Interview with J. Scott Price – Brian Turner Prize Winner Finalist

J. Scott Price is a finalist for the Brian Turner Literary Arts Prize in the Spoken Word category.


Hannah Harris: Why do you write?

J. Scott Price: It would be too cliché to say, “Because I have to,” because I don’t.  I spent a great deal of time not embracing my embryonic writer, and successfully not writing, so I know for a fact my life would go on without writing.  For the vast majority of my life, I would only write occasionally, usually only around significant emotional events, and I didn’t believe writing was a true path for me until just a few years ago when I began very tentatively dipping my toes into whatever writing water I could find around me. I grew on every level through these explorations and discovered something Larry Levis wrote about his own internal dialogue in his book The Gazer Within that I’ve taken as my guidepost: “You will either be a poet, and become a better and better one, or you will not be a poet.”  So, with that mantra echoing inside, I gave myself full permission to be an apprentice writer, and was accepted into the Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) low-residency MFA in Writing program.

So despite my slower start, I write these days because I’ve come to know—belatedly, but happily—that my life is much fuller and more enjoyable with writing in it; that by taking the thoughts that occur to me while processing the world, recording them as scribbles then coming back to them to see what might be of use, I can work with these thoughts until they become something I am happy to have helped birth and may be of some small value to another.

I write because I can’t stop thinking (I tried that at one point, and it didn’t turn out too well), and because writing has been given to me as a gift, a tool to help better understand myself and my actions, and those of others. The physical act of processing these thoughts through writing helps me gain clarity on my experience, and hopefully respond better going forward.

HH: A piece of writing is, essentially, a collection of the series of choices the writer has made. How do you make the final choice: deciding when a piece of work is done? How do you know when something you’re working on is ready?


JSP: I rely on time, as often as a I can, as my primary assessment tool. I try to let pieces sit for a month or so and then revisit them, as that allows me to read them with more or less “fresh eyes” and see what’s working or not.

Interestingly, as I am developing, I am relooking poems that I had left as complete because of something I learned from a mentor. The mentor used Philip Levine’s “Agnus Dei” to illustrate how a beginning poet might have stopped at several points in this poem, thinking the poem complete, and how Levine kept it going to achieve a much better poem in the end. This leaves me willing to grow as a poet by not stopping at the earliest convenience just to see if the poem has more to say. My results are mixed, at this point, but it’s been a fun part of my growth to revisit my earlier concept of “done.”

Very rarely a poem will just flow and come out more or less complete.  But I don’t count on that or plan for it; I just accept it as a gift when it occurs. Mostly I’ll take a piece as far as my current mind can take it, then I’ll put it aside. Interestingly to me, I’ll find over a several-months period that what I thought were isolated pieces actually fit together into a larger whole my mind was working on and I didn’t even realize it.  

I recognize that I am still developing my eye and ear, that I still create false starts and false endings, and that this “training wheels” writing, as it’s been described to me, is a necessary part of my development as a writer, and for the poem to get to what it is trying to say. So I still rely on trusted readers in my local monthly poetry group and my MFA advisors and peers to help teach me what works and what doesn’t.  

Ultimately, though, the final decision is mine, and, again, time is my ally.  When I come back to a poem and am happily startled, that’s a pretty good indication to me that it’s done what it set out to do.


HH: Likely all of us can point to other writers who inspire us, but what, outside of literature, compels you as a writer? Where do you encounter, or glean, the motivation to work in your daily life?


JSP: My writing is driven by living, by being in the world, fallible, and attempting to improve. To write, I’ve come to believe, one must live first, then reflect on that experience, and see what is worth sharing that may be of value to another. That’s all there is to it for me. I live my life as best I can and the byproducts of that living are reflections that I now do my best to capture more often than I do not. I then enjoy the wordplay game of taking those thoughts and refining them into poems.


HH: What are you reading right now?


JSP: I am playing catch-up now that I’ve begun an MFA program. I’m spending a great deal of time reading craft books and individual poetry collections. The Poem In Its Skin by Paul Carroll, Claims for Poetry (ed. Donald Hall), A Field Guide to Contemporary Poetry and Poetics (ed. Stuart Friebert & David Young), The Making of a Poem by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland, and William Stafford’s You Must Revise Your Life are just a few of the craft books that have offered incredibly helpful insights.

I also use Twitter to find poets and poetry-related discussions, which most recently led me to Leila Chatti’s Tunsiya/Amrikiya, Victoria Chang’s Barbie Chang, and Equilibrum by Tiana Clark. I recently finished Terrance Hayes’ Lighthead and Nicole Sealey’s ordinary beast, and will soon begin Traci Brimhall’s Saudade and Chloe Honum’s then winter.

