Behind the Words: Meggie Royer

Posted by on Feb 1, 2022 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Meggie Royer

Meggie Royer not just a writer and poet, but she is also is a graduate student working toward her Masters of Social Work. Professionally, she advocates for survivors of domestic violence, but that doesn’t stop at the end of her workday. She also publishes Persephone’s Daughters, her literary and arts journal for abuse survivors.

Royer’s poem Salmonella was published in our sixth issue, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to interview her and share more about her with our literary community.

Erin Ollila: I’m always so interested in what sparks an idea for a poem. Where did the spark of inspiration for Salmonella come from?

Meggie Royer: I’ve always been fascinated by my grandparents and their history. Both sets of my grandparents were always very into preserving their history by passing down their stories to our generation, and it seemed as if every family get together was filled with reminiscences about the past, especially about life on the farm, or the war and traveling. I’m also always interested in little details I read in the paper, like a wedding ring showing up in the belly of a salmon one day somewhere, and so I combined that salmon detail with an imagining of my grandparents and their life with a sudden influx of salmon.

Is poetry the only genre you write in? If so, what do you like/dislike about the form? If you write in other genres, which is your favorite?

Poetry is the main genre I write in, although I do write in prose a fair amount as well. I like poetry because it allows me a great deal of freedom in my writing; I’ve always enjoyed being able to make my own choices when it comes to breaking my stanzas, how long to make my poems, how to format them, etc. I do find myself hesitant to write long poems, however, which is why I turn to prose to write longer pieces. I also find that I contract writer’s block much more easily when it comes to poetry than to prose. I’ve never been one to write specific kinds of poetry, either – sonnets, limericks, sestinas – I’ve always preferred freeform poetry.

When I write prose it really tends to just be longer versions of poems in paragraph form. I wrote several short stories back in high school and loved the topics and characters I could come up with. Much of the inspiration for those short stories came from the O. Henry Prize stories and the Best American Short Stories I would read back then. Now in addition to writing poetry-like prose pieces, I also tend to write more formal, academic essay-type pieces on gender-based violence and domestic violence, which are my career field.

It’s been a while since the poem was first published in Spry. What’s changed in your life since then?

I’ve since become a full-time Master of Social Work graduate student at the University of Michigan and have been working at a state domestic violence agency. These experiences have really opened my eyes to the various forms of violence in the world and the everyday, mundane ways in which they show up in our professional and personal lives, sometimes obviously, sometimes more obscure. It’s become a strong passion of mine. A lot of people merely think of domestic violence as hitting, but it spans so many different behaviors and encompasses so many dynamics which are incredibly complex. I’ve found myself drifting further away from poetry since “Salmonella” was published, in that I write less often now, but I find that sometimes writing less often makes my work even better, sharper. I have been doing several “daily poem challenges” in the past several months in order to keep up with my poetry, and I continue to publish issues of my literary and arts journal for abuse survivors, titled Persephone’s Daughters.

How big is your “In-Progress” folder? How many works-in-progress make it to a final draft?

To be honest, I don’t have an “In-Progress” folder. I either finish my pieces in one sitting, or I delete or throw away the pieces that I can’t seem to finish. I can’t recall the last time I actually left a piece unfinished and then came back to it later, other than for an essay for school. I wouldn’t really call it “giving up” on a piece, more like recognizing that I can’t give it the ending it deserves.

If you could go back and edit this piece, would you? Why or why not, and what, (if anything) would you change?

I wouldn’t go back and edit this piece, but I would like to see another ending for it. However, I can’t give it that. When I write one poem, I can’t rewrite it, or even portions of it. If I were that kind of person, though, I would explore the progression of the grandparents’ relationship further – what happened after they began to sleep apart? Did the relationship begin to disintegrate further? Did the salmon break something between them? Did the salmon eventually disappear? I suppose those are questions I would ask about my own poem if I were a reader. I do get the sense that in this particular poem, even if the salmon were to disappear, that the relationship between the grandparents would not return to the way it was before. It feels as if something was irreparably changed between them both. 

