Behind the Words: Christine Brandel

Posted by on May 21, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Christine Brandel

Christine Brandel is amazingly multi-talented: a poet, a blogger, a columnist, a photographer, just to name a few.  Inspired by her love for learning, Christine currently teaches writing at a community college, and  finds time to volunteer at a hospice.

Her poem “A Wife Is a Hope Chest” published in the fourth issue of Spry Literary Journal has guts, fierceness and charming eloquence, all in one. It serves as the title poem for her collection, A Wife Is a Hope Chest, published in 2017 as the first full-length collection in the Mineral Point Poetry Series from Brain Mill Press.

Lilia Joy: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

Christine Brandel: I write and make pictures. I have four tattoos. I have short hair.

I’ve mostly worked in education, from preparatory school to secondary school to college and continuing ed. I also have experience in the volunteer sector, and I am currently a hospice volunteer. 

When did you start writing? Why?

I’ve been writing all my life. In retrospect, I suppose my earliest writings were really just imaginative demands for attention: I wrote a book in second grade primarily because I knew Miss Farkas would display it on the bulletin board (she did), and I also filled a pre-teen diary with an entirely fictional (though loosely based on Grease) story line, which I hoped someone would discover and marvel at (no one ever did). In high school, I began to write more seriously, expressing the angst I was sure I was the only one who’d ever experienced. 

What drew you to poetry?

Although I write in other genres, poetry has always felt like home to me. I like the tightness of a poem — the way it can create a story or evoke a reaction in only a few words or images. I also like the role sound plays, the way it adds music as well as meaning.

Do you write full time or part time?

This is a tricky question: I do write full time, but I also work full time as an associate professor of English at a community college. I also (occasionally) need to sleep, so it’s a complicated balance. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work to say “Okay, Christine, you’ve got no papers to grade tonight — quick, write a poem.” Somehow, though, I try to find a way: when writing calls me, I answer. I also work on submissions every week, and write a character blog and column on comedy as well, so if a poem’s not yet ready to emerge, I’m still writing in some way.

I noticed that a comedy streak runs through several of your literary activities. Even the poem published in Spry, although tragic and depressing, is delightfully sarcastic. How did comedy find its way in your writing?

Humor was always present in my life; growing up, I was taught to appreciate what it can do, especially during hard times. Reading, listening to, or watching comedy is something I do everyday. It’s my meditation, I guess.

I admire those who can be funny in a way that seems effortless. I began kind of studying it — trying to pick apart that magic — and that’s when I started to write about it.

As far as my own comedic voice, like a lot in my own life, I find it easier to do on paper than in person. My character, Agatha Whitt-Wellington (Miss), was born in a story called “Everyone Needs An Algonquin” that I wrote and simply filed away. Twenty years later during a traumatic period in my life, I was struggling with writer’s block, so I dug through some old work and found Agatha. She made me smile. I soon realized that, while a sad Christine didn’t feel able to express herself, a witty Agatha had a lot to say to the world, so I created a blog for her and just kept her going and growing. She helped me get through.

Of course, comedy and tragedy are threaded through all of life. I just try to reflect that in my writing.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently quite fascinated by the brain — how it works, what happens when it doesn’t, and how we can change it. Naturally, this interest is playing out in my work. However, I’ve yet to decide whether I’m thinking about the actual parts of the brain or leaning more towards the phrenology version, as I find them both intriguing in different ways.

How do you come up with ideas for your poems?

For me, poetry is testimony. Therefore, a lot of my poems speak about experiences I’ve had. Sometimes they’re just brief moments — a flash of a memory or a feeling of confusion; other times they’re about bigger things, like identity or tragedy, both of which inspired “A Wife Is a Hope Chest.” Sometimes I write to testify on behalf of a person who does not actually exist. Occasionally, the process begins simply with a title, line, or image, and I build the poem around one of those.

What is the easiest thing about writing?

That moment when an idea first arrives — it’s magic and simple and beautiful. You write it out and see it on the page: something that was empty is now filled. And then you step back and the real work begins. 

Where do you see your literary career in five years?

As I’m developing my brain-based work, I’ve got another poetry manuscript I’m currently trying to find a home for. I also have a novel outline that I’m perpetually playing with (but not yet actually writing), and I’d really like to be able to buckle down and get that going. 

Do you have any favorite writers or poets that inspire you?

I suppose Bob Dylan was the first writer to really inspire me; I have vivid memories of recognizing that his lyrics meant something. As an American teenaged girl, I was obviously influenced by Plath and Sexton — I still feel connections with both, particularly Plath since both of us spent some of our writing lives in England. I also really admire the poetry of James Tate, Russell Edson, and Charles Simic. The French surrealists inspire me. And Raymond Carver, of course.

To learn more about Christine Brandel, visit her website or Twitter.

Lilia Joy holds an MFA in poetry from Murray State University and teaches at Henderson Community College. Lilia has served as an assistant poetry editor at New Madrid and a faculty advisor of a student literary magazine The Riverbend Review. Lilia is currently working on her first collection of poetry, A Foreign Bride.