I’ve become a huge fan of Poetry magazine, which I enjoy each month when it arrives, and am impressed with the diversity of forms, subjects, and poetic voices. I think it truly gives me a better feel for contemporary poetry.  


HH: The idea of being a writer and the act of writing are two very distinct things. How has your perception of what it means to be a writer changed over time?


JSP: Claiming the term “writer” or “poet” for myself has been one of the hardest processes I’ve ever encountered. It’s as if every level of my being—except the deepest, perhaps—has placed roadblocks onto my path. I have no idea why—certainly theories, but no real answers—so it’s been a slow and painful process requiring constant vigilance on my part, constant baby steps forward, and the support of my fellow writers and mentors to help me be more comfortable with staking my small claim in this world. And I am so grateful to them all for their help.

So perhaps my biggest epiphany has been no longer holding the image of writers as cloistered minds thinking great thoughts apart from the world, but rather the understanding that writers are people just like the rest of us, living their lives as best they can, but with the discipline to capture and refine their thoughts…and the courage to share them with others. 

I’ve grown to love the act and art of revision, and I have given myself complete permission to write horribly most of the time, and to go back and find the good parts as I revise. Previously, I would cherish every word I wrote down, but now, writing consistently, I’ve realized it’s okay to not take a piece to “completion.” Sometimes, a potential poem just simply runs its course and I can let it go, having gained value in capturing it, working with it, and then setting it aside. Who knows, items like that may be part of a larger whole later on, or maybe those “false starts” are just tools to keep the machine lubricated and running so that I am better prepared to create moving forward.

So my second perception shift has been realizing writing truly is a process—not an event—and also a skill that can be learned and improved upon. But I have to put in the work, be teachable, and allow myself to fail consistently along the way.





Fine Dining


The bare skinned belle sits silently 

across from me as we

slowly consume our meal.


Saying nothing, we converse,

    and the candle flutters

  as a salt breeze ruffles

   the curtain.


She smiles at me as we rise,

and a half-eaten muffin 

is left on the plate.



A Thought While Driving


A God shaped hole in my soul,

unfilled by my will,

keeps me stumbling

‘til Ego’s subdued

by an ethos pursued

in love and humility.


Sanity, peace, and stability

are found when I let go

my drive to control

a soul

that already knows

the truth.


J. Scott Price is a former career soldier turned writer and earned a MFA in Writing, and a Publishing Certificate, from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.  He’s currently working on a biography of the poet William Meredith.  He’s a dedicated poet-in-trainingand will be the rest of his lifeand is currently exploring the idea of finding a publisher for his own first poetry collection. He’s particularly intrigued by the concept of literary lineage and is always looking to connect and discuss most any writing related topic, so please do reach out via LinkedIn, social media (@ABoyAndHisSons), or He is very grateful for the time he was able to spend as a Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Fellow, as well as for the bi-weekly writing group he leads for veterans and military family members.


Interview with Anna Weaver – Brian Turner Prize Winner Finalist

Anna Weaver was a finalist for the Turner Prize in the Spoken Word category. Her poem can be found in the 2017 issue of the Sierra Nevada Review.


Hannah Harris: Why do you write?


Anna Weaver: Because when I think have something to say, I enjoy the work of finding what feels like a true way of saying it. Because diction and grammar and punctuation and etymology and tropes and forms are my enduring intellectual loves. Because of the feeling when you stick the exquisite balance between following and breaking rules. And because I love both the invention and the tinkering that comes after, interrogating commas and whatnot, to get all the pieces in place.


HH: A piece of writing is, essentially, a collection of the series of choices the writer has made. How do you make the final choice: deciding when a piece of work is done? How do you know when something you’re working on is ready?


AW: I rely heavily on how it sounds out loud and on reading it to people live. I have a very close friend and fellow poet who serves as a kind but honest first listener. He’s got a keen ear for lines that aren’t doing any work and other missed opportunities, and we value the same aesthetic so if I’m hitting notes the way I want to, he’ll hear them and it shows in his eyes.


After it passes that test, I typically perform it at my local open mic. The audience reaction, or lack thereof, will often expose the good and the weak. And even if they don’t react, I hear it differently when I know someone else is listening…much like you notice your own house acutely when unexpected guests come over.


Lastly, as a performance poet, I memorize most of my work. During the week or so of constant repetition it takes to commit a poem to memory, any loose or missing words will announce themselves. That’s the very last step, almost always (though there have been exceptions).


Once memorized, a poem tends to stay put.


HH: Likely all of us can point to other writers who inspire us, but what, outside of literature, compels you as a writer? Where do you encounter, or glean, the motivation to work in your daily life?


AW: Chiefly from open mic events. I run one locally and have been to others from Southern California to Maine and parts in between. Every time, I’m surprised at what my city or another has to offer by way of creative obsession and talent.


