Alum Feature: Mary Anne Reese

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Mary Anne Reese is an attorney based in Cincinnati.  She graduated from the MA program May 2012 and she is the author of the poetry collections Raised by Water (Finishing Line Press, 2011) and the forthcoming Down Deep (Finishing Line Press). 

Since you were/are a lawyer, why did you decide to pursue an MA in English?  And why did you choose our program?
Most of my legal practice involves analytical writing. I knew from my undergrad experience that studying English would sharpen those analytical writing skills, and it has.

My real hunger, however, was to turn my creative side loose in a supportive environment and see what might happen. I searched online and found NKU’s new graduate program. From the first course, I knew I was in the right place. The learning community, the mentoring and feedback I received, and the extensive reading I did all helped me to develop as a writer.

Also, while many fields of study provide useful skills, I think the humanities are a lifeline. Our professors, students and the coursework taught me a great deal about living fully, with steadfastness, compassion and resilience.

What have you been up to since graduation?
I’m still working as an attorney–I do a lot of writing in the area of criminal constitutional law. In my spare time, I love to swim. I’ve also taken up tai chi. Since lawyering and writing require a lot of sitting, it really helps to move around. I’ve also found some good community writing programs–the Cincinnati Writers Project, Grailville, library series. . .

You just had your chapbook, Down Deep, accepted for publication by Finishing Line Press.  Can you tell us a bit about those poems?  How did they come together as a collection?
Most of the poems were part of my capstone project with Kelly Moffett, and one came from the 2012 First West Retreat. To arrange them, I did what I once heard Billy Collins suggest–pull out the strongest poems and lead with those.

Three topic areas predominate in the collection–gifts and struggles in family, in the natural world, and in my faith tradition. To keep the collection dynamic, I mixed up these topic areas. I also mixed up poems from different time periods and those with different voices/tones. Somehow there’s an inherent, nonlinear kind of logic to it. Almost every poem has water in it. The collection starts with a childhood scene and ends at a grave.

What is your writing process like?
Something strikes me that I need to respond to–it might be a film, a letter, a life event or a leaf. I sometimes make a note of it on my phone. Then I ruminate for awhile, or put it aside and then revisit it. For the actual writing, I like to have long stretches of time–the Friday night before our CWP poetry group meets on Saturday, or a Sunday morning. Then I revise and revise over at least a couple of weeks. I like to get feedback from a critique group before writing the final draft or submitting it anywhere.

Who are you reading right now?
Edward Hirsch

Do you have any advice to the student-writers in our program? 
Take every chance to read your work to an audience–at readings, conferences, the radio, open mics. NKU gave me a lot of those opportunities. It helps to hear how your work sounds out loud–what flows and what trips you up. Readings also let you feel audience response in a way that doesn’t happen alone at your computer. Giving readings is also a good counter to the critical voice that says “you can’t really write” or “you’re just wasting your time.”

For many of the same reasons, it’s great to attend writing conferences and retreats.

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