An interview with William Reichard

In the first of a series of interviews for MIEL, Carol Rowntree Jones spoke with William Reichard, whose chapbook as breath in winter was published this spring.

William Reichard | AS BREATH IN WINTER

CRJ:  Bill, I’d like to ask you where your understanding of poetry comes from? Do you feel as though you are part of a history of writing and, if so, how do you feel your writing takes part in that?

WR:  15I believe my understanding of poetry comes from a combination of my love of language, art, and music. I love language because it’s malleable. You can stretch it, warp it, bend it, even break it. I love to look for that moment when what makes sense sits on the verge of making no sense at all. I think poetry, like any other creative art, lives on that very thin line between sense and nonsense. I often feel as if prose, fiction or nonfiction, has to operate within given parameters, though there are plenty of prose writers who push the boundaries of these parameters. Poetry, in contrast, lives without such fixed edges. Certainly, if you work in fixed forms, you’re working within very clear, established parameters. Otherwise, the field is open. We each write what makes sense to us, and the more we write, the more sense we can make of the general incomprehensibility of life.

I’ve always been drawn to the visual and performing arts, and to music. I can’t really read music, but musician and composer friends tell me that my work has a sense of musicality to it, and I certainly have a lot of musically gifted people in my life. I don’t know if I’m a visual thinker because I love art, or I love art because I’m a visual thinker. In either case, visual art plays an important part in my poetry. I often write in the ekphrastic tradition, building poems around a scaffolding made from specific painting or dances or musical compositions. I look for what connects, and not for what separates, all art.

I do see myself, my work, as existing on a poetic continuum. I’ve always loved reading, and who I am as a writer now is the result of the influence of everything I’ve read up to this moment. Not all things are equal, and some forms and styles of writing have had a more profound impact on my writing than others. I find myself feeling both amused and perturbed when I encounter (usually younger) writers who say that they don’t read poetry because they don’t want someone else’s work to influence or even taint their own. Unless you’ve lived in complete isolation your whole life, have never read a word, your own work has been influenced by the work of others. I personally don’t know of any writers who are “pure” in this sense, and I’d bet I’ll never meet one. The history of literature is beautiful, and it’s a process of accrual, one layer or age building on top of the previous. In the end, you get a glorious pearl.

I guess I’d say that I’m a part of an American, free verse tradition, and this over-arching tradition is comprised of many, many singular movements. I’m gay, so I see myself as a child of Whitman, Ginsburg, and Rich, among others. I write lyric work, and I often make use of narrative, so these are also a part of me. My reading tastes are wide. I like to know what’s happening with contemporary poetry, even if I’m drawn to some styles more than others. I feel responsible, as a writer, to keep up with as much new writing as possible.

William Reichard | AS BREATH IN WINTER

CRJ:  I loved so much of your new book from MIEL. Can you tell me, in one sentence, what you would say as breath in winter is about? Tell me what interests you most about this book – or tell me other things, besides books, that might constellate around it?

WR:  as breath in winter is about ghosts, time, and an unfulfilled desire to understand the universe. I put this book together to try and make some sense out of a world that I find largely senseless. Maybe this is why any of us makes art? What interests me most about this book is the way in which it explores how our lives are linked, often precariously, to the lives of others, and also linked to the physical and spiritual world around us. We tell stories in order to understand ourselves. The stories here come only in fragments. They’re not meant to offer the reader any answers, but rather, to serve as a launch point from which the reader might enter into a state of contemplation (and that state might be peaceful, chaotic, wonderful or dreadful, etc.)

CRJ:  What is your creative process like? For instance, how do you generally begin writing, and how do you go from that to the stage where you are ready to say your work ‘is done’?

WR:  I like to think that I’m always writing. Even when I’m not actively putting something down on paper, I’m gathering ideas, images, impressions, and these tend to rumble around in my head for a while before they’re ready to move into print. Most of my work starts with an image that sticks in my mind. I’m a very visual thinker. As I try to capture an image, in words, I start to discover what the image is, what I want to do with it, and what it wants me to do with it. Sometimes, poems come on fast, and after a draft or two, they’re done. More often, I think for a long while about a piece, then I write it out longhand, in my notebook I keep, and then I let it sit for anywhere from a week to several months. I often go back and look at these handwritten sketches, scratch out words or phrases, replace them, realign the work, find a title, etc.  When I’m ready, I type the poem in to my computer, and this serves as another step in revision. I rarely type a new piece of work directly into the computer, especially with poetry. It seems to need to be born out of my hand, in ink, first.

I don’t have one answer to the question regarding how I know when a piece of work is done. Sometimes I know immediately. I read over the poem, look at how it lives on the page, and I know that it’s complete. Usually, each poem needs to go through multiple revisions. While I revise, I’m working on two or more levels. There is the syntactical level, the specific words I select, the punctuation I use. There is the musical or sound level, what the poem sounds like when I hear myself speak it in my head, and what it sounds like when I say it out loud. There is also the visual level, the way the poem sits on the page, how it makes use of the totality of the white space available. I don’t move words around on the page just to play, though play is an important part of any creative undertaking. Page placement, like line breaks, word choice, punctuation, needs to be a conscious, thoughtful act. Some poems are never really finished. When I give a reading and perform work from earlier books, I sometimes change the older poems to suit my current standards. I don’t make a regular practice of this, but I learn something new about writing every time I write, or read, and this ongoing evolution can mean that what I thought was good enough in the past, I now find lacking, so I make adjustments.

CRJ: Finally, Bill, what has your experience been in working with MIEL?

