Readers Wonder: Amber Murry
In our “Readers Wonder” series, Bethany students sit down with our Inkwell contributors to talk about the writing process and the pieces that appear in our issues.
In this installment, Karena talks to Amber Murry about her piece: “When a Mother Sings” which was published in our Spring 2019 issue. (Scroll to the bottom of this page to read Murry’s poem.)
Hello, my name is Karena Verbitsky, and today I will be interviewing Amber Murry on her poetry, specifically her work, “When a Mother sings” in the Bethany Inkwell Magazine. Amber is a junior studying English at Bethany Lutheran College. Her work has been published in the 2019 Inkwell Magazine as well as the Inkwell website. She also writes for The Scroll, an on-campus newspaper. Welcome, Amber.
I’d like to start out with our topic today of contemporary poetry. How did you get your start in poetry?
My start in poetry was primarily from school and classes that I’ve taken. I would say I’ve taken units on poetry going all the way back to fifth grade, but it wasn’t until here at Bethany Lutheran College, when I had a creative writing class, that I would say I really started to get into poetry. And that’s actually the class where this particular poem originated.
Interesting. What draws you to a contemporary poetry style?
One of the things that I like the most about contemporary poetry is that it’s very flexible. There’s a lot that you can do with it, and to some degree, you can’t really get it wrong. It’s like, “Oh yup, if I made a weird choice here, it’s my style.” If that makes sense.
Right, it does. Specifically, tell me a little bit about your poem in the Inkwell Magazine.
“When a Mother sings,” like I said earlier, was from a class project that I had. The original inspiration behind it was from a prompt that we were given in class, which was to talk about our relationship with our hair. For me at the time, my hair was very short, shorter than it is now, and it was the same hairstyle that my mom had. So, this poem about the relationship with my hair really became a poem about my relationship with my mother and my fears about becoming like her, in many ways. A lot of people say that we are very much alike, especially in appearance but also in body language and the way we speak. But, there’s a lot of things that I don’t really want to be like her.
So, there’s this theme throughout the poem from a phase where she says that your dreams will come true, and you relate that back to your nightmares. Is that deeper than just wanting to become your mom?
That line of “May all your dreams come true” was from an actual song that she did sing to me as a kid, and I hated that line. At the time, it was always just because I did have nightmares. It was only that deep. I had scary dreams as a kid. I didn’t want those to come true, and as a child I took that line very literally; I didn’t want that. But then as I was thinking back, I wondered what other dreams–because it can have multiple meanings–do I still not want to come true?
I thought you did a really great job of making that both a meaning for your situation with your mother, as well as a meaning deeper than that to which all people can relate to. I was wondering about where you talk about piloting and flying. How did that incorporate itself into the poem?
That part actually was a late addition to the poem. It was put in there right before this poem was submitted to Inkwell. Basically, the idea for that came from this one dream that I had as a kid. I was one of my favorite dreams because I was just in an airplane flying, and there was this mountain up ahead. It was absolutely beautiful. On one level, I knew I was crashing. The plane was definitely going down, but I always wanted to have that dream again. Just because it was cool. To me, that seemed very symbolic of how I feel that my mother sees things.
I feel that. Interesting. Did you use any kind of form in this poem?
I would say no. Although, when I was writing it, I fell into a little bit of a habit where I think I was trying to make each stanza seven lines long. It wasn’t really a big thing. I was like, “Oh, I want this to be kind of a standard thing.” Just so that I have these two lines, the “May all your dreams come true” and “Is that what happened to her?” I wanted those to really stick out.
I think it did. Your goal with that was accomplished, especially reading the last few lines. Throughout the poem, it really stuck out like you were saying. In general, do you like using form in your poems?
Generally, I don’t really have a lot of practice with it, to be honest. I tend to avoid it because, in many ways, I feel that it limits me. A lot of my creative work comes from a big brainstorming thing where I’m like, “Ah, blah blah blah,” and just saying word after word after word. To me the most interesting stuff comes out of that. Trying to squeeze that into a form is just too hard.
You said a little bit about this giant brainstorming process, but what is your typical writing process?
My typical writing process, especially for creative things, often happens at three in the morning when my brain is half asleep already.
When you get tired enough, your brain leaks.
Yes. Exactly. That’s it. This was a three in the morning one. One of the things that I’ve started doing recently is I will literally just stare at my keyboard, and then I’m going, “Okay, this letter looks interesting.” I write a word that starts with that letter, and then I feel like this word should go next. It makes no sense most of the time. Sometimes, I’ll lapse into writing actual sentences based on a couple of words. Most of the time it’s just getting a sound out.
That is definitely something I’ve never heard of.
I haven’t really developed anything out of those yet, but it’s a little bit of a way to flex my creative muscles.
Right. So, along with your writing process, what typically inspires you? Or what right now is inspiring you?
