Behind the Words: Erin Cinsey

Posted by on Aug 12, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Erin CisneyWhat is more thrilling than two Pennsylvania residents discussing poetry? Answer: Two Pennsylvania mothers discussing poetry. If that description doesn’t win you over, Erin Cinsey’s poetry certainly will. Tackling death, gender norms, and grief, “The Denial” was a beautiful and heartbreaking poem featured in issue 02 of Spry Literary Journal. Erin is a graduate of Franklin and Marshall College and currently resides in Pennsylvania with her husband and two sons.


Laura Bernstein: First, talk to me about the revision process of this poem. It is such a short, refined piece, that I wonder if an earlier draft was lengthier. 

Erin Cinsey: I was taking an online poetry course through my local community college when I wrote the first draft of this poem so it was with the help of others in that class that it came to be in its final state.  Originally it continued for a few more lines.  It was at the suggestion of another participant that I removed those last couple lines and end it as the final piece does now. I’m really grateful for that advice because it leaves a much more lasting impression than the original did.  I love scarcity in poetry but even if I’m keeping that in mind when I write, sometimes it takes an outside perspective to truly know what parts are the most important to your vision and what parts are clouding that vision more than contributing.


LB: Though it’s seemingly small, talk to me about the choice of using third person in “The Denial.” Third person seems to add a layer of separation between “her” and “her father” (and also the reader and the experience).

EC: The inspiration for this poem came from my own father’s battle with cancer and his eventual death when I was a teenager.  I started writing poetry when I was younger as a means of catharsis and still do.  But some advice I received as I became more involved in the writing process is that when you’re using a deeply personal issue as your subject, writing about it in third person gives you a sense of detachment that allows you to deal with the piece objectively and make decisions from the perspective of a writer without letting emotions cloud your judgment.


LB: One line that will stick with me is ” This is a stranger delicate and brittle as a woman”–this seems to be a transformative moment. I’d love to know more about this speaker’s negative associations to womanhood. It was such a swift line, yet it gave me a lot of questions.

EC: My first vision for this piece and main goal was to show how cancer can change a person so completely that in the end they’re totally unrecognizable from the person they used to be.  The father’s background is supposed to paint him as the epitome of stereotypical masculinity, tough, daring and maybe even a little insensitive to his daughter’s femininity.  But in the end, cancer takes that essential piece of his personality so that he becomes the opposite.  And because this poem is based on my own experiences, pulling apart my motives behind certain lines can seem a bit like self-psychoanalysis.  I was raised solely by my father from a young age and he wasn’t very progressive when it came to feminism.  That and not having a strong, female role model as I was growing up left me somewhat disdainful of my own gender as a teenager.  When the daughter is looking back at her father in the poem, I wanted to convey that in her.  And that’s the irony in this piece, that her negative associations with being a woman were passed on to her by her father but in the end are directed at him.


LB: I read on your Spry bio that you are a mother to two sons. As a fellow mother, I often get asked how I balance writing/work/motherhood. Do you happen to have this mythical balance I continue to hear great things about? How does being a mother shape your writing and/or writing process (if at all)? 

EC: That balance, yes, is definitely mythical.  What I find helps to tip the scales a little is to fit in writing at every opportune moment.  I know it’s not old school, but I have an app on my cell phone that allows me to take notes that I can later access on my computer and vice versa.  So when I’m waiting in the car for basketball practice to be over or for school to let out, I can pull out my cell phone, access all my past notes and continue editing something I’ve been working on or quickly get down something that may have just hit me.  In the end though it definitely takes time to go over all those notes in a setting more conducive to deep thought and reflection so I reserve that for after my kids are in bed.  It can sometimes lead to late nights but whether I’m writing or not, sometimes a mom just needs that quiet time to herself at the end of the day to recover.

A few times I’ve attempted to use motherhood as inspiration for my poetry but what I’ve found is that I have way too much emotion surrounding my kids to handle that subject objectively.  They will always be the most wonderful and amazing people I know just as every other mother will think about her own kids.  Motherhood is an extremely satisfying experience for me but not one that seems to inspire exciting writing.  So I save my writing for other experiences.  I like to think of it as my time to get in touch with all those other thoughts that I need to put aside when my kids are the main focus, the “adult” thoughts I guess you could call them.


LB: What are some of your current writing goals?

EC: I have a cyclical nature of tending to write like crazy for a few months and then find myself in a slump where I don’t feel like I have much to say.  It used to bother me and I’d make myself write regardless of what I was feeling because I feared the “use it or lose it” concept I’ve heard other writers speak about.  I’ve pushed that notion aside though and now I only write when I feel motivated to do so.  Unfortunately I don’t write as often as I used to, but when I do it feels more rewarding.  So right now I’m in a slump.  I use this time to read as much as possible because sometimes inspiration will hit after I’ve read something particularly poignant or relevant to me.  So I’d say my goal currently is to come back to writing when I’m ready and continue to seek out new sources of inspiration in the meantime until my momentum gets going.  Big picture I can’t say that I have any large goals set.   Writing has always been a way to cope, a way to define myself, a way to connect with other people. If I end up with a poem that I think is worth sharing and someone else feels the same, that’s a bonus.  It’s great to be published, but if I focus too much on that, it shows in my writing in a way I don’t like.


LB: Recommend a YouTube video of a poem/poetry reading you’d recommend to Spry readers. 

EC: I honestly haven’t attended many poetry readings or sought out videos on YouTube before so I went to YouTube and typed in some of my favorite poets to see what would come up.  It was fun, I’m so used to associating these names with words on a page that I didn’t even know what some of them they looked like until now.  My favorite video was Carl Adamshick reading from his book Curses and Wishes.

Laura Bernstein’s work has been featured in The Normal School, Tupelo Quarterly, and Passages North, among others. Bernstein lives in Bucks County, PA with her husband and daughter, and she teaches at Penn State Abington.

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