top of page
Cynthia Atkins.jpg

Cynthia Atkins

(she/her)

The author of "Dressing Rooms" in ISSUE 03 and her thoughts on everything being a source, images and symphonies, and using social media as a tool.

What are you reading these days? Do you love/hate/feel neutral about it, and why?

 

I actually made some good ‘poetry money’ (relatively speaking) last spring so I indulged in some new and recent collections – but I guess this turned into more of a favorite list—Cole Swenson, Diane Seuss, Terrence Hayes, Lorine Niedecker, Alice Notley, Yehuda Amichai, Anna Akhmatova, June Jordan, Carl Phillips, Marie Howe, Clarice Lispector, Amy Gerstler, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Italo Calvino, Joan Didion, Lee Upton, Carl Phillips, Victoria Chang, John Ashbery, Willa Cather, Shirley Jackson, John Cheever, Emily Dickinson, Sappho, Jorie Graham. 

 

Have you read a passage of writing that deeply shifts something inside you, if so, please share it with us? 

 

“When I suddenly see myself in the depths of the mirror, I take fright. I can scarcely believe that I have limits, that I am outlined and defined. I feel myself dispersed in the atmosphere, thinking inside other creatures, living inside things beyond myself. When I suddenly see myself in the mirror, I am not startled because I find myself ugly or beautiful. I discovered, in fact, that I possess another quality. When I haven't looked at myself for some time, I almost forget that I am human, I tend to forget my past, and I find myself with the same deliverance from purpose and conscience as something that is barely alive. I am also surprised to find as I gaze into the pale mirror with open eyes that there is so much in me beyond what is known, so much that remains ever silent.”

- Clarice Lispector, Near to the Wild Heart (Translated, New Directions).

When you are working on a piece, what inspirations do you draw from?

 

I use a lot of visual art as references, listen to music, books and poems, snippets of everyday life, memory, smells, passages from books, walks in nature, commercials, photographs, pop art, textiles, colors, and the quirky conversations, any snatch of everyday life. I guess the beauty of writing is that everything in my world is a source.

What craft elements are you most interested in/attached to within your writing?

 

For me, images make the boat float—when a poem makes me see, compare, understand something in a new way, it’s because something fresh has been fused together. A good image holds so much complexity in such a few words—a tool and a genie. “No ideas but in things.”—William Carlos Williams—and I’m a big believer in that. Also, enjambments and line breaks that surprise and startle and mesh and collide. And sounds and rhythms and tone and timing—everything—it’s a symphony and you’re the conductor. I believe in the craft of a poem. A poem is a made thing.

 

Who/what are some of your writing obsessions, and why? 

 

My writing obsessions are writing about the psyche, mental health, family entanglements, love, sex, death and I aim to write the best cricket poem ever---one a year. Timothy Gager asked me at dire reading series the other night if I’ll be taking on new subjects—maybe, but there’s so much more to say about all the above.

What are some ways in which you remain productive/find time to be a writer? 

 

With teaching students about writing, I am always giving myself the same assignments and prompts. Reading. Thinking while not writing. *When I’m not writing, I find that’s a good time for thinking about writing. 

Tell us what your writing space looks like.

An Elizabeth Murray print of a kitchen table turned upside down and chair in that EM very pop 90’s kind of way—I’ve always crushed on her work. Under that is a framed photo of me and my bestie, Jodi, I lost a few years ago to cancer. I am a collage artist too, so I have a table laid out with a bunch of crap—jars of buttons, stamps, worry dolls, swaths of cloth scraps of paper. 

 

“Frog and Toad” is up there too, and a creepy Halloween mask of a woman who looks like a creepy Betty-Boop. A little fan sign I got at AWP/Seattle that says, Writers Are Hot,” A favorite photo of my son, Eli when he was about 6—first school photo. An abacus. A twill of ribbon. A still packaged Curious George toy, a statue of a big busty woman in a blue dress with big lips and a cigarette coming out of her month, which I bought my hubby as a birthday gift, and I stole it back, as I appreciated her more. A John Coltrane print. A little magnet of a cowboy. All these things are awfully close to my heart.

What are some ways in which you get through a block in your creative work?

*read. Look at art. Ride my bike. Scream in the car. Live life.

How do you navigate the experience of submissions/rejections/acceptances?

Write/wait/revise/submit/reject/repeat—Have a life in the meantime.

Regarding your piece in Issue 03, what does it mean for/to you?

