about something that doesn’t come from my gut."

PG:  two strophes for a stain is a work of art. What was the inspiration/back story behind the words?  

CEL: Thank you; that means a great deal to me. There isn’t a clear, single back-story. It’s more a culmination of experiences and observations. The poem tells of a forced sexual experience, but it isn’t limited to sex in its meaning. It is a poem about power and victimization, and the liberation of understanding. At least, that is what it means to me. It is a sparse piece, so I expected there would be many interpretations by readers, which is absolutely okay in my book.

two strophes for a stain  

 It should have been gentle, couched
 in make-believe love words: not
 the white flash of his blind cane
 stabbing stains onto the sheets.

 This is why ink blots always remind
 her of used linen, and the way  
 a man drives without direction.

— from Postcards From A Summer Girl; first appeared in The Metastatic Whatnot


PG:  How do you handle rejection and/or bad reviews?  

CEL: I shrug.  I think at this point, when I get a rejection, it’s usually because the style of my work wasn’t a good fit with the publication, or there were too many things they wanted a lot more than they wanted mine. Sometimes, my work will rub a reader completely the wrong way … but that’s copasetic. I’m not out to please everyone, or get published everyplace. I’m just channeling whatever creative stuff there is in my veins. I haven’t gotten that many rejections in a while, mostly because I tend to choose where I submit based on style preferences.   

I don’t worry a lot anymore about whether someone likes or dislikes me. I’ve learned that I can’t click with everyone, or connect with everyone.  And more importantly, that’s totally okay.  It isn’t any reflection of who I am, or who the other person is.  And this is a good thing to know.  

PG: Writers' block: myth or reality?  

CEL: Both.  Like anything else, it's a state of mind.  I think that sometimes there is too much stress or pressure to perform.  Sometimes the pen just needs a rest.  

PG: Christine, I know that you tool around the US in your own plane (gulp!), what's the farthest you've flown to attend a reading?   

CEL: I’ve actually only just started giving readings again last fall, so I haven’t yet flown to a single one.  The airplane in question is a 1941 Piper J-5, which does not have a radio installed. This means I can’t fly it in certain areas, where radio contact with towers is mandatory.  There are other factors (think it’s expensive filling up your car, try avgas!!) as well, though.  Sure would be fun to do an aerial reading tour one day.  That might be worth planning for!

PG: Flying versus driving: what is it that makes the sky so special to you?   

CEL: Ah … this is a tough one.  The sky can be like religion, like kissing God. It is an absolute and unfettered freedom.  Motorcycling is the closest thing to it on the ground. I love that, too.  And I love driving—especially a standard transmission.  It’s the unison with machinery, the freedom, being able to feel the sky (or road, as the case may be) in your hands and your seat.  Very sublime stuff.

PG: How old were you when you got your pilot's license and what made you do it … what was the driving force (no pun intended) behind your decision?   

CEL: I was in my early thirties when I finally started pursuing flying. It was a rebirth for me—I’d wanted to fly since I was small, but somewhere along the way, I’d lost my faith in dreams. Poverty can do that to you. I just stopped believing that anything beyond survival was a thing I could spare energy for, in real life. Then fate stepped in and the sky opened up to me.  

PG: Your web site contains the definition of the word girl. Definition 2a states: "… SWEETHEART b sometimes offensive: a female servant or employee …" Has your sex burdened your career in any way? Are there times you feel like "a female servant" and what do you do to combat that feeling?  

CEL: That’s an interesting question. I don’t think my sex has ever burdened my career, at least not in any substantial way. Having been in the army, and involved in a few oft-male dominated pursuits (aviation, motorcycling, etc), I can say there’ve been many times when some thoughtless representative of the male population has irked me more than slightly.  

I’ve been offended. I’ve been sexually harassed, mostly in low-key ways … nothing to make a federal case out of. I think there are a lot of instances where the opportunities are not quite equal for the sexes, but it’s a lot better than it’s ever been. Some things related to this have been burning deeply for me, for a while, and I’ve begun writing about them. It’s cathartic, I suppose.

