Behind the Words: Laura Eppinger

Posted by on Dec 21, 2022 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Laura Eppinger

Laura Eppinger’s poem “Pomegranate” is a moment crystalized in time that leaves the reader to question the balance of the pain of living with the pain of never having lived at all. Eppinger lives in New Jersey and knows the Jersey Devil is real. You can learn more about her work here: .

Devon Bohm: What struck me first and foremost about your piece is how it deftly turns a well-used image, the pomegranate, into something new. Was part of your intention in the piece to use the pomegranate in a new and unexpected way? For you, is the unexpected part of poetry as a whole?

Laura Eppinger: I love this question! The description of a pomegranate as a jealous queen was new to me in 2014, but absolutely not invented by me. I was leading after school programs at a community garden with a volunteer who had grown up in Southern Italy. I admire her for so many reasons, but to keep this brief I will share that one day she brought a gorgeous array of fresh fruit to encourage students to try something new. She told us that her father had said the pomegranate was a jealous queen protecting her soldiers, and that story, the taste of fruit, the excitement of the children, the sun, the dirt — I felt so vividly alive in that moment.

In 2014 I had three jobs, no health insurance, lost all my earnings every month to student debt payments, and had been very sick with an infected tooth. (Smoking cigarettes didn’t help me any.) I was exhausted all the time and felt completely dead inside, unless I was gardening with children.

I wish I could say I was thinking about poetry as a whole when I wrote this poem. I was probably having a manic episode, to be honest. During this time I was too overstimulated to sleep most nights, then walked through every day like a zombie. This poem was an attempt to try to figure out just what was going on with me during a difficult time.

How do you go about writing a poem? Does inspiration have to strike or do you have a set writing schedule and process? Do you choose subject matter or does the poem lead the way? Are you neat and methodical or is it messy, different every time?

I have to confess! In the years since 2014, I have realized I am not a poet. Or rather, the writing I want to be doing isn’t poetry. (I love reading poetry, now and forever.)

I am only speaking to my own experience here and I do not wish to offend all poets and lovers of poetry. In my own weird dumb life, I have written poems based on inspiration: usually one image or scene from life that strikes me. I can’t think of a phrase that isn’t cliche for this, but, time seems to stop, and what I am looking at is clear and apparent. All of my synapses are firing and everything is connected. I just know I need to preserve this moment.

The question I always want to ask about a poem feels like an almost impolite one, but here we go … is this a fictional scene? Or a reflection on a real-life moment? Do you think poetry need be one or the other?

It’s not impolite! I do NOT think poems need to be autobiographical. I have so many thoughts about whether even the works we label Fiction or Nonfiction are fully one or the other, but none of my thoughts are original. I read about this question constantly and never arrive at an answer!

My poem “Pomegranate,” however, does recount a scene from my actual life. (Though of course it is just my account and my memory, which is fallible!)

Another one of my three jobs in 2014 was a manager of a health food co-op. Perhaps it is ironic that I spent so much time smoking just outside the back door of the vegan health food store, but I was just trying to stay awake during a 12+ hour workday.

Another poet volunteered while I was on shift and we became fast friends. We recommended reading to one another, gave each other writing prompts and challenges, and generally cheered each other on. Come to think about it, I’ve written about this friend for Spry again here.

I suppose this means my answer is: this one poem, pretty real. All poetry? No such rule.

The penultimate stanza in the poem takes on an almost trance-like, rhythmic quality in contrast to the more slowly measured previous stanzas. Is this form fitting function? Indicative of your writing process? Meant as a way to let the reader more deeply enter the speaker’s head? A love of the music of language? All of the above?

Is it irritating if I admit that I can’t always remember what “form” and “stanza” mean? I’m sorry! Not a poet.

