Meet Our Contributors: Q&A with Chelsea Lemon Fetzer

Chelsea Lemon Fetzer holds an MFA in fiction from Syracuse University. Her fiction and poetry have also appeared in journals such as Callaloo, Tin House, Mississippi Review, and Minnesota Review. Fetzer lives in Baltimore, where she is mothering, teaching, working on a novel, and serving on the board of CityLit project.

Chelsea’s poem, “Sponge,” appeared in LPR’s Winter Issue 2019 (available for purchase at this link).

We’re very grateful she’s willing to answer a few questions for us.

Q: Thank you so much for being part of our January launch. Do you have a favorite piece from the current issue?

I don’t think I could pick a favorite; this issue as a whole is stunning, but I’m going to shout out “Tamarind” by Sheila Black.

We broke our nails scratching off the brittle
brown skin and then we had to suck-

She captures the experience of eating this intense fruit so well, while we witness the narrator awakening to her own body and the mysteries possible within it. The poem ends with an idea for a necklace strung of the seeds. That image took me from a girl-child to a goddess. Beyond fertility, at least in my mind, the poem lands on the power women hold in all senses, her to decide when and how to wield it.

Q: We just did a post with Nicole Hylton. Her poem in the current issue, “the missing recipe,” begins with the narrator “standing before the stove.” Your opening line is, “Kitchen sink collects the morning light.” I don’t want to make too much of these similarities, or to ask you to speak about Nicole’s poem, but do you think there’s something about kitchens and food and mornings that suits poetry?

Yes, Nicole’s piece resonated with me–that solitude, a sensuous longing. I see the similarities. There is something about kitchens and food and mornings–the quiet routines that call to mind other imprints of ourselves, allow space to remember and imagine. It’s probably impossible for a writer not to reference kitchens at some point–but I think the influence here goes beyond what is referenced in any given piece. What happens if we reframe your question from what suits poetry to what spaces and times ignite us?

We know as writers we have to show up to the empty page, the writing room, or cafe. But the question of where to show up for the sparks, clicks, and oh damns!–that can be more elusive. Personal, changeable.

Real quick, here’s my working definition of “sparks, clicks, and oh damns!”: 1) a brand new idea catching you like the flu; 2) knowing the fix, all at once, the remedy for that line or chapter that had you stumped; 3) finally tuning into the big question your piece has been asking all along; and 4) other things/everything/ whatever that mysterious co-traveler, always knowing the way forward, turns the flashlight on for you to see.

Before I was a parent, traveling alone, writer’s residencies, uninterrupted baths was where I thought I found it. Luxurious INSPIRATIONS. Now I am a mother of two still very young children, that’s all out the window. There are endless dishes to do, lunches to make, somebody’s throwing books at my butt… The year my first daughter was two, I organized an emergency writing workshop at Community Playschool in Baltimore where she had just started a couple half days a week. With the green light from the program director, I invited other parents and caretakers to write with me in an unused room I noticed there. We were all so charged, a weekly hour of kid-free time with only our notebooks and coffee! The poem in this issue, “Sponge,” came from that. It is more raw and messy than other work I put out, but that probably suits it. The workshop was raw and messy. As the parent of a toddler, I was raw and messy. I digress. Starting a community writing workshop can be so powerful; I completely recommend it. But it was another ambitious (if not luxurious) example of making space and time for inspiration. Sometimes we have the surprise unused room and energy to organize, sometimes we don’t.

Here’s where I come back to kitchens and food and mornings.

Add sitting in traffic, pulling weeds, picking crap up off the floor after the kids are asleep, wandering the aisles of the grocery store–not ambitious. Not luxurious. But that’s where I find myself when the most fantastic ideas strike me now. I am learning that the writing life is adaptable. “Sparks, clicks, and oh damns!” will find you where you’re at. Like oxygen. But it’s not a one-way contract. Like I said, we have to show up too. Put the phone down, offer a simple presence of mind. Welcome boredom. Honor the quiet routines; hold sacred the space that allows you to remember and imagine. Stand there a little longer.

I spend every night, cuddling my kids until they fall asleep. Sometimes it seems to take hours. We say no more talking, no more talking. And in that dark and silence…

What’s the CityLit project and how are you involved?

Every writer, reader, lover of the written word, please know the CityLit Project! We are a non-profit literary arts organization based in Baltimore. CityLit offers free or low cost opportunities to engage and connect local writers and readers. Right now our biggest events are the CityLit Festival and the CityLit Stage at the Baltimore Book Festival. We run more intimate seminars, readings, and classes all throughout the year, and have a press. I have been on the board four years now, and can’t sing enough praises about the other folks involved in this organization–some of the best people I have met. Carla DuPree, our executive director, is a powerhouse with so much heart and dedication. Check http://www.citylitproject.org for upcoming CityLit events and/or ways to get involved.

You’re also involved in LPR. How did that start, and what are some of the reasons you contribute? And thank you for doing so!

Yes, about two years ago Steven Leyva reached out to me about reading submissions for Little Patuxent Review. The journal found its way to me a few times before that–at bookstores, friend’s houses. Every time I picked it up, I was drawn in by the strength of the work and the stunning visual art. But in joining the team, my admiration for this journal deepened so much. As one of three or four readers reviewing poetry, I was moved at the amount of respect everyone involved had for each submission–no matter the experience of the writer. More often than not, we would all appreciate something different in a poem: one the humor, another the ending, me an image. I’d come away from the debate and conversations with a deeper reading than I suspect any of us would have experienced alone. Which, of course, was the point and what we all hope for our pieces when we send out. Finally the lead editors take over with their own creative genius, letting the selections speak to each other, conducting the symphony. As a writer and reader, I so value these opportunities to connect in collaboration. And to do so while serving the literary community. It is very exciting, this issue, to be a contributor. I am honored to be in such good company. Thank you, LPR.

As the previous questions demonstrate, you’re involved in a lot–and you’re working on a novel. Do you have strategies for finding time for that?

My wife and I sort of Tetris our weeks: raising kids, being artists, paying the bills, community work. She is a musician. Our house is messy. We’re sleep deprived. We don’t see each other as often as we would like. It’s a struggle–but we share a mutual respect for that. My primary project now is the novel. It demands so much patience and part of my work is trusting the pace. I have learned over the years that some chapters or moments I tried to write years ago required experience I didn’t yet have. An understanding of our country that I didn’t yet have. Whenever I wish I was at that finish line already, (which I do. A lot.) I remind myself, writing is the best part. And most days, that’s true.

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