PG: Name one thing about yourself you would not change for any price.   

CEL: My intuitiveness.  

PG: One thing about yourself you would change in a heartbeat?  

CEL: I would be less inhibited. I would let people get a bit closer than I usually do.  

PG: Finish this sentence: "I am most proud of __________

CEL: … being able to face fear, and overcome adversity with light and hope in my heart."

PG: Speaking of proud moments, tell us which movie you appeared in with Nicolas Cage—was acting a lifelong dream?  Is it still?  

CEL: The movie was called Zandalee, set in New Orleans, and it did not do well at the box office.  For the most part, my contact with Mr. Cage was pretty limited and distant, but I won’t try to kid you—it sure was cool!  Some things are fun by virtue of the coolness factor, and it is great when that happens (and even better, when you realize that as it happens, being in the moment). I was just an extra, but as far as extra work went, I got to do a lot in that movie.  

I play two different girls in the climactic scene near the end when one of the characters is killed.  I dash across the street in front of the assailant’s speeding car, and then from another angle, I am listening to a sidewalk preacher.  When the shots ring out, I grab his crucifixes and run.  Doing an outdoor action scene like that, surrounded by onlookers, complete with blood bags … well, it was that coolness factor.  A lot of fun.  

As far as acting goes, I might dabble in it again, if the mood strikes.  Who knows?  At one time, the stage was a big draw for me. That was my college major (speech/theatre/dance) at Rowan before I dropped out to elope.  I did extra work in New Orleans in the early 90’s, and was a performer—a magician's assistant—for a while. I walked on a bed of swords and ate fire, did an escape from chains thing, and stuck a needle through a balloon.  I also pushed the cart full of equipment all over the Quarter, sweating under full makeup, under the hot Louisiana sun.  Funny—I’d always wanted my life to be an adventure, so I’d have plenty of stories to tell.  Oddly enough, now that I have a few, I don’t say a lot.  I think I expect disbelief, or worry that folks will think I am being a boor.  

PG:  You are seriously overworked, my dear; tell us what's currently waiting to be done within the next few months. 

CEL: Let’s see... how long have you got?  I’m working on a series of chapbooks with Michael Paul Ladanyi.  We recently released the first of five, Suburban Fairy Tales of Brilliant Ash and Blue Sins.  I’ve had this spoken word CD on the back burner for a while, so that’s a project I want to get moving on soon.  I’m pursuing art again—unpacked my paintbrushes.  The trouble is finding time.  There are also a few anthologies in the works … just a myriad of things.

PG: Is it more difficult to collaborate than write alone?  

CEL: It depends.  I like to work alone, but with the right partner, collaborations are pretty awesome.  That is definitely the case in my work with Michael Paul Ladanyi.  We’ve had a great shared, unspoken vibe thing going in our work, and I believe it really shows in the manuscript.  I guess I see each experience as it’s own definition.  There isn’t an “all” or “everything”.  There are too many variables in life for that, and I refuse to limit myself.  

PG: Most creative people suffer from bouts of depression, have you?  And have you made depression work for rather than against you?

CEL: I have definitely gone through some major bouts of depression.  I’m blessed, though, in being an optimistic person.  My depression(s) have been exclusively situation-based, rather than a state-of-mind, alone.  The up-side to this is if you alter the situation, you can remove the source of the depression.  I’d like to think I am good at turning lemons into lemonade.   

PG:  In your opinion, which is the stronger motivator: ego or fear?  

CEL: Fear. In my eyes, ego isn’t a motivator … it’s a magician, or a pickpocket.  It can empty you when you aren’t looking.  Fear can certainly shove a person harder and faster than almost anything else.  Or, it can paralyze. Depends, really, on how a person relates to it.

PG: What inner force pushes you to work as hard as you do?

CEL: Okay—here goes:

    a     I’m a wannabe-overachiever?
    b     I’m insane?
    c     I have ADHD?
    d     I bite off more than I can chew?
    e     I wanna be everything when I grow up?
    f     All of the above.
 
