A debut collection
2020-21 Stadler Fellow Laura Villareal earned her MFA at Rutgers University-Newark. She works on an interview series at F(r)iction called "Writers Talking about Anything But Writing" and is a 2019-2021 National Book Critics Circle Emerging Fellow. Expect her debut poetry collection,
Girl's Guide to Leaving, in Spring 2022.
Stadler Center: What can you tell us about your new book of poetry? How long have you been working on this collection?
My debut poetry collection, Girl’s Guide to Leaving
, will be published as part of the Wisconsin Poetry Series
. There’s no set pub date yet, but it'll likely be out Spring 2022.
The oldest poem in the book is from 2014 when I started graduate school and the newest poem is from 2019. After publishing my chapbook The Cartography of Sleep
(Nostrovia! Press 2018), I began putting together what I insisted was a second chapbook, but thankfully my dear friends and partner encouraged me to put together a full-length book since they could see the visible connections between my newer work and the chapbook. In summer 2018, I compiled a manuscript draft that was essentially The Cartography of Sleep
, a sequence of prose poems, and the second chapbook manuscript, but that manuscript didn’t ultimately become the book. It was way too unwieldy and disparate. The shaping and revising of Girl's Guide to Leaving
has taken me around two years.
SC: Did the process of writing your full-length book differ from your prcoess for the chapbook? How did the pandemic influence your process?
LV: I’m fascinated with world-building so my chapbook includes reimaginations of Mesoamerican myths and gods/goddesses which became a skeleton for The Cartography of Sleep. The retellings were a way to explore what it means to reclaim my narrative after relationship violence and to explore aspects of my identity. The chapbook couldn’t work with only those mythic poems though—it was too impersonal, too distant. My VONA/Voices workshop leader Willie Perdomo asked “Where is Laura in her poems?” and something clicked for me. That question became a sort of arc for the chapbook—moving from the mythic and dreamscapes into a personal reckoning.
The process for Girl’s Guide to Leaving was kind of like that E.L. Doctorow quote: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I worked poem to poem and began noticing there was a thread about leaving that kept popping up so I began pulling on it to see what would unravel.
The pandemic halted my work on the manuscript as I figured out how to navigate everyday life. One positive is that the pandemic gave me distance from the manuscript, which allowed me to revise poems critically and rethink the order when I started this fellowship.
SC: What can readers expect from your forthcoming editorial feature in West Branch?
LV: My West Branch feature is on the topic Document(s). I feel like it’s important to document events in an age of crisis and misinformation like this. I put out an open call on social media and was delighted by the range of work that I received. The poems included document a range of identities, family history/relationships, the pandemic, and a range of other topics both timely and historical. The feature also has work where poets engage with political, biblical, and other documents through collaging, blackout poems, etc. I’m so excited to share the feature with everyone!
––Alexandra Schneider, Stadler Center Program Assistant