WR:  Working with MIEL has been wonderful. Eireann has been gracious and patient, and the edits she suggested for my chapbook manuscript were right on target. It’s a better book because of her. Eireann first mentioned the idea of a chapbook a couple of years ago, and I was flattered that she thought enough of my work that she wanted to publish it. I love the design of all of MIEL’s books, and I’m very happy with the look and feel of mine. It’s lovely to feel that I’m a part of this artistic moment that Eireann and Jonathan have created.

William Reichard | AS BREATH IN WINTER

Rachel Moritz on HOW ABSENCE

Today, Rachel Moritz—whose How Absence is being bound now and is shipping as we bind—writes for us about the process of making these poems and of forming this book, and about motherhood.

A strange imagination

How Absence began as a series of poems written in the first years of my son’s life.

My son began as an idea, he was a process I undertook “to have a baby,” then a product of my body, then he was himself.

“…a strange imagination can do as much as the Heavens can…” –Jane Sharp, midwife

Rachel Moritz: HOW ABSENCE
“The Figure Explained: Being a Dissection of the Womb with the usual manner how the Child lies therein, near the time of its Birth.” From The Midwives Book, or the Whole Art of Midwifry Discovered, by Jane Sharp, published 1671


While I was pregnant, I craved language about childbirth beyond the endless online articles or parenting books suddenly entering my world.

I was drawn to this midwifery manual of the late Renaissance, its textural and archaic words: the placenta a cake, the ovaries Seed vessels, the umbilical cord a Navel String. And its central illustration: a flower between the pregnant woman’s legs, her annotated, flayed womb as she stares out at us.

This woman is not the true subject of the illustration, though she contains it: both process (‘near the time of its Birth’) and location (‘the Womb, the Child therein’). I wrote often with this image, drafts of poems that never settled.


When my son was in the world, his presence felt like a nearness submerging me into cycle: sleep and waking, day and another day, being with him and being without him.

My suspension in the nearness of early motherhood (near to him/near to his body) also felt oddly simultaneous with absence:

Absence from self (a former intimacy vanishing instantly with his birth).

Absence from the other half of my son’s biological material (his conception through a donor we’ll know little about until my son turns 18).

Absence/removal from time as an axis I perceived myself moving along with (seemingly) clear direction.

In its place: foreground, blur, repetition.

Rachel Moritz: HOW ABSENCE


As my son grew beyond the first early months, time also seemed to warp. It sped up. Physical sensations, moments of image, days, months: everything felt like it was hurtling toward me at breakneck speed. His presence was the new calendar, one that, before, had never felt so unrelenting as well as so swift.

Is one’s sense of time more intimate under the nearness of living with a young child or is it simply that one’s sense of space has shifted? How all things shrink around the perimeter of a person (hood) not your own.

Rachel Moritz: HOW ABSENCE


In some sense, what’s transformed most since my son’s birth is my relationship to time + space.

Present, Presence

These two locales (what else do we live by?) directly affecting my imaginative life: access, energy, scope, focus.

The poems in How Absence are one set of frames or distillations around shifts in self that continue the longer I’m in motherhood, or, I suppose, it’s in me.

Rachel Moritz: HOW ABSENCE

I am heiden/heathen

This week, Megan M. Garr, author of the recently released Terrane, offers us the story of the book’s origins.

* * *

Terrane began with a single word, which is not itself anywhere in the poem. Heide.

Megan M. Garr - TERRANE

heide – heiden
heath – heathen


A semantic judgment based on a people’s relationship to the land.

Or, more precisely, on how they choose to use that land.

Megan M. Garr - TERRANE

Terrane was drafted in the summer of 2012 in Iceland. Between trips as far into the landscape as I could dare, in a rented SUV, were long writing days overlooking the Langjökull icecap.

I had saved for a year for this, what I called my self-funded residency, having gotten to the point that to write, I needed to leave Amsterdam entirely, be out of calling distance (if only virtually) from my work, my overpriced expatriate market apartment, my duties at Versal, which ran through every hour.

Megan M. Garr - TERRANE

In high school, my best friend Jennie and I fantasized about moving to Greenland. For us – until we discovered that there was a US air force base there – Greenland was untouched land, an escape, somewhere where we could start again.

Every day, from 1993-1997, I wore a pouch around my neck. In that pouch were tokens my friends gave me, souvenirs of my adolescence: a 20-sided die, a river stone, found pennies, a screw from the bleachers, a ring, a laminated map of Greenland…

…and many other little objects, now tucked in a shoebox at my childhood home in Nashville.

Megan M. Garr - TERRANE

At the bouldering gym in Reykjavik, I met a geologist who told me, “If you get lost in Greenland, you’re going to die. If you get lost in Iceland, just stand up. Someone will see you.”

I found out later that this “stand up” business is just an old Icelandic joke. After centuries of sheep grazing and logging for fuel, there are not many trees in Iceland.

When I came upon a Spanish family in their SUV, sinking in the Þórsmörk river, all I had to do was dial 112 on my mobile and flag down help further down the valley.

Megan M. Garr - TERRANE

I can confirm a sense of safety here, among the danger.

Megan M. Garr - TERRANE

I was among the stranded of the 2010 Eyafjallajökull eruption. Eyafjallajökull: the ice cap of the mountains of the islands. A stratovolcano of lavas ranging from basalt to andesite.

There’s a story behind Terrane that I’m not ready to tell. Not in prose, at least, where everything gets named for exactly what it is.

Megan M. Garr - TERRANE

But here in 2012, here in Iceland, driving within sight of Eyafjallajökull as often as I could, here I tried to tell it, here the telling began.

Megan M. Garr - TERRANE

Long days behind the artificial landscapes of my laptop, trying to write poems.

Long drives on roads like these, fording rivers.

Inhabiting open country.

As far as possible.