With two recently published books of poems, a third poetry project in place, and the recent winner of the ‘Next Great Travel Writer’ contest, sponsored by Travcoa and ‘National Geographic Traveler,’ South Lake Tahoe local, Suzanne Roberts, is having a very, very good year, perhaps her best. She’s excited of course to win the contest, but Suzanne said she is also thrilled to have two books of poetry in publication. After one of Suzanne’s readings, I sat down with her to get the dirt on this winning year and to learn more about her accomplishments and future plans.
Moonshine Ink: National Geographic Traveler awarded you a trip, courtesy of the travel company Travcoa, to Mongolia and the Gobi desert as winner of its annual writing contest. I read that you’ll be traveling with magazine editor-in-chief Keith Bellows to put together an article. Do you think this accolade will change your life, possibly your career?
Suzanne Roberts: I’m currently finishing my dissertation at UNR while teaching full time at Lake Tahoe Community College. But the opportunity to travel and write may sway my life toward a new direction. Who knows? In some ways, everything I have done up to this point—the teaching, studying, writing—has prepared me for travel writing.
MI: You also have two books of poems that were recently published, which have added to your visibility.
SR: Yes, it’s a coincidence, actually. I have been writing and publishing poems for a long time. Some of the poems in Shameless are 15 years old. It was just lucky that the book was picked up by the first publisher. Nothing to You, on the other hand, was accepted after I sent it to 40 publishers. It’s just a coincidence that the two books came out at nearly the same time.
MI: Your travels to South America, Mexico, Europe, and India have provided a lot of impetus for your poems. How much does traveling inform your writing?
SR: Traveling allows you to be in the moment. When you’re out of your comfort zone, you end up acting as an outsider, which makes you pay closer attention. In some weird way, you are both insider and outsider at the same time.
MI: What is your writing process?
SR: My writing process is long. I write daily in a journal with no expectations. After thinking about something for awhile, a poem will reveal itself to me. Leaving a piece of writing for a while is helpful and then sharing it with other writers is important, to have new eyes. I also attend conferences because writing is lonely, especially poetry, and it’s hard to find people who think poetry is important. At conferences, I feel less neurotic because there’s validation in a community of writers.
MI: How do you perceive art?
SR: …as human beings making sense of a confusing world, for both the creator and the audience. Art is about connecting to other people. It’s the only real thing that separates us from our animal selves. Art is beautiful, even if it’s dark. Art expresses emotions.
MI: Many of your poems address sex or have a sexy tone. Do you consider yourself a particularly sensual person?
SR: Yes. American poet Albert Goldbarth said that all poems are about sex and death. Of course he’s wrong. Poems are about sex, death, and travels, but seriously, I think I’m comfortable with subjects that many people are uncomfortable with.
MI: What are some of your other favorite topics?
SR: As you can see in both Shameless and Nothing to You, I write poems that address unhappy love affairs, skiing, traveling, and the process of writing.
MI: With teaching full time, completing a PhD, and traveling, how do you do it all?
SR: I like literature and writing, but I also need to be outdoors hiking or skiing. I need both, which does make it hard sometimes. I’m learning that the joy comes in pursuing things, not necessarily achieving them. When I found out my books were going to be published, I was excited for one day, but the actual writing is more fulfilling.
MI: Do you have any impending projects?
SR: First, I need to finish my dissertation. I am also working on two poetry manuscripts and a partially written memoir on hiking the John Muir trail that I want to come back to.
MI: Would you consider sharing some of your Mongolia writings with us when you return?
Suzanne’s books may be purchased at Truckee Book and Bean and Bookshelf and amazon.com. To learn more about Suzanne Roberts and to read her winning essay, check out her website: suzanneroberts.org.
Yesterday, I woke alone in my own bed. Today, another country, and dawn castsits light on pink stucco walls, a painting—a brightly colored fishing village— an unlocked safe, a stained flowered bedspread crumpled on the floor. The broken shutters rattle a wooden echo against the window. Through the slats, electrical wires cut the balmy sky in halves. Palm fronds hesitate against uneven wind, a slate-gray sky. Yellow-uniformed guards still sit watch on the streets’ corners. Rain follows the light, scatters water on the red tile floor. I turn toward the back of a man I do not know.