That’s a difficult one. Typically, what inspires me is my family and the relationship with various members of my family. I do have a pretty big family. Also, people and situations from my past. I know there’s one particular person that I’ve written about a lot because I’ve been friends with this person since 4th grade. And we still talk, even though half the time we hate each other’s guts. It’s a really weird frenemy relationship that we’ve got.
Similar in question, are there any themes that you are particularly interested in expressing in your poetry?
I don’t know about themes, honestly. I feel like I’m still too new to developing my poetry to really pick out any themes in particular. But again, I would say my family is definitely a big theme.
Do you tend to find a more negative or positive message in your poems? Or a mixture of both? Some poets use poetry as an outlet for their negative thoughts, so all their poems seem to be this dark, negative thing. But that doesn’t necessarily reflect the poet. What do you experience?
In most of the poems that I have written, they definitely can take on a darker undertone, even though that’s not always exactly what I’m going for. Multiple times in my creative writing class when I would submit something, I would go, “I promise this isn’t about suicide.” Just because looking at it, it did sound really dark. But to me, I think getting that darkness out on paper and then looking for the hopeful side of it is important.
And tying the end into how you can make that something hopeful.
I see. So, changing gears a bit now. Some say that contemporary poetry is obsessed with society as a theme. What do you think about that?
I would say that some contemporary poets are obsessed with society. At the same time, I would still say that society is a big part of life, and life is a huge part of poetry. I think that art reflects life in many ways. We’ve become more connected as a society, and that doesn’t necessarily refer to social media, although that is a big part of it. But, I think that we have a little bit of a better idea that we are all this one group but we are split into many different factions. I think that tends to inform a lot of poets today. They want to express where they fit in within that group.
Poetry has always been about society throughout history. But now, there’s such an emphasis on these factions that it’s more about the problems that occur because you’re not fitting into one or because such an emphasis exists. It’s interesting that you bring that up.
What would you say is the greatest strength of contemporary poetry? What does it bring to the table that poetry in the past hasn’t?
Relating back to society, I think one of the cool things we have today is how easily it can be spread. People can put their work online in so many different ways and on many different platforms. I think that’s a really good way to get their ideas out. I think another one would be the different viewpoints that it has. Again, we are becoming more aware that we are a more diverse group than we imagined before. Especially today, with more minorities getting their voice out through poetry. It’s a really good thing.
Along with that, what would you say the greatest weakness is? What does it lack?
I think one of the greatest weaknesses is also the fact that it is so easy to get out. I know that there are instances where somebody is not spreading the message that they intend. Or some people just aren’t very good at it. Poetry is a very subjective thing. I always say that if you’re not getting the response that you intend, you’re not doing it right.
You don’t have that face-to-face interaction. Someone across the world could read your poem. Sometimes you want this message to be whatever the reader wants it to be, but sometimes, that’s not it. Sometimes, it can defeat the purpose that the poet was trying to get across at that time.
So, back to you. Do you have any projects in the works currently?
Not that are developed enough to talk about. I’m doing a brainstorm process right now, and I just started up a thing with a friend. We have this goal of writing at least something weekly. It doesn’t have to make sense at all. Like I said, I’m just writing down random words and I’ll send that to my friend saying, “Here’s this week’s.” But, I think that’s really important because so often people who are creatively oriented struggle to find the time to practice.
Especially in college, you have to find time to ground yourself and get out there.
Right. That’s kind of what I’m doing right now. Just doing some brainstorming and getting someone else involved with that, which is really fun.
Well, that’s exciting. Amber, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to speak with me and our listeners today. I hope you continue to create and impact your readers, and I am excited to see what you have in store for us in the future. Thank you for coming in.
Thank you for setting this up. I appreciate it.
When a Mother Sings
By Amber Murry
“Sing loud in church,
be the bell, calling all to come.
Sing soft to your children,
be the blanket, soothing them to sleep.”
This is a part of the mother song, the teaching song,
one generation of my family to the next,
who knows from when or where?
When my mother sang me to sleep
every night, the same words of the same song,
I begged her to stop but she
never did and always she
made melody of the curse that
whispered, could never be shut out
from my head when I covered my ears:
“May all your dreams come true.”
But, what about my nightmares?
Those were all I ever seemed to have
as a child, I think I hardly knew the difference
between flying and crashing
this plane I was often piloting
but the mountain ahead was so pretty
I only wanted to see it again and again.
Is that what happened to her?
Did she dream
of cutting her hair close to her head,
the day after she was married,
because her husband told her to?
of quitting her job
when my brother was born
only to hear that she was fired instead?
Sing me a song, Mom,
where you never were forced to give up
because you had more dreams
bursting from your belly
than you could catch with your hands
spread wide, grasping tiny hands you knew
you couldn’t hold forever.
Please, I need to know
not every nightmare, and not
every dream comes true. You promise me
that this is your dream
and I wonder
how you could fall asleep and
if you worry about crashing.