An Interview with Holly Day

Holly Day is one of our most prolific contributors, submitting work that continually makes us think harder, laugh, and forget to breathe, all at the same time. In the past year, Holly has been especially busy, abundant with verse, and we found ourselves in love with five new pieces from her beautiful voice: “Knee-High in the Weeds,” “Because I Know,” “With My Daughter,” “Now,” and “A House for Tiny Spirits”–all available exclusively through Blacktop Passages. Because we cherish her original and fresh perspective, we’re thrilled to feature the following interview with Holly about her life and work. Enjoy!


Blacktop Passage: What made you want to become a writer, and why poetry?

Holly Day: Almost the whole time I was growing up, I really thought I was heading for a career in science, specifically, in NASA. I wanted to be an astronaut so badly! But I’m lazy when it comes to math—it just didn’t interest me enough to push myself when the classes got tough. At this point in my life, I really regret that I didn’t have teachers that showed me how to apply math more to applicable careers and concepts—in my book, Music Theory for Dummies, I use an extraordinary amount of math to explain concepts like pitch frequency and the creation of musical scales, and it was fun! I can totally see how people could get totally sucked up into the whole obsessive compulsive world of high math. Later, when I went off to college, I imagined myself an anthropology major, because I loved bones and skeletons and old things and 1950s science fiction/adventure novels. I took all sorts of writing classes and workshops because they were fun and they helped me keep my floundering GPA up—they were the only classes I ever really did that great at.

Almost completely unnoticed by me—which is so weird to say—while I was imagining myself becoming this amazing science person, I was writing poems and stories and even nonfiction articles for fun pretty much every free moment I had. I blew an entire summer vacation sitting at my dad’s computer, writing crappy little short stories and building a dictionary out of all the weird and exotic words I came across that I wanted to work into my writing. I wrote shitloads of poetry—I couldn’t stand wasting paper, so almost every homework assignment I turned in that didn’t use the whole sheet of paper was filled in with doodle and thoughts I had for poems and stories. More than one teacher would return my papers with big red questioning circles on them, with comments like, “This is not English class!” or “This is not art class!” written in the margins. When I was 15, my boyfriend bought me a copy of Poet’s Market and said I should start trying to get my writing published, so I started sending stuff off, and had decent success for a kind of being a shitty writer. I can’t hardly stand reading the poetry I wrote before I was 18, but most of it ended up getting published.

Anyway, I’ve always loved the conciseness of poetry. I love the work that goes into trying to capture a single moment in as clear detail as possible. I love laboring for extreme detail. I love when I can step away from a poem and see myself in that piece, and know that when I come back to that piece years from now, I will remember why I chose certain words, what I was trying to express, and who I was when I wrote that piece.

BTP: Where do you write? A desk? Why? Is it organized, and how?

HD: I’m a messy/organized person. Have you ever seen the movie The Voices? That was really revelatory to me, in that the main character sees his home and workspace as being bright and happy and beautiful and everything’s exactly where it’s supposed to be, but then when you see the same spaces from another character’s point of view, it’s a depressing disaster. I don’t know how to organize things so that they’re comfortable for anyone else besides me. My parents used to refer to my workspaces as being my “nest,” and that no one else was allowed in that “nest.” I just grab everything I need to continue on with whatever project I’m working on and surround myself with these things. But again, it’s like math—I think if I dedicated my life to figuring it out, I’d be great at it, but I just don’t have the interest.

BTP: What keeps you focused; how do you stay rooted, and keep momentum?

HD: I have a very regimented schedule, cultivated from years of working at home. I write things on bulletin boards and make myself do those things, and if I don’t do everything on my board, I chastise myself severely until I fall asleep, then do it all over again the next day. It’s been fairly successful way for me to work.

BTP: Do you do any other work besides writing?

HD: Yes, I have an indexing/editing business that I’ve run out of my home for the past 23 years. I also teach writing camps for kids over the summer at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, and occasional weekend workshops for adults.

