Q: Tell us about your new book, Terror, Terrible, Terrific. What inspired it?
I’ve been working on this collection for a very long time, so it was inspired by many things including: my own curiosity about everything (from bananas to death), the desire to have conversations with other poets, and an intense love of language. And who was it that said all poems are either about love or death? That’s also true.
Q: The title is also so good. Did that come first, last? How did you come up with it?
The title came towards the end. I noticed how many poems contained the words “terror” or “terrible,” and was also reading about the etymology of those words, and how the connotation of “terrific” shifted to a happier meaning in the 19th century. Word evolution! (Also called “amelioration” when a word takes on a positive connotation over time.) A lot of the poems move from dark to light, so it felt right.
Q: Your background is actually in poetry and creative writing, not advertising. How did you end up in this industry?
Back when I was in graduate school, a Creative Director named Kevin Jones left W+K to write fiction at The Michener Center. I was there studying poetry. He told me I’d be great at advertising because my poems were conceptual, funny, and not impossible for non-poets to understand. I didn’t want to “work for the man” (poets, right?) and got a doctorate instead. Then I moved to Portland, and Lauren Ranke recruited me to write a poem for Diet Coke. I’ve been here since.
Q: How has your background contributed to the work you’ve made at W+K?
Prosody, image, metaphor, concise language–it’s all relevant. I hesitated being “the poet in advertising” at first because I thought I should be an ad person instead. But that didn't last long. Poetry is a huge part of my voice in whatever I write. It’s just in there because I’ve read poems nonstop for… twenty years? Probably longer.
And as a Creative Director (and former writing professor), I love to teach people how to write. I gave one of my writers a crash course in iambic tetrameter for a film last year. She rocked it. I can still recite that script because her meter was so good ‘n sticky. (Hi, Becky.)
Q: Be real. How do you find the time to write a whole ass book AND have a full time job? (and parent, btw. Becca is a mom of two).
Writing books is hard. I took my time. The first poem in this book was written in 2006, and the last was written earlier this year.
I used to come in early and work on poetry before the agency opened. I didn't have kids then. Now, it helps that my partner in life is also a writer. My W+K sabbatical was perfectly timed to finish the edits for this book, and he booked me an Airbnb and said, "Go. FInish your book. I've got the kids, I'll do laundry, go."
Q: I’m absolutely obsessed with the visual accompaniments for this project. Can you tell us how they came about?
It's all Nick Stokes. Nick is a wildly talented illustrator, and he somehow understands the complex, haunted landscape of my brain. He started texting me different drawings of book cover ideas–he sent 42 of them–and I thought, “Holy shit. I’m going to have to write 41 more books.”
Seeing all of those drawings together made Nick want to illustrate and animate a film–and make his directorial debut. So he pitched me the animation for “If You Feel Terrible,” the first poem in my book, which we’re releasing online in a week or two.
Q: What are you reading right now and what books do you always find yourself recommending?
I’m always telling people to read Mary Ruefle (right now I’m reading Madness, Rack, and Honey for the hundredth time). I tell a lot of people to read Terrence Hayes. And I’ve given away dozens of copies of The Great Fires by Jack Gilbert. “Michiko Dead” is a perfect poem.
Q: Any other projects in the works right now?
I have a second collection that’s a book-length lyrical poem about a woman in an iron lung. It’s based on a play I wrote that was at the Off Center Theatre in Austin. And I might venture into young adult fiction, but we’ll see.
Q: What advice do you have for creative writers who want to work in advertising?
The biggest task is finding a place that will appreciate you being a writer-writer.