These are people with day jobs, but at night and on weekends and between shifts, we write songs and stories and poems and I doubt any of us knows quite why. It’s damn sure not for money, and it’s not because we don’t need the sleep.


I get energy from them. I get ideas, too. Killer lines, juicy words, new ways to look at old things. And I get a kind of permission to keep trying from their persistence and from the camaraderie and what, to me, amounts to a kind of artistic love affair with each other.


HH: What are you reading right now?


AW: Stephen King’s On Writing and the latest issue of Rattle and A Man Called Ove.


HH: The idea of being a writer and the act of writing are two very distinct things. How has your perception of what it means to be a writer changed over time?


AW: My father is a fiction writer who had some critical success (NEA grants, The O’Henry Prize, a movie made of his first novel, that sort of thing). So I was imprinted literally from birth with the idea that being a writer was an Actual Job, not some ephemeral business of muses or dreamy bliss- or truth-seeking.

You went to your office all week (he was Chair of the English Department at Oklahoma State), and at night/on weekends you either sat on the couch Reading Manuscripts while watching sports or closed the door to your office and Made Typing Noises. Your briefcase was full of Writing, yours and other people’s. Your friends were all Writers. And from time to time, boxes of Your Books turned up at the house, and you went to bookstores and Gave Readings.


I also write for a living (marketing content for a software company). I do my creative writing nights and weekends and I read my work to audiences. I do the work of submitting, with some success, which gives me tangible proof to arrange on a shelf and share with friends—most of whom are also poets or songwriters—and some sense of having passed a test.


For me, “being a writer” comes down to the doing—not some wistful philosophizing. So although it took me a couple years of that doing to feel comfortable saying “I’m a poet,” the idea of being a writer, for me, hasn’t changed much in 49 years.


If I’m doing the work of writing, I’m a being a writer.





Raised in Oklahoma, Anna Weaver writes as a former soldier in the US Army Reserve, a mind solidly imprinted by 20 years under big sky, and a woman “with loyalties scattered over the landscape.” Her poems have appeared in Connotation PressO-Dark-ThirtyOneRat’s Ass Review, and elsewhere, earning nominations for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best New Poets award. An avid performance poet, she runs an open mic in Raleigh and has performed her poetry in 27 states and the District of Columbia. So far as Google is concerned, Anna is America’s only open mic tourist.  She lives in North Carolina with her two daughters. Find her at








Book Review: Val Brelinski’s The Girl Who Slept with God


$16; 368
Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0-14-310943-3




Val Brelinski’s The Girl Who Slept with God
by: Rebecca Evans

The Girl Who Slept with God, by Val Brelinski, is both a tragic and coming of age memoir infused with elegant writing of religion, hardship, and courage. Grace Quanbeck, at seventeen, has just returned from a mission trip in Mexico and is pregnant. Her father, Dr. Quanbeck, a Havard-educated astronomer, reacts and moves Grace and her younger sister, Jory, just shy of fourteen, to a home away from their religious community and private Christian school set in rural Arco, Idaho in the 1970’s. Their new house, next door to Hilda Kleinfelter, who later becomes a strong support role as a surrogate parental figure.

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Interview with Jake Young

For Poet Jake Young, it is the pita drizzled with olive oil and za’atar in a Druz Village, clusters of Pinot grapes falling off the vine in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and the sweetness of diseased fruit that reveals culture and its inherent connection to the land, and to one another. Between teaching, writing, working on a PhD degree, and serving tables on the weekends, soon-to-be Dr. Young found the time to connect with SNR contributor Kathryn deLancellotti to talk about his new book American Oak; the land that formed him, and his thoughts on craft and creativity.

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Book Review: Sheila Hamilton’s All the Things We Never Knew


$13.99; 312 pages
Seal Press
ISBN: 978-58005-584-0




Weaving a Narrative Case for Early Detection: Sheila Hamilton’s All the Things We Never Knew: Chasing the Chaos of Mental Illness 
by Lisa Peterson

“It is my hope that my experience might serve as a cautionary tale for other people who are concerned about a loved one’s mental health.” – Sheila Hamilton

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Book Review: Jill Talbot’s The Way We Weren’t


$15.95; 304 pages
Soft Skull Press
ISBN: 978-1593766153




Competing Histories of Shame: Jill Talbot on Family and Loss in The Way We Weren’t
by Michael Fischer

The mother stands at a window, staring out at the rehab center parking lot like a lonely, cooped up pet, waiting for her daughter. The daughter thinks she’s visiting her mother at “special school,” one where even the teachers don’t get to go home at night. She’s too young to know the truth. Besides, it’s Christmas.

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