A chat with Olivia Stiffler, author of 'Otherwise, We Are Safe'

eshaw@islandpacket.comMarch 29, 2014 

Name: Olivia Stiffler

Book: "Otherwise, We Are Safe"

Printed by: Dos Madres Press

Residence: Sun City Hilton Head

Where to buy: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Dos Madres Press (www.dosmadres.com). Some libraries also carry it.

Plot summary in 50 words or less: "Otherwise" is personal poetry, the short story of my long life interspersed with observations of nature.

First sentence: "My brother bends one at a time/the stand of lean saplings into a shelter/in the forest where we play."

Previous writing experience: Very little. School projects, business correspondence, dabbling with writing prose and poetry as time allowed.

Earliest writing memory: Sister Mary Eustace rewrote a paragraph of mine she had assigned as third-grade homework. I was awed at the difference between her version and mine. I started working harder at writing.

Favorite topic to write about: Many of my poems are about my mother. I never seem to tire of probing my relationship with her, though she died eight years ago. But I also poke about in my childhood memories for material, and I am never empty-handed.

Why poetry? A college professor introduced me to the genre, and I was hooked. Also, I believe writing poetry is the greatest writing challenge that exists. Every word counts. Even the spaces and the punctuation can be laden with meaning. It's the perfect play space for me because I have a short attention span and a great love of what is trim and crisp.

How did you decide to publish your work? The publication of "Otherwise" is a story of synchronicity at work in the universe. In 2012, I met James Tolan, a poet and professor from City University of New York, at a workshop in Savannah. He read some of my poetry and agreed to edit for me. When the manuscript was ready, without my knowledge, he sent it off to Robert Murphy at Dos Madres Press, who accepted and published it. Were it not for these happy intersections, I doubt my poems would be anywhere but on my desk.

Favorite poets: Sharon Olds, Dorianne Laux, Mary Oliver

What's next: As long as I am able, I will be writing. Where that may lead is anyone's guess, though I am hopeful I have another book in me.

Follow Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.

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