Meet Suz Guthmann, Woodfin Fellow in Poetry

Peyton Niemeyer interviewed Suz Guthmann, our new Woodfin Fellow in Poetry.

What draws you to poetry as your creative work? 

To me, poetry is so universal – everyone can and should write down how they process the world around them. I love that in the intensely vulnerable, poetry is a beautiful way of helping the writer explain themselves and the world around them. For me, poetry is what I need to be able to process my experiences and emotions. On a lighter note, it is so fun! Poetry takes so many forms and can evolve in so many ways, it is always an adventure when I start writing!

What poets (or artists of any other form) have been your influences? 

I am always so nervous answering this question, I think it would be easier to ask who my artistic heroes are! First, I have “Phenomenal Woman,” by Maya Angelou tattooed on my ribs. I try to live by her quote which says, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do that.” There is just so much grace in her words. I recently read Fatimah Asghar’s collection of poems, If They Come For Us. I love how playful her form is (Crosswords! Bingo sheets! Word searches!) and how she marries it with her tough subjects. I am a major fan of memoirs with a lot of my own work being semi-autobiographical, I so enjoyed reading Loose of Earth by Kathleen Dorothy Blackburn. Music wise, I rage out with Delilah Bon, especially to her song, “Clowns,” and love Rhiannon Giddens’ album, Freedom Highway.

When did you know that you were a writer? 

I was trying to write before I could even read. My sweet cousin Elijah was my toddler pen pal, and we would send each other little drawings back and forth over snail mail. I would dictate stories to my mom for her to type, usually about bunnies and fairies! I bent towards journalism in college, serving as the Editor-in-Chief of our newspaper, The Bagpipe. I had written little poems all my life, but realized I was a poet much later when I began writing again after surviving sexual assault. Writing my story and understanding of events brought me to a place where I was able to ask for help, which really saved my life. I hope to help others find the courage to share their stories and destigmatize the subject of surviving sexual assault.

What is your go to form in your poetry? 

Ah, I don’t know! I think I would be considered experimental. I don’t like to stick to one form but switch it up quite a bit. Recently, I’ve been taking portions of the DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition by Marsha M. Line and constructing poems using its structure.  DBT stands for dialectical behavior therapy used to teach mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation, and distress tolerance. It is especially useful for people who are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. Using the worksheets as a form of poetry really helps me contextualize each lesson and explain them to others.

What is your favorite picture book? 

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel, who won the Caldecott Honor in 2017. It’s a poem in its own way. “The cat walked through the world with its whiskers, ears, and paws,” past many other creatures, all who perceived the cat through their unique lens. The illustrations perfectly encapsulate these different lenses, like showing a single flea in a vast ocean of cat hair that takes up the entire page. Also, cats!

What is your writing process like? 

Ooo boy, it is chaotic! I used to try to write a poem with a meaning in mind first and wow, was that unnatural. I have started paying more attention to those sudden flashes of imagery that I see around me, like a keg kicking at work and the spray of kombucha foam feeling like a drive by baptism. I find that I must scribble that image down before I lose it and then, maybe when my shift is done, I’ll come back to it and flesh it out. I think the oddest times I’ve found a poem would have to be in a hot tub, at a child’s birthday party, and in an Uber.