BTP: What surprises you most about your own work; what touches you most from your own work? Are there any that haunt you?

HD: Sometimes I write a piece that feels like someone else wrote it, totally alien—I love that. That takes some work to get to that point, usually several hours of trying to let go and let that other person come through. Sometimes I write something that I think means one thing, and then I come back the next day and realize I was actually writing about something else, usually something’s that been bothering me too much to really focus on. For me, the process has always been to write as much as I can until something comes out that feels good.

BTP: What’s your favorite interstate?

HD: I don’t drive much, so they’re all equally exciting. I like the ones that are as empty as possible so that I don’t have to worry about hitting other cars.

BTP: What is your favorite car you or your family has owned, and why?

HD: I like the car we have now (it’s just a Ford Malibu, nothing particularly special) because it’s the first car I ever split the cost of. It’s also super easy to drive, and pretty reliable.

BTP: Do you have a general goal when you write a poem? Or any piece?

HD: I will leave a piece unedited, but I won’t leave my desk until I can come up with even a placemarker last line. If I’m starting a poem, I’m finishing that poem.

BTP: What are common themes you’ve found yourself coming back to and why?

HD: Lots of things from my childhood, like living out in the sticks in Nebraska and some of the weird little houses we lived in. We moved around a lot, so my collective memories of my childhood are a collective mess. When I remember something, I like to put it in a poem or a story so that if I forget it again, I at least have it on paper. Dead things. I was a super morbid kid and obsessed with roadkill and dead animals. Even now, if I see something dead in the road, I have to point it out to my husband, who is continually appalled at my fascination with gross things.

BTP: What (and why) is important to you about being a writer in our modern day, specifically now?

HD: Half the time, I don’t know if I’m leaving a record for future generations, or if everything we do as writers now is totally futile because we’ll all be dead soon and everything in print will dry up and blow away. Things’ll catch fire and all of the books will be gone. The thing that fascinates me about online publications is the possibility that non-terrestrial beings could potentially pick up the signals we’re bouncing back and forth on the Internet, that perhaps the poetry and fiction being repeatedly uploaded and downloaded might be captured by those beings and even potentially saved. I like to think that, because there is a loom of futility hanging over everything right now that makes all pursuits seem potentially fruitless.

However, because we are racing towards destruction, I think it’s more important than ever for writers to write and publish and find readers for their work, because if we’ve got only a little time left, we need to have as many voices as possible sharing their stories before they can’t be shared. I want to know what people are thinking. I want them to know what I’m thinking. I want to know everything about as many people on this planet as I can before we don’t have it anymore.

BTP: What’s your favorite book, movie, and album?

HD: I have literally thousands of records and CDs and books, and I have no idea which one is my favorite. Right now I’m listening to Insane Clown Posse’s “The Mighty Death Pop!” and working my way through “The New Russian Poets: 1953-68” by George Reavey. I have no idea what my favorite movie is. Probably John Waters’ Polyester. I’ve seen that one the most.

BTP: What can everyone expect to see or hear from you in the near future?

HD: I’ve got a poetry book from Clare Songbirds Publishing coming out early 2019, the new edition of Music Theory for Dummies coming out in mid-2019, a history book about Minneapolis coming out at the end of 2019, and then lots of short pieces published all over the place.

To Purchase Books by Holly Day:

A Perfect Day for SemaphoreA Wall To Protect Your EyesIn This Place, She Is Her OwnWhere We Went Wrong
Holly Day’s poetry has recently appeared in The Cape Rock, New Ohio Review, and Gargoyle. Her newest poetry collections are A Perfect Day for Semaphore (Finishing Line Press), In This Place, She Is Her Own (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press), A Wall to Protect Your Eyes (Pski’s Porch Publishing), I’m in a Place Where Reason Went Missing (Main Street Rag Publishing Co.), and The Yellow Dot of a Daisy (Alien Buddha Press,) all published in 2018.