PG:  Are there days you want to chuck the whole thing and retire to a private island?  

CEL: Yeah.  Hourly!  Maybe I will, one day.  But retirement will be busy for me.  It will look a lot like my life now, just more scenery, and less worry about bills and deadlines. Or, that’s the hope, anyway.  A beach wouldn’t hurt, either.

PG:  Share an amazing talent no one knows you possess.  

CEL: I have monkey feet.  I pick things up, turn doorknobs, and occasionally attempt penmanship with my toes.  A few people know this, but only a very few.

PG:  What's the weirdest thing you collect?  

CEL: Antique chamber pots, I suppose.  I collect a lot of odd things, though.

PG: Finish this sentence: "Under no circumstance will I wear black with _______ ."

CEL: … a wedding dress. " I love black; it is mysterious and full of the allure of unspoken possibilities.  I wear it often.  I don’t think black belongs at a wedding, though. I’m not likely to marry anytime in the near future … it was just the only place I could think of that I would absolutely not wear black!

PG: Songwriter, dead or alive, whose words touch you the deepest?  

CEL: I’ve always loved Paul Simon’s lyrics—the early stuff, with Garfunkel.  I am also very fond of Jewel and Tracy Chapman.  There are a great many songwriters I admire.  

PG: Favorite song?  

CEL:  I can’t pick one; I want ‘em all!  Seriously, I have very eclectic taste.  I enjoy almost every kind of music, and couldn’t begin to pick just one (or even just ten).  Music is very important to me; it moves me.  I love the whole of Simon & Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme.  I’ve been listening to Limp Bizkit a lot (specifically, Behind Blue Eyes) lately.  I love 70’s rock, the blues, jive … you name it.  

PG:  Tell us about your children.  How difficult was it to write when they were babies? Where did you find the time?

CEL: I have two teenaged sons: Corey is 14 and Jesse is almost 16.  They are both highly creative and imaginative. Jesse plays guitar, and both boys are visual artists.  Corey is currently studying to be the next Jim Carey; he has a magnificent sense of comic timing. They’ve both flown airplanes and have traveled with me quite a lot.  They are intelligent, charming young men.  

I didn’t write a lot when they were babies.  My life at that time was fairly difficult.  I lived in abject poverty much of that time, and couldn’t afford the luxury of writing. You could say I graduated the University of Hard Knocks. The up-side is that I have things to write about now. When I was young, I asked for life to give me plenty of experiences to write about.  All I can say is: be careful what you wish for!

PG: Are you a night writer or a day writer … and why?  

CEL: I’m able to write at almost any time, but I'm generally a night owl.  The quiet of night is easy for me to sink into.  I write when there are few distractions and not a lot of commotion—either when my sons are in school, or late at night.  Sometimes, though, I scribble on paper napkins wherever I am, or jot on my PDA on Metro.  Sometimes my hands are the boss of me.

PG: Name one living poet today with whom you'd love a chance to share the stage.  

CEL: Jo McDougall.  I recently discovered her book, DIRT, in a second-hand bookstore, and loved the poems in it. She has a clear, fine, minimalist voice.  I would love to do a reading with her.

PG: Before I turn you loose to ride the sky, share with us the best writing advice you've ever gotten:

CEL: I think all the writing advice I’ve ever gotten is wrapped up in one tangled ball of yarn in my brain.  It’s all melded together into an inseparable idea, some concept that I could only paraphrase at this point.  The gist, though, of the best bits of insight I’ve gleaned (apologies to whomever the original inspiration was for my failing memory) are probably these: Learn what your own voice sounds like, and honor that.  It (rejection) is seldom personal (and when it is personal, you know you applied for the wrong thing to begin with).  Everything is a learning experience.  Oh, and don’t be afraid to cut even your favorite line in a poem—you can always use it elsewhere.

* * * * * *
Lily
2005 All rights reserved.
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