As a creative nonfiction writer, I’m always so curious how much of poetry is nonfiction and how much is fictional. You don’t need to tell us about this specific poem (unless you’d like to), but I’m curious about how much of your overall poetry is based on your own life.

I mentioned above that this specific poem was inspired somewhat by my grandparents and just a bit by past newspaper stories I’ve read, although that’s about all that was nonfiction about the poem. Overall, my poetry is a tapestry of small details of my own life, and details of things I’ve read in the papers, heard about from others, come up with in my own mind, and dreamt about. I used to have this thing where I would start off nearly all my poems with a small anecdote from something I’d read in the paper or in a psychology study, such as when I started a poem with a few lines about the 36 questions the psychologist Arthur Aron believes strangers must ask one another to fall in love.

I don’t think I’ve ever actually written a poem that was entirely nonfiction. I’ve written poems that are mostly nonfiction or mostly based on my own life, but I don’t recall writing one that was entirely 100% based on my own life. The closest I’ve come to that is a collection of poetry I published a few years back with Words Dance Publishing titled The No You Never Listened To, which was based on my experience in a traumatic relationship that culminated in my partner at the time raping me. I felt I could not do my trauma and my truths justice if I did not write them as close to nonfiction as I possibly could.

Whose work has had the most profound impact on your writing?

A few years back I read a book by the Irish novelist Maggie O’Farrell, called After You’d Gone, about a young woman whose lover is killed by a bomb. I have never connected to any other work as deeply since as I have to that novel. It was so utterly realistic and so utterly poetic. I felt as if I were actually in the young woman’s shoes, and in the shoes of all her family members and friends, whether those shoes were mules, peep toe sandals, boots, or sneakers. Ever since reading that novel, I have always challenged myself to write as sharply and as concisely as I can so that my audience is able to step into my poems too.

Do you ever let anyone read your work while in progress? If so, who? If not, why?

I have one close writing friend whom I send a lot of my work to, but I’ve never sent him any of my work in progress, only when it’s finished. I see so much focus in the writing community on editing and revising and writing draft after draft and doing workshop after workshop, but after doing a few poetry workshops in college, I decided that method wasn’t really for me. Sure, I welcome constructive criticism on my work, but I rarely actually implement it. For me, it just feels like when a piece is finished, then it’s finished for good.

How do you decide when a poem is complete?

Of course it sounds obvious, but as soon as the last line of a poem hits me hard, then it’s complete. I could write the most awful beginning and middle of a poem yet the most beautiful last lines, and it would still be complete. I always do go back and reread a poem for minor proofreading, but if the last line or lines really resonate with me, then it’s pretty much done. And by “resonate with me,” I mean if I read that last line or lines and am in disbelief that I could have ever written those lines, if it feels like a writer much better than me must’ve written those lines, then the poem is complete.

What 5 writers would you invite to your house for a meal (dead or alive)? What would you serve them?

That is a great question. I would invite Rod Serling, the screenwriter of the original Twilight Zone episodes, Maggie O’Farrell (the Irish novelist mentioned previously), Charlie Kaufman (the screenwriter of The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Kelly Sundberg, who wrote a bestselling memoir about her abusive marriage to another writer, and the poet Richard Siken. I’ve gotten much more into cooking in the past year and have been exploring with quite a few recipes. I think I would serve them crab cakes, mushroom risotto, Riesling, and tiramisu for dessert. We’ll see if I could get the risotto right, though!

Erin Ollila believes in the power of words and how a message can inform—and even transform—its intended audience. When she’s not working with big brands and small businesses to marry strategy, storytelling, and SEO, you can find her hosting the Talk Copy to Me podcast or exploring southeastern MA with her family and friends. Erin graduated from Fairfield University with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and then co-founded Spry Literary Journal, which celebrates undiscovered and established writers’ concise, experimental, hybrid, modern, vintage or just-plain-vulnerable writing

Reach out to her on Instagram or visit her website to learn more.