Linda K. Sienkiewicz is a poet and novelist. She is represented by Chelsea Gilmore and Maria Carvainis of Maria Carvainis Agency, Inc. Linda lives north of Detroit, MI with her husband; they have three grown children and a granddaughter. I recently interviewed her about her new book of poetry, Security.
Q: The title poem in this collection is Security. Please tell me how you came to write it.
Watching television. It was such a silly commercial that I couldn’t resist. It was fun to juxtaposition the television situation against real life, which, of course, in my case, the details are greatly exaggerated. However, I did question my husband about his hunting rifle.
My husband and I are watching television in bed—
something experts recommend couples don’t do
because according to a study by an Italian sexologist,
couples who have a TV in their bedroom have sex
only as half as often as those who don’t—when
a commercial for Brinks Security comes on,
with an attractive couple in a modern décor,
neutral tone bedroom where, unlike our bedroom,
there are no shoes on the dresser, dirty clothes
at the end of the bed, wet socks on the heat register.
The wife hears a noise; she rouses her sleepy spouse,
who gets out of bed in his neatly pressed pajamas.
My husband sleeps in a Born to Fish muscle shirt
he’s had for five years and a pair of plaid bottoms
I got on clearance at Target. The TV husband
assures the wife he’ll take care of things,
and tiptoes, defenseless, down the stairs. A dark shadow
passes by the back door, then, the window breaks,
and glass shatters across the floor—a metaphor
for the couples’ shattered sense of security.
A man in trousers and a windbreaker sprawls in
as if thrown from a train. He’s not wearing a ski mask
or pantyhose on his head, and that, along with
his thunderous entrance, smacks of an amateur,
and at the sound of the Brinks alarm,
he’s gone. The husband runs upstairs to tell the wife
someone broke in, but “the alarm scared him off,”
the key words being the alarm scared him off,
after which a phone rings. Brinks Security calling.
Flash to the Brinks man, wearing a blue work shirt
and telephone headset, a regular working guy
with big white teeth, trimmed hair and a jaw like
a file cabinet. It may be two a.m., but this man is
diligent, ready for action, and amazingly buff for
someone who works a desk job. When the wife tells
him they had a break in, he says he’ll send someone
right out. The husband looks out the window and sighs.
If a cartoon bubble were above his head
it would read: Thank God for Brinks. The football game
resumes, but the savvy at-home viewer knows
the prowler is still out there. We have ADT, but we don’t
set the alarm because our adult children go in and out
at all hours, like raccoons in the trash, half the time leaving
the house unlocked, a fact I should probably keep to myself.
We have a twenty-gauge, single shot rifle in the closet.
It’s forty years old, but a good shotgun, “All you need,”
my husband says. I can’t remember what kind of pajamas
the TV wife wore. I sleep in an XXL BikerNet.com t-shirt.
Q: And what about the poem I like the best "God Discusses Life with the Last Woman on Earth"?
It’s an older poem, but it fit the theme of this chapbook. Several years ago, I took a six week poetry workshop at the Detroit Institute of Arts. At an exhibit of Ben Shahn’s work, I was captivated by a painting of a woman who looked like the sole survivor of a war. The only thing she had left was a basket, and she was on the ground, reaching up, as if asking “Why?” It’s a question people often ask when bad things happen. While I think the whole notion of being chosen is arrogant, I wondered what a devout woman might imagine her god would say to her if she dared to ask him why he destroyed everything. I think she would want him to convince her that this was for her own good, something I cannot fathom.
GOD DISCUSSES LIFE WITH THE LAST WOMAN ON EARTH
And now you crawl to me,
tears washing your face.
Be careful not to stumble
over your sister, neighbor,
bones, blood, matted hair.
My faithful, you are on your way
home to me
though I know you don’t feel chosen,
lugging your basket
of salvaged potatoes
as you pick your way over
what was once Dvorsnak’s Market,
St. Stanislas Church
and the schoolyard
where a few days ago
your children played without fear
and in your house, Henryk swore
your kidney stew was the best
in the world—heavenly
was the word he used.
Did you think
that was living?
Q:How did you come to be a poet?
I remember leafing through books of 19th century poetry in grade school, and being fascinated by the layers of meaning in them. I wrote in high school, as we must, but I enjoyed it, and kept writing. When I was an at-home mom, I picked up a book of Erica Jong’s poetry, Fruits and Vegetables, and something about her earthy, sexual metaphors resonated with me. Her work left me longing to write like that, and I began to hear words and lines of my own in my head. Not stories, but poems. Things I see, hear or feel inspire me to capture them and to explore them further in a way that can’t be done in a story. I like the way a poem can twist and turn into something horrifying or exhilarating in just one or two lines. There is such beauty and surprise.
Then I started thinking in stories. I had my first short story published in 2002, and I’ve been writing fiction nonstop since. For years, I’d wanted an MFA in poetry, but I felt this irresistible pull toward fiction.
Q: You are also a visual artist. How does this work with writing poetry?
I’ve been working in mixed media, making altered books. Art gives my brain a break from the intensity I put into my writing. It’s like free play, although it wasn’t always that way. After growing up believing I was destined to be an artist, I decided I had no talent whatsoever when I was in art school, and dropped out, discouraged. When it came to writing, however, I was very determined. When I won my first chapbook award, the editor suggested I design the cover. I gave it a half-assed, frightened attempt, and walked away, disgusted. Then, it dawned on me that art is no different from writing in the sense that you start with a rough draft, and yeah, it may not look like anything, but you have to keep working at it. I sat back down, and stuck with it, and did an illustration I was proud of. Since then, I apply the same work ethic I use in writing to my art. I’m having a great time with it. I did the covers of all my chapbooks.
Q: How did you learn to be a poet and what advice would you give to aspiring poets?
In 1993, at a coffeehouse poetry reading, I met a wild woman in her sixties wearing a black miniskirt with red tights. When she asked if I wrote, I told her I “fooled around.” She scolded me: “Don’t fool around. Either you’re a writer or you’re not.” She dragged me to a twice monthly workshop at a community college where I remember being terrified to read my little poem. The participants kindly cut it all to pieces, yet, I left there feeling exhilarated, confident I could learn this. Over the years, I attended every workshop, reading, retreat and conference I could. I talked to other poets. I read a lot. The best advice I can give anyone is to read contemporary poetry, seek out a community, and don’t stop writing.
Q: Tell us about your other publications. What is the process of getting poetry published?
I have a collection of 12 poems in an anthology titled Almost Touching, by Plain View Press, and a poetry chapbook award from Heartlands, but it’s no longer in print. In addition to Security, I have two other chapbooks, Postcard of a Naked Man, and Dear Jim. I’ve had individual poems in about thirty different journals.
The first step in publishing poetry is to submit your work to literary journals. Then you could put together a chapbook manuscript and enter small press or university press contests, or submit it to editors who publish chapbooks. Poets & Writers Magazine is a good place to look for reputable presses and contests. Poets don’t get agents. And they seldom get paid. They get free copies. A full length manuscript might be the next step, and you would get royalties from that, but the numbers are nowhere near fiction or nonfiction books.
Q: What does the future hold for you as a writer?
I’m working on editing, and hopefully selling, my first novel with my agents, Chelsea Gilmore and Maria Carvainis. I’ve been doing some blogging about my agent hunt and the editing process as well. At some point I’d like to do more workshop teaching and conferences. And I’ll keep exploring.
Linda's books can be purchased on her website. Security is available from March Street Press and Amazon. You can read her blog here.