A Little Bird Told Me: Summer Updates from Leia Penina Wilson

Rumor has it poet  Leia Penina Wilson has been pretty busy playing Magic the Gathering this summer, but she recently took a few moments to reflect on her upcoming collection, i built a boat with all the towels in your closet (and will let you drown), available October 7th. We’re lucky she shared some wonderful responses to help pass the time! Take a look at Leia’s full interview for more on the inspirations and distractions in her life, a well-rounded list of her phobias, and the qualities in a poem she finds deserving of a toast.

Leia Wilson_cropped1. Who is the person in your life that inspires you the most?
My mom inspires me the most. I don’t know anybody who works as hard as she does. It’s crazy how much she has worked, how much she does work, for us. The only thing she’s ever asked of us is that we go to school; she’s sacrificed a lot so we could have an education. She’s raised us by herself, and that’s been so hard on her. Four children as a single mom is always difficult. There was a lot of struggle, a lot of uncertainty. I probably wouldn’t be alive without her though.

2. How did your title originate? Did you consider other titles for the book?
I considered a lot of titles for this book. I always keep a running list of lines or phrases or sometimes just one word (or feeling) that might turn itself into a good title as I’m working on a project. It takes me a long time to come to a title I like. It’s a bit crazy how important titles really are, isn’t it? It’s intimidating too, choosing a phrase that captures the whole of it. I rearrange quite a bit. This title came from one of those rearrangements. I think it was originally a line from one of the meatier poems in the book. If I can’t decide, I often ask my friends to vote on which line they like best.

3. Your biggest distraction from writing
I play an awesome card game called Magic the Gathering. It’s my biggest distraction from everything. I love it though. I just built a Sigarda, Host of Herons commander deck, very poet-y of me. My favorite commander general is still Olivia Voldaren, only the best vampire ever.

4. Do you have any irrational (or rational) phobias?
Oh yes, I have a ton of phobias. Most of them irrational—I want to live forever or die quickly; I don’t want to feel myself dying (that scares the shit out of me). Snakes. Lizards (except dinosaurs, which are awesome). Insects (except butterflies and praying mantis’). I just watched my sister give birth to a baby—so pregnancy. That’s frightening, being responsible for another human. Not for me, but I adore other animals though, dogs and cats and all variety of furry creature. It’s strange, I don’t like the dark much, but I adore things that glow in the dark. Ha, that makes that particular fear kind of fun. I love neon & strobe lights also. Christmas lights! I love movie theaters, watching movies in theaters. I don’t like crowds. Too many people are overwhelming for me. I’m not sure if you’d call that a phobia though. I’m continually afraid of disappointing my mom. I don’t go on carnival wheels because I’m always afraid they’ll collapse or stop when I’m at the very top. I’m not afraid of heights, but I don’t like the uncertainty of being stuck. I’m a little afraid of uncertainty, so I make all my decisions quickly and assuredly. No time for regret! I have a tiny phobia of clowns. I don’t like loud, happy men. The colorful makeup and smile freaks me out. I close my eyes 98% of the time when watching horror movies. I don’t mind the blood, but the suspense is scary, I don’t like the violence of them. I’m afraid of getting lost, so I take the same route even if there’s a more efficient way to get somewhere.

5. If you could go on a date with any fictional character who would it be and why? Describe the date.
Sailor Uranus or Neptune, I have a difficult time choosing which one is hotter. I thought I could grow up into them when I was younger. I never wanted to date her, but I wanted so badly to be Queen Beryl. I like dates that involved ice cream cones with sprinkles. I really like dessert.

6. Please provide our blog readers with a summer reading recommendation
I’ve just moved to Las Vegas, so my summer reading is a bit scattered. I just finished reading Eric LeMay’s On Nothing, which is the perfect summer book. It’s weird thinking about the unnamed and named when moving to a city that’s all about sprawl and excess. The whole city feels nameless to me; everything is about sensation and experience. I love it. Maybe I’ll feel different after a few months. I’m not sure. I just read the new issue of Saga. It’s a comic book series by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples. It’s pimp, if you haven’t read it I highly recommend it. Next on my summer list is Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Bird, Snow: A Novel. It’s a lyrical retelling of Snow White, and I’m so excited to read it!

7. What was your favorite/ least favorite thing about writing this book?
That’s a hard question. I always get frustrated at ordering poems, at having to come up with poems that transition nicely into other poems. Most of my poems feel very final to me; they stand on their own and don’t need other poems for support. Or they don’t want them. So having to think of what poem came after each poem, and how that would affect/effect the reading experience annoyed me. That’s why I like a lot of space on the page of my poetry, why I like section breaks so much. My favorite thing is just simply writing the poems, that moment when the poem works or clicks or is final or whatever you want to call it is my favorite moment. It’s like finishing a really great drink—you’re a little buzzed from it but you want another. Cheers!

8. What’s one talent you wish you naturally possessed?
That’s a hard question too. I’m kind of awesome.

9. What is it about poetry that speaks to you?
The poetry I tend to gravitate towards and write is about fragments, pieces of stuff, broken lines, and empty space. The world is kind of fucked up, and I think poetry should reflect that broken-up-ness, that dissonance. I like that with poetry there’s a lot of room to play and manipulate language and sound. I like layering, scattering, weaving. The piece-ness of poetry speaks to me. Poetry reflects memory in that way. I think poetry reflects the tangibility, the temporality of experience accurately, or it can, so I like to see what I can do with that. I like verbing and accretion in poetry. Like a Katamari game you play forever, stuff accrues, gets stuck, shit gets lost, forgotten, smushed and transformed. Poetry provides a way to arrange, rearrange, and play for me. I like characters in poetry, I like fucking them up, in having them survive/witness/reflect.



Leia Penina Wilson is an MFA candidate in prose at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. When she’s not reading or writing, she spends her time baking tiny cakes and cookies. When she’s not baking, she plays Magic: The Gathering and cuddles with her boyfriend on the couch. She is the nonfiction editor for The Black Warrior Review. Her work can be found in, or is forthcoming from, Diagram, Alice Blue Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Chariton Review, NAP, and others. She is originally from St. Joseph, Missouri. Her first book, i built a boat with all the towels in your closet (and will let you drown), won the A Room of Her Own Foundation’s To the Lighthouse Poetry Publication Prize, selected by Evie Shockley.  It is available now for pre-order from Red Hen Press. The collection will be released October 7th.

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