One thing that shows up in “Pomegranate” that is real, and what I think this question refers to: watched a lover grow old, watched a passport sprout mold. When I was 24 years old I sold everything I owned to move to another country to be with a boyfriend and also work on a Master’s degree. It was an unmitigated disaster; he had a lot of addictions and mental health issues. We rented a single room together and had no space or privacy. We fought constantly and I have never heard such cruel things said to me, before or since. Oh, right, and black mold infested our room! He used to go out binge-drinking with his friends while I got high and scrubbed the walls for hours. If hell is real, that’s what hell is like. When I got back to the States I had to replace my passport because it was moldy, too.

After a year of this hell I dropped out of my MA program and moved back in with my parents. Throughout the next three years I nursed my wounds, swearing I never wanted to date anyone again, or risk anything, or get hurt like that. I focused on working and trying to save money to regain financial independence. I also felt conflicted–was I really never going to fall in love again, after such a bad heartbreak at 25? It’s necessary to mourn, but was I going to mourn for the rest of my life? Some days I thought the answer was ABSOLUTELY YES! But other days, even though I knew being in a relationship posed a tremendous risk, I wanted all that beauty and intensity and joy again.

A strange thing striking me now is that in headshot I use for Spry, taken three years after this awful breakup, I am wearing this ex’s jacket! Why did I hold onto it so long before donating it? My excuses were: It fit my style, money was tight and I couldn’t buy anything new, and so on. But I was remembering this pain EVERY time I wore my lightest jacket? Come on. It was like a Medieval hair shirt, a penance.

I can also see the roots of my hair peeking out under the black henna dye I would buy at the health food store with my employee discount. What a time capsule I have left myself in this poem!

What writers have most heavily influenced your work, past and present? Who are you reading—poetry, fiction, non-fiction—now?

When I wrote this poem, my poet friend had challenged me to read more Theodore Roethke. I can see looking back how I was drawing from 16+ years of Catholic education, thinking about prayers and hymns. This friend had also memorized “sweet reader, flanneled and tulled” by Olena Kalytiak Davis, so I did as well. We were obsessed with the concept of shattered sonnets.

These days I read a mix of Fiction, Nonfiction, Sci-Fi & Fantasy & Horror. I try to read as many independently published authors as I can. Right now I am loving and crying my way through “Crying in H Mart” by Michelle Zauner, and in the last year “In The Dream House” by Carmen Maria Machado blew my mind in terms of what nonfiction can do. For Fiction I am currently reading “The Nickel Boys” by Colson Whitehead. In the last year, “Milk Fed” by Melissa Broder absolutely broke my brain, I don’t know if I will ever recover!

It’s been 7/8 years since “Pomegranate” was published in Spry. How has your work evolved or changed in that time? What challenges have you faced in your growth as a writer? Anything new and exciting to tell us about?

I’ve changed a lot! And I want to note that my work has evolved due to positive changes in my life: I have one full-time job, instead of three part-time ones, meaning time for rest and writing and dreaming. I make enough money to live independently. I have healthcare, so I can take care of my body and also go to talk therapy and also refill a monthly prescription for an antidepressant. I am living proof that everyone deserves a living wage and every human should get the healthcare they need. Any other system (the current healthcare system in the US) is cruelty for cruelty’s sake.

I’m not writing political polemics (yet)! About a year after this poem was published, I started believing my genre was flash fiction. I tried to write a flash collection about two metalhead girls in Catholic high school–will always love the idea, but I just can’t get to a final, salable draft. Then in 2018 I found myself drawn to longform essays. I guess I did go to Journalism school after all, though I’ve only freelanced a few times in that department.

I go back and forth and write a lot of terrible first drafts in a lot of categories! I write essays that hurt while writing, and flash fiction that delights me. Every once in a while a poem comes to me, too. It’s all kind of a mess.

Exciting: My flash fiction collection called LOVING MONSTERS is out with Alternating Current now.

Beyond being a writer, you’re both a reader for Spry and an editor at another publication, as well! We know one of your focuses as managing editor of Newfound Journal is equity in publishing—could you tell us about that focus and its importance?

