Rachel Morgan is a poet who currently lives, writes, and teaches in Iowa. She is an Editor for the North American Review, the author of the chapbook Honey & Blood, Blood & Honey, and a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She teaches at the University of Northern Iowa. In September 2022, she was awarded a one-week fellowship at RWC for her poem, “Thinking of Effigy Mounds Overlook.” We caught up with her before she left to learn more about her writing life and discuss the impact of her residency at RWC.
1. You received a fellowship for a 1-week residency at RWC as winner of our 2022 Language of the Land Fellowship for Poets for your beautiful poem, “Thinking of Effigy Mounds Overlook.” What made you want to apply for the fellowship and what did winning mean to you?
A writer friend had recently stayed at RWC, and encouraged me to apply. He spoke of the beautiful landscape, which I know well because I’m from Tennessee, but currently live in the Midwest. As a single working mom, winning meant invaluable time to write and focus, and as a bonus–visiting my home state!
2. When did you start writing? Was there a specific moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Growing up in Appalachia, I was surrounded by storytellers, so writing was a natural extension to the kinds of stories I heard as a child. I always wrote, but it wasn’t until I had Rick Jackson as a workshop professor in college that I took these ambitions seriously.
3. Tell us about your writing. In what genre do you primarily write? What project are you working on now? Do you have a big goal for this year or beyond?
I mainly write poetry and my goal for the year is to polish my manuscript and send it out. After this, I hope to spend the winter seeing what shape my new poems are taking. They are doing some wild things that’s exciting to me!
4. What are you reading right now?
Aftermath by Rachel Cusk
Ledger by Jane Hirshfield
The Crying Book by Heather Christle
5. Many writers have to balance their creative life with other life responsibilities. Do you have a day job? What are other responsibilities that share space in your day to day life?
Right? I currently teach writing and literature at the University of Northern Iowa and I edit for America’s oldest literary magazine, the North American Review. Often, there aren’t enough hours in the day for all the work, but reading seems to be the magic that helps connect the different hats I wear: teaching, editing, and writing. If I’m feeling drained in one area, I find that a good book offers inspiration and new ideas in the classroom, in my creative process, and what I see as I select poems for the NAR.
7. Have you ever been to a writers’ colony before or been a writer-in-residence? What attracted you to this experience? Can you share thoughts about residencies in general or RWC in particular?
I have been to a few writers’ colonies before and find the time to write invaluable. Often you’re with like-minded creators who understand the process and friendships can form, impromptu workshops, and writing prompts. The week I was at RWC we had a full farmhouse, and the rustic and cozy farmhouse was comfortable and provided ample indoor and outdoor space to write, read, and create. The hand-hewn beams, the stone fireplaces, the gardens flitting with hummingbirds, all a kind of mountain magic.
8. Love that! Tell us about your writing community back home. Do you have a writing group with which you share on a regular basis?
I’ve been lucky enough to meet amazing poets at residencies and have maintained a twenty-plus year friendship with a poet, Bridgette Bates, I met in undergrad and then we went to graduate school together. These are the folks I usually share my first drafts with.
9. Did you establish a routine at RWC? Can you share what your days looked like?
I had a hard time leaving the desk in my room because the view looked out onto a horse farm, and I could watch the two horses, the bees buzz around the apple tree, and at night the fireflies blazed. After doing my Morning Pages (I’m working my way through The Artist’s Way) I would revise yesterday’s work then move out the writing porch to work on new poems. In the afternoon, I’d take a break and read, bike, or walk through the gardens. In the evening, I’d read and work on revisions.
10. What advice do you have for other writers?
There’s so much advice swirling around out there. Find what works for you. I spent a long time afraid to even call myself a poet or write something risky. I now realize that was cosmically wasted time. Don’t be afraid. Take the risk. Write the thing.
11. Our tagline at RWC is “We believe in the Power of Words.” In your own writing, do you feel your words have power and purpose? How does that power manifest itself for you? Why do you write? What is your inspiration?
I tell my students that we write not to share what we know, but to discover what we don’t know. I think that’s true for me. Above all, I write because I’m curious about the world. I want to understand it more, and poetry is one of the tools that lets us take a peep into what’s ineffable about our time here.
12. Fun Facts (Rachel’s picks are in bold)
Computer/Pen and Notebook
Glass half empty/Glass half full
Desk/Comfy Chair or Bed
Actual book/Kindle, Audio
Something old/Something new/Something handmade