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5 Questions with Gillian Wegener

5 Questions with Gillian Wegener

By Monica Barber

 

 

 

As many poets in Modesto are tentatively trying to get their work out there, there is one person they are all fortunate to become acquainted with, Gillian Wegener. Wegener coordinates and is the co-founder of the Modesto-Stanislaus Poetry Center, MoST, has served as the poet laureate for the city of Modesto and hosts the monthly second Tuesday Poetry Reading at The Barking Dog Grill. Her endeavors encourage all levels of writers to participate locally and provide great insights into the craft of writing.  

 

Delightfully admired, Gillian is also quite well-known for the power and fluidity of her verse, being the recipient of numerous awards, including the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize in 2006 and 2007, and the Zócalo Public Square Prize for Poetry of Place in 2015, and the author of three books of poetry. The first of these books is Lifting One Foot, Lifting the Other (chapbook by In the Grove Press, 2001), followed by The Opposite of Clairvoyance (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2008) and her new collection This Sweet Haphazard (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2017). While preparing for her upcoming appearance at Dana Koster’s The Writer’s Studio to promote her newest offering Gillian took a few minutes out to talk to the View about her journey and work as a writer and her newest book, This Sweet Haphazard.

 

 

Modesto View: Tell us a little about yourself.

Gillian Wegener: I started writing poetry as a kid; certainly, I was writing and sharing poetry regularly by the time I was in jr. high. I published my first poem in my high school literary magazine and from there, I just kept writing. I’m originally from New York City and came to Modesto via Eureka, Tucson, San Diego, and Arcata, lot of different landscapes, all of which have made their way into my poetry.  The Central Valley has certainly had the greatest impact on my poetry — its people and its landscapes, all the small beauties around us every day.

 

MV: What is This Sweet Haphazard?

GW: This Sweet Haphazard is the name of my new collection of poetry. This book is basically a love song for Modesto, in all its loveliness and unloveliness. The title came to me one day while I was driving down a particularly unkempt part of McHenry. This is a town I love, but part of it seemed slapped together, with little planning, just plain haphazard, but a haphazard that I call home.

 

MV: What inspires & drives your poetry?

GW: I’m driven to write poetry because, in part, it is how I make sense of the world — looking at and seeing the beauty and universality in the ordinary– and in part because I love the song and swell of language and making it say exactly what I want in a few words, creating that emotion in such a compact space.

 

MV: Tells us what it means to you to be working as a poet and what keeps you motivated to push boundaries with your work.

GW: Working as poet means that I am attentive to everything. I listen, I watch, I read. I pay attention. I notice the date stamp in a sidewalk, and I notice the funny line someone behind me in the grocery store says into their phone. A writer, not just a poet, is really never off duty. Pity the children and the families — everything can become a poem.

If a poet becomes bored by her own work, that work is not going to ring true and resonant for anyone. I don’t want to fall into a poetic rut, so I take online classes, I read writing magazines, and most importantly I read poetry and more poetry. When I read a poet that really strikes a chord with me, like Paisley Rekdal or Brenda Hillman or Dionysio Martinez, it makes me want to try harder to push myself to try new structures and ideas in my own poetry. It’s like a poetry booster shot.

 

MV: What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

GW: The proudest moment of my poetry career…well, of course, I am proud of having had two books published by Sixteen Rivers Press, The Opposite of Clairvoyance (2008) and This Sweet Haphazard (2017), and I am proud of the work I did as poet laureate for the City of Modesto, but I think truly my proudest accomplishment is the formation of the Modesto-Stanislaus Poetry Center (MoSt Poetry Center). Bringing people together to help promote poetry throughout Stanislaus County and Stanislaus County through poetry has been a pleasure and a joy whether it has been to donate poetry books to elementary schools, hold readings at senior centers, publish the work of young Stanislaus County poets, or encourage the work of poets of all ages at the Modesto Poetry Festival. We are in our fourth year of work as a nonprofit, and we are going strong. I am so lucky to living in a county that has a large and diverse community of working poets and writers who want to go out of their way to bring poetry to everyone.

 

Thanks Gillian!

 

Gillian will be the featured guest at Dana Koster’s The Writer’s Studio on June 8th at Tri-Chromatic Gallery in Modesto. Doors open at 7pm for the free reading which will be followed by a Q&A and book signing. Her newest title will be available for purchase. You can also find Gillian’s written work online at Amazon or sixteenrivers.org. Be sure to check out MoST and become a member!

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