An Interview with Shilo Niziolek

Posted in: Books

Little Deaths by Shilo Niziolek is now available for pre-order. We interviewed her so you could get to know her a little better!

How long did it take you to write Little Deaths? What was your process for pulling it together?

Little Deaths was actually the fastest book I’ve ever written. It feels like it came together so fast because it captures a very specific moment in time, which, although all the poems aren’t about this, is the last few months of my dog’s 14 year life and the few months that directly followed. I wrote Little Deaths in a pressure cooker of 8 months. This collection came together the most organically of the three collections I’ve written. At the time I was writing it I read Timber Curtain by Frances McCue which is a collection that employs the use of erasures and their counterparts. Already, I had some poems in this collection that began with the word When, which points toward the intense impending nature of the future and all it holds, but especially grief, whether that be grief in losing my dog, climate-grief, or present moment grief for for past traumas where the when becomes a sort of spell for imagining a better world. Because of that collection I was inspired to take these When poems and make erasures out of them with the idea of creating alternate worlds, alternate pathways, then that of the original poem. Once I performed the erasures I sat down and ordered it all in one sitting and never deviated or questioned that order, which is very much not usually the case.

What’s a favorite poem from the collection? Why?

I reread this whole collection in order to answer this question and at the end of each poem I thought, this is the one I love most, and then I would read the next. That has never happened to me with any work. So, because of this, I am going to have to pick “Sorry You Don’t Burn With Yearning” which is the last poem in the collection so the last one I read, but I feel like it’s effective in this way because it’s a long prose-list poem and its got all the elements from the other poems I loved: hunger, desperation, hoards and hounds and pounds of longing.

What’s your writing routine look like?

I have zero writing routine. Seriously, I do not actually understand folks with writing routines. Firstly, I like to be beholden to the muse. I know we aren’t supposed to be, and this is why I’ve never been able to finish any of my novel starts, but I love the muse and I want to respect her boundaries. Secondly, I’m chronically ill but also working full-time between my job as a college instructor, my contract work as a creative writing facilitator, my second-life as an Editor-in-Chief of the literary magazine Scavengers, my third and fourth life as a recluse, as a mother to a chronically ill dog, and my fifth life as a lady of leisure. Poems come when they will and I let them. If I do start to feel antsy after not writing anything for a few weeks, I read some collections of others poetry and that almost always does the trick.

Who are your favorite poets?

Ugghhh, this is a loaded question. Um, whatever one I am reading at the time? That’s not a question but also is. I do have some that I always return to though: Emily Skaja and her collection Brute (that book destroys my life every time I open it), Mary Ruefle’s collection Dunce when I need to mix my nature poetry with a little frivolity, and in no particular order: Layli Long Solider, Kelly Gray, Claire Wahmanholm, Chen Chen, Melissa Crowe, Jennifer Millitello, Jane Wong, TC Tolbert, Hanif Abdurraqib, Catherine Broadwall, Emma Bolden, Allison Titus, Sarah Marcus, Richard Siken, Paige Ackerson-Kiely, Darla Mottram, Stephanie Adam-Santos, Emily Perkovich, Pablo Neruda, Ocean Vuong, Cameron Awkward-Rich, and Mary Oliver.

What are you reading right now?

Alice Hoffman’s The River King (third re-read)

Kate Zambreno’s Heroines

Alix E. Harrow’s Starling House

West Trade Review Spring 2024 Volume 15

Becky Chambers’s A Prayer for the Crown Shy

Dream of Xibalba by Stephanie Adam-Santos

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

What’s your favorite non-writing activity?

My favorite non-writing activity is reading, but a non-book related activity is to go swimming, which you’ll see my need to have my head under water crop up in a few of the poems in Little Deaths.

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