Thursday, March 31, 2011

Writers Talk with Barbie Angell

A happy Thursday, dear readers!  As advertised, today we have Writers Talk, & this is someone with a refreshing & to my mind, quite unique take on the writing biz. 

As has been the case with several of the writers involved in this series, I’ve gotten to know Barbie Angell on Twitter, where I find her humor & her perspective on the world & its quirkiness to be both compelling & entertaining.  As I came to know Barbie a little better, I began exploring the poetry on her blog, & was delighted to find a fresh & unique voice, chockful of wit & demonstrating a sparkling facility for rhyme & rhythm— undervalued skills in "poebiz" these days.  Here’s a brief writerly biography:

It has been said that if Shel Silverstein & Dorothy Parker had conceived a child, the result would have been Barbie Dockstader Angell. Razor wit & simple rhyming verse combine to create an innovative style. Barbie has named it “poetry for the common man.” (Although she does have plenty of women readers as well.) Bitter, satirical, humorous & sometimes brutally honest, her portfolio contains everything from rhyme to free verse, children’s and adults, as well as short stories.
Barbie was raised in Illinois & has lived in the Asheville area since 1999. She has been writing since 1986 and has won awards both academically and artistically for her poems & short stories. Barbie has been published in small press books, magazines & newspapers throughout the years & has performed her work for audiences small & large around the country.
& yes, she does have an odd obsession with Alice in Wonderland.

Barbie Angell says: “my life is in progress….constantly seeking renovations but unable to find an affordable contractor.”

I know you’ll enjoy this interview, & please check out a video of Babrie Angell reading her "Ode to Shel Silverstein" at the end of this post. Then you can read two more of her poems—“the meeting” & “She’s Come Undone”—in the post just below; these poems are also posted or on the Writers Talk blog!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer? 
from the time i was 6 years old, my dream was to be a lawyer.  i had seen the t.v. show “paperchase”and desperately wanted to make that my life.  while i was living in the children’s home “Mooseheart”my english teacher Miss Ruch encouraged me & i won the only award that the school gave out for writing; the memorial day award.  i met Jerry Dellinger my senior year & he convinced me to turn down my acceptance to harvard & instead attend lincoln college where he taught theater.  by my second semester freshman year, he had become such a force in my life that i didn’t hesitate to follow his advice.  he assured me that i was a writer not a lawyer and he encouraged that up until his death in august of 2010.

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc. 

a great deal of my pieces begin with one line.  typically it’s something that i say in conversation or post on a social media site.  there are poems which i have been revamping for years and ones which took only a few hours.  i am constantly editing & revamping my work.  mostly i try to look at anything from a new perspective.  of course, this becomes difficult when the perspective i’m trying to steer away from is my own.  there is a piece entitled “the meeting”which i began writing in 1995.  it starts with the line, “i bumped into Truth on the subway”  i was hanging out with my friend michael horn at denny’s after seeing the movie “mr. holland’s opus”and for some reason i spoke those words.  at michael’s urging i wrote them down with the intention of using them in a poem.  it was a full year before i ever was able to continue that thought.  the poem was originally “completed”in 1996 and went on to help me garner much attention, multiple publications and achieve a 12th place out of 1400 poets in competition.  last year i gave it a complete overhaul and i still don’t know if i’m done with it.  at times i write while listening to favorite music for this is Peter Gabriel....but other times all i need is a place to sit and ideally be uninterrupted.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc) ?

my poems are normally not accepted in the world of academic poetry.  rhyme goes in and out of vogue and most publications do not even finish reading a work in that style.  i consider my writing to be “poetry for people who don’t know they like poetry.” because of this, i typically get passed over in publications geared toward “traditional”verse and instead find opportunities in places where one does not normally find any type of poetry.  i currently publish my own books as it is difficult to find an entry into the world of publishing when one has an untapped area in the world of literature.  the bias in literary circles doesn’t bother me however.  if one is so close-minded that they will not accept rhyme as a viable art form just because it wasn’t written 75 to 100 years ago....then that is obviously their own issue to deal with.

Has being a writer affected your relationships? 

absolutely.  arguing with spouses in the past, the thought of, “are you going to write about this?’or “was that line or piece about me?”has come up.  when i was living in bloomington, illinois i was incredibly well-known as a performing poet.  this caused quite a large problem with my boyfriend at the time since i was garnering more attention than he was a musician.  we simply couldn’t go anywhere without my being recognized & asked to sign something or recited a piece.  i’m far less well known here in asheville, nc but it never bothered me at all.  i think that it’s really only an issue because i’m a performer and not just a reader or writer. 

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any?  This may be a “real”or “virtual”(in more than one sense) community. 
most of my community is online.  i’ve found them to be predominantly supportive, even if my style of work isn’t what they believe is the “correct”way to write poetry.  i get a lot of messages and critiques from people who attempt to convince me that i shouldn’t rhyme.  they seem to not notice that i do write in a variety of styles including micro-fiction, prose and free-verse.  but, as i’ve said, the anti-rhyme perspective doesn’t concern me at all.  if i painted my house green and green was someone’s least favorite color then their dislike wouldn’t bother why should a dislike for rhyme be an issue for me either?