I appreciate the question, as it’s not often you get the opportunity to provide a little background to a poem in a journal.  *This poem was a vulnerable and raw poem for me, and I appreciate The Champagne Room Journal’s feminist slant, and it felt like the perfect safe home for it—grateful to you!  *The poem is dealing with a lot of subject matter that I have been working with—a woman of a certain age becoming expendable and worse, invisible.  Feeling like the sense of youth, danger, and risk are over with. Dealing with depression, the kind that comes and goes—for no rhyme or reason.  And to witness someone else’s sorrow and feel like a compatriot to a stranger.  My poems are part autobiography, part fiction—It’s a made thing. It’s ART.  I don’t feel beholden to anyone but myself when writing—and that took a long time to overcome. But sometimes I envy my abstract painter friends, who can put all the emotion into paint.  You can’t hide behind words.  Sometimes words hurt people. But mostly, they help people heal.

Do you have a recent publication/project you would like us to highlight? 

Still-Life With God a book by Cynthia Atkins, Lisa Telling Kattenbraker, and Ron Starbuck (bookshop.org)

Duets by Alexis Rhone Fancher & Cynthia Atkins — Small Harbor Publishing

Cool Side of the Pillow | The Florida Review at UCF (The Florida Review: Aquifer)

POEM WITH NO FORWARDING ADDRESS | The Florida Review at UCF

Cynthia Atkins — Barzakh (barzakhmag.net) (Barzakh Magazine)

Issue 23 | Cynthia Atkins – LEON Literary Review 

What is something you would like to share with other writers out there? 

I’ve been thinking g a lot about how much my writing life has changed, since the advent of social media. Good, Bad and Ugly. *Back when I was in grad school at Columbia and signing on to be poet and writer—the whole enterprise was one of solitude.  Maybe at the end of a writing day, you’d meet your MFA chums for a drink in your favorite haunt, but otherwise you didn’t really see or talk to anyone all day long—and that solitude and privacy and quiet (aside from the car alarms in NYC) is so much what you need to write and make ART.  On this side of the timeline, it’s social media shock and awe—I have seen 500 people and their lives by the time I’ve had my second of coffee—450 of them, I have never met or heard their voice. In other words, things went from being a solitary writer to trying to be a ’talk-show host’ with many thousand followers listening to every cool, edgy, funny, staged thing we have to say.  It’s a beast. Twitter, Facebbok, Instagra, Threads, TikTok, Substack. Snap Chat, *Personally, I find it exhausting to keep us with it all, and I feel like my writing career has come to depend on this social media world-- so fractured. *And then I think of a few poets I really love— Vievee Francis and Bob Hicok, to name two, who seemed to have managed a career without being a minion to social media.  The best stuff finds a way to rise.

 

And it always wants to be fed and it never let’s up. *And writers pay in the loss of real, unadulterated solitude.  On the other hand, it has given us readers, more readers, or maybe just followers? I don’t know, it’s a mixed bag and there is also a lot of camaraderie, and connections that would not be made otherwise. But it’s a serious addiction of the entire culture, and just like phenetole can steal our souls. No putting the genie back in the bottle.  

 

My advice: Use it as a tool, but don’t let it slay your solitude. So what I want to say is keep it in check—preserve you holy solitude and your writing practice.

 

Thank you, The Champagne Room, for this wonderful opportunity to flesh things out about my poem, “Dressing Rooms” and other sundries, and I so appreciate the conversation here.

Cynthia Atkins (She, Her) is the author of Psyche’s WeathersIn The Event of Full Disclosure (CW Books), and Still-Life With God (Saint Julian Press 2020), and a collaborative chapbook from Harbor Editions, 2022.  Her work has appeared in many journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Barzakh, BOMB, Cimarron Review,, Diode, Green Mountains Review, Indianapolis Review, Los Angeles Review, Rust + Moth, North American Review, Permafrost, SWWIM, Thrush, Tinderbox, and Verse Daily. Formerly, Atkins worked as the assistant director for the Poetry Society of America, and has taught English and Creative Writing, most recently at Blue Ridge Community College. She is an Interviews Editor for American Micro Reviews and Interviews.  She earned her MFA from Columbia University and has earned fellowships and prizes from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, The Writer’s Voice, and Writers@Work. Atkins lives on the Maury River of Rockbridge County, Virginia, with artist Phillip Welch and their family. More work and info at: www.cynthiaatkins.com.

Website: www.cynthiaatkins.com

Email: cynthia.atkins1@gmail.com

Social media: @catkinspoet

bottom of page