A Conversation with Crystal Stone

Congratulations on Knock-off Monarch! Can you tell us a bit about it?

CS: Knock-off Monarch is a collection of poetry exploring the formation of identity and the instability of that process. It’s a coming-of-age poetry book that shows the changing view of family, religion, and ultimately self over time. The book makes room for a person like me to exist when I’ve often felt like an imposter in both my family and the academic world.

What is your creative process?

CS: This summer, I wrote on 750words.com every morning to clear my mind of the clutter; then, I went on a five-mile skate at a local park. Now that school’s back in session, my process has shifted again. I sneak in a poem like I sneak in my exercises: whenever I have time. But the truth is that I’m always crafting poems. I find them in class, in conversations with people I love, when I’m reading the news, when I’m watching Netflix comedy specials, when I’m babysitting or tutoring my neighbors’ children. I’m always alert for an anecdote, taking notes of my surroundings, the way they’ve changed, the way they meet or fail to meet my expectations.

Who has been the greatest influence on your work and why?

CS: It would be inaccurate to say I’ve had just one influence on my work. I read poetry regularly and all of the poetry I read influences what I write. Some of my favorites right now are Hanif Abdurraqib, Sabrina Orah Marks, Kaveh Akbar, Mei-Mei Bressenbrugge, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Paige Lewis, Lisel Mueller, Lucille Clifton, and Diane Seuss. I love them all for different reasons. Hanif Abdurraqib has me looking for reflections of myself in the animals I pass by on the street, in words that we reject, in small, forgotten places; Sabrina Orah Marks teaches me to express a story without telling it; Mei-Mei Bressenbrugge teaches me to explore nature on a molecular level, to probe and explain my psychology; Ellen Bryant Voigt teaches me about punctuation in its absence; Lisel Mueller and Lucille Clifton teach me about concision, writing short poems about quiet moments; Diane Seuss teaches me to craft a longer, narrative structure of poetry.

And while I love these poets now, I don’t know who I will discover next and how they will expand my understanding of poetry and where I can take my work in the future. I see myself as ever-evolving personally and inevitably professionally as a writer, too.

What is your greatest challenge when writing and how do you overcome it?

CS: The greatest challenge I have to overcome is self-doubt. I overcome it through practicing regularly and allowing myself to take breaks (however long they need to be) to process what I’ve encountered.

I started my journey as a professional writer with a blizzard of self-doubt. I didn’t trust myself to write a poem. I was a snowflake and my contributions melted in a concrete warmer, more expansive, and more powerful than my voice. Realistically, I didn’t even know enough about myself to recognize I had a voice. So I tried to practice others’. I read a book of poetry per week and tried to write at least one poem each week in their style. I became excellent at personas, but I lost my own individuality in the process. I stopped writing for two years.

When I rediscovered poetry, the exact voices I had read before weren’t fresh in my memory. They assimilated with my voice and I emerged with a style uniquely my own. Now, I no longer rely on persona or after poems to assist me. I trust my voice and I send my work out to the public because I believe my thoughts are worth sharing.

And even though I still have overwhelming moments of self-doubt, I also have years of working through it. The memory of my past successes helps me maintain the façade of confidence when the negative self-talk arises internally. My routines and the past successes help me to continue to move forward.

In you TEDx talk, you speak about the power of poetry and how it can inform and enhance a person’s emotional literacy. How has reading poetry influenced how you write poetry in terms of emotional literacy?

CS: As a poem instructs me how to write, it also instructs me how to feel and process my emotions. Every poem I read is a how to. I’m exploring with the poet. As a result, I’m learning to explore my emotions poetically the ways that I’ve seen it modelled. And obviously, there are times that I resist certain techniques and styles, but even the act of resisting is a part of my emotional development. When I reject what others are doing, I’m learning about myself and how I’d like to share my own vulnerable experiences.

In recent years, we’ve seen a re-emergence of poetry in mainstream American society. Poetry is no longer limited to academics, high-brow literatures, and slam sessions. It has become the modern voice of social justice–the voice of silenced peoples. Why do you think poetry has resurfaced now?

In America, we’re emotionally illiterate and suffering. A Brazilian friend pointed out that what Americans have gained in material wealth from capitalistic success, we lost in our psychological stability. She points out that we’re taught to pull ourselves up from our bootstraps, not to bring our neighbors and family members up, too. So we’re lonely. Suicide rates are on the rise—some sources say up 24% since 1994. Older communal spiritual practices are falling out of fashion. We spend less time outside. We spend more time on the internet. We are distanced from others physically and metaphorically; we’re separated by educational experiences, income inequalities, social media performances, career ambitions, legislation, politics, and religions.

What’s most beautiful to me about poetry is that it unifies us across cultural boundaries and bridges those physical and metaphorical gaps. It provides us with stories and intimate experiences from people we might never meet. And each of these emotional experiences add up over time, growing our emotional literacy.

As we read poems, we witness healing. We learn how others have processed grief, failure, jealousy, and have a model to explore our feelings. And because we live in such an isolationist, individualistic society that gives us little space for communal healing, poetry is the space that our tangible world lacks.

That’s why I think poetry is making a comeback in mainstream American culture now. Because people are starting to recognize the various ways it can change our lives for the better.

So, what’s next for Crystal Stone?

CS: I have quite a few cool events coming up. I hosted a free virtual talk for the National Conversation Project on October 11th at 8:15 pm CDT. This is an extension of my TEDx talk, with new poetry examples, and action steps for how to make poetry more visible in your community.

I’m reading poetry at Arts on the Prairie in Perry, IA, the Western Illinois Sigma Tau Delta Regional Conference, and the All Votes Matter Festival in Des Moines, IA.

In January, I’ll be hosting a community ghazal workshop and reading at ArtFusion in Pottstown, PA with Akosua Nyantakyi and Jessica Winchell. That same week, I’ll be hosting a news poem blackout poetry workshop at the Wooden Shoe Bookstore in Philadelphia, PA.

I’m still in the process of scheduling more readings, speaking engagements, and poetry readings through my website. My calendar there is constantly being updated as I travel to new places to share my poetry, stories, and knowledge.

Crystal's poetry has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Driftwood, New Verse News, Occulum, Anomaly, BONED, Eunoia Review, isacoustics, Tuck Magazine, Writers Resist, Drunk Monkeys, Coldnoon, Poets Reading the News, Jet Fuel Review, Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle, North Central Review, Badlands Review, Green Blotter, Southword Journal Online and Dylan Days. She is currently pursuing her MFA at Iowa State University, gave a TEDx talk on poetry the first week of April and her first collection of poetry, Knock-Off Monarch, is forthcoming from Dawn Valley Press this autumn. You can find her on Twitter @justlikeastone8 and on instagram @stone.flowering or at her website.

Lauren Walsburg is an Australian writer, editor, and artist. She has been published or has forthcoming work in Skive Magazine, Positive Words, Cauldron Anthology, The Mystic Blue Review and Riggwelter. Her debut poetry collection Ink Stained Heart was released in April 2017. You can find her at laurenwalsburg.com and @LaurenWalsburg.

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