What are your future goals in terms of writing? 

literary world domination.  : )  i’d like to get a literary agent and ideally be published with Grand Central Publishing.  my goal used to be Harper Collins because they published Shel Silverstein, but Grand Central publishes two of my favorite authors....Rachel Simon & Steve Martin.  i’d also like to have work in The New Yorker.  Dorothy Parker and Steve Martin were both regular contributors and i feel that my work would be well-received by the magazine’s audience.

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?  

the violin.  it’s an instrument which can be used both as a violin or a fiddle.  the versatility of it is reminiscent of my variety of styles and genres. as i understand it, a slight change in pressure and tempo can change the same combination of string, wood and space into an entirely different instrument.  that appeals to me and is precisely what i attempt to do with my words.  recently a theater company in illinois produced some of my poetry for the stage.  i wasn't involved with any part of the production, not the choice of poems, order of pieces or how they were performed.  i was happily surprised to see that some work, which i had always thought presented itself as comedic, came off well as dramatic or vice versa.  i was honored to discover that not only was my writing far more adaptable than i had imagined, but also able to be enjoyed as a performance even without me being onstage.

it is my habit online to type in all lower case unless i capitalize to illustrate respect or for emphasis.  this being an online interview i chose to continue this practice....i hope that it has not interfered with your understanding of my responses. : )  thank you for reading.


  1. I find it interesting that we (both champions of rhyme)both chose the violin/fiddle as our representative instrument.

    I very much enjoyed this interview and I look forward to getting to know Barbie even better through our social network connection.

    I sense real genius in your work and certainly, only a true artist would hang on phrases and sentences and thoughts uttered and not. I can already see your bio-pic and the scene in "Denny's". You know what I mean?


  2. Now I've seen the Shel Silverstein and I can see the warmth and humour in your voice and eyes.
    I've always been more the Dr. Seuss type, although in his early incarnations rather than later ones.

  3. Hi Kat: I thought about that fiddle connection as a I was reading Barbie's interview! I'm glad you had to chance to check this out, & I agree with you that Barbie Angell is doing some great stuff with her poetry! She's also a natural performer.

  4. thank you for saying such sweet things Kat. : ) i always thought that i was alone in my habit of pulling off the road to write down a phrase or line. turns out Shel had that proclivity as well. he eventually stopped driving altogether and took to writing things on his sleeves when he didn't have paper handy. : )

    i'm flattered that you saw so much in my video. i always try my very best to entertain the audience and i always hope that i've been successful at making poetry a little more engaging for them.

    the bio-pic is forthcoming....i've been writing it for years. : )

    John, thanks again for the opportunity and the lovely endorsements. i find it amusing that all three of us have such a personal affinity for the violin/fiddle. : ) i was fortunate enough to see Nicky Sanders of Steep Canyon Rangers playing fiddle live and then a video of him playing violin....he's brilliant & such fun to watch. you should both check them out online.

    thank you again. : ) you're so kind to me.

  5. @barbie - you should have a listen to Cape Breton fiddler, Ashley MacIsaac. I'm sure he's on YouTube. A real wild one, but a genius.

  6. Kat, awesome. : ) i'll check him out.

  7. if one is so close-minded that they will not accept rhyme as a viable art form just because it wasn’t written 75 to 100 years ago....then that is obviously their own issue to deal with.

    I love that attitude (and comparing the preference to painting your house in another person's least favorite color). Literary fads are such a bother, and I don't see what's inherently wrong with rhyme. It can be done badly just as anything can, but it can be done really well too. I enjoyed the Ode to Shel Silverstein :)

  8. Hi HKatz: Yes, that is definitely the right attitude for a writer such as Barbie Angell to take, & I also liked the house painting analogy, especially since Eberle & I at one point roused the neighborhood by painting our outbuildings all sorts of colors. Rhyme is in fact integral to the kind of poetry Barbie Angell is writing, &--happily for her--she has a knack for working with it.

  9. hkatz, thank you so very much. : ) i was reading your comment and thought, "wow, yes....i like that too. was that something john said?" only to discover i had typed those words and had completely forgotten.

    i agree with your assessment. i'm not one for fads of any nature or for doing something another person's way. i don't believe i've created an obstacle for myself, as so many poets have suggested, rather i have opened up a new genre to expand the audience of poetry lovers. at least that's what i'm trying to do.

    thank you also for telling me that you enjoyed my "ode to Shel"....that poem was quite tricky to write and i'm happy that so many people enjoy it. : )

    john, thank're so supportive of me and that is very much appreciated. : )

  10. Hi Barbie: You should check out HKatz's blog Sill of the World - she only posts once or twice a week, but it's one of the best blogs going.


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