I am a reader for Spry and I am so glad I can tell you I loved reading your piece, “The Talk,” in our Submittable queue! We read anonymous submissions, as you know, so it is exciting to “meet” the person behind the words. Your story, about sexuality and girlhood, spends so much time in childhood bedrooms–that intimacy struck me right away and stays with me now. So glad it is published and out in the world.

And now to move onto the big theme of equity in publishing: I have a tiny role to play with Newfound Journal and also Spry Lit. I take this role seriously, while also seeing that these (wonderful) publications exist in the lit world ecosystem. Still, in my personal interactions with literary journal volunteers and submitters of words/images to a journal, I have a modicum of power and I must never forget this. I try to remember that my way of seeing the world, or writing or storytelling, is not the only way to do this, by any means. I want to learn something new, encounter what I never have before. (And good writing may make me encounter myself in a new way, question my assumptions, and get uncomfortable!)

The joy of “working” (these roles are volunteer) in indie publishing is that at its best, it keeps my curiosity alive. Please, tell me a good story! A funny story, a weird one, something unexpected and never cliche. Rip my heart out!

Because humanity is better served when we interact with art from many varying perspectives–voices representing diverse backgrounds in terms of race/ethnicity, national origin, ability, gender identity, sexuality, socio-economic class, age, and so much more. And gatekeeping, making it so that we all only read the dead white guys we had to read in high school (or at least, I did), makes literature all the poorer.

I can only speak for myself: During the darkest, hardest, hungriest, most desperate moments of my life, I had checked-out public library books in my backpack. Stories, or poetic images, have saved me and inspired me to keep going. Everyone deserves access to stories–especially stories that reflect them, their identities, their experiences.

And everyone deserves to have their stories heard! We all benefit when we read widely and experience perspectives of folks we haven’t encountered before. Or, maybe they validate our experiences, which we’ve never seen on the page before.

I’m pretty optimistic in this regard! I would say even in the last 15 years, independent publishing has gained more momentum and reach–even as the big presses in NYC keep merging and shrinking. (I was never aiming in that direction, anyway.) I feel like every “death of print/reading” moral panic has been answered with more ways that people keep reading and demanding words.

That said, there is still some elitism in all publishing and even the small press world–some badge of honor b.s. I will never understand because I do not have an MFA in any genre. For 10 years I subscribed to one of the bigger writing industry magazines, but cut the cord a few years back when one issue interviewed three different writers who all said their path to success was the same, elite, CIA-founded MFA program. And good for them! That’s a great path, and it is also not the only path, and it is certainly not the only path worth writing about in a trade publication.

It just points to how pernicious bias (in an individual or an organization) can be: We can’t see our own assumptions, which is why they are assumptions. I am determined to read widely, constantly, and seek out works that bash my head in and make me question everything. And I also have to react with grace when my own assumptions and failings are pointed out to me.

One more, just for fun: if you could have a dinner party with five literary characters, who would they be and what would you be serving them?

First of all, I never cook. I have a partner who is a foodie and an excellent cook, but maybe for this party I’d order something delivered?

  1. Eva Luna, from the Isabel Allende novel with the same name. She would tell stories and we’d all be entranced.
  2. A ghost or spirit dreamed up by Haruki Murakami. This party will get weird.
  3. This year I read “Silver Sparrow” by Tayari Jones and it brought me to tears! I feel like I know these characters intimately–so I’ll invite Dana from this novel.
  4. I loved every character in Kaitlyn Greenidge’s “Libertie.” Even when they didn’t get along with one another. I would ask Libertie and her mother to come to my party … maybe not sit next to one another at the dinner table?
  5. A Willa Cather character, for some practical, non-nonsense wisdom. Let’s say Ántonia Shimerda. I would seat her next to Libertie’s mother, Dr. Sampson.

Thank you for these excellent questions and this interview!

Devon BohmDevon Bohm received her BA from Smith College and earned her MFA from Fairfield University. Her first book of poetry, Careful Cartography, was released from Cornerstone Press in November 2021. Follow her on Instagram or TikTok @devonpoem or visit her website at