Interview with Dawn Schout

This is one of an ongoing series of interviews with contributors to The 3288 Review.

Dawn Schout’s debut poetry book, Wanderlust, was published in January 2015 by WordTech Editions. More than 70 of her poems have been published in national and international journals. She is the winner of two poetry contests as well as the Academy of American PoetsFree Verse Photo Project and is a Best of the Net nominee. She has a B.A. in creative writing and lives in west Michigan. Two of her poems were published in our inaugural issue in August 2015.

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3288 Review: How did you get started writing poetry? Was there an initial inspiration. or did it grow out of other writing?

Dawn Schout: I wrote poetry occasionally as a child and would write rhyming poems along with short stories and enter them in the open class children’s division at the county fair. I wanted to be an author at a young age, and for many years I considered myself a short story writer (I wrote a lot of short stories while growing up) rather than a poet and aspired to be a novelist. In high school, I took a creative writing class and wrote some poems for that class, and I took poetry and fiction classes in college for my creative writing degree. After college I had my first serious relationship, and when that relationship ended I started writing a lot of poetry on a much more frequent basis. It was very therapeutic for me. Now I rarely write stories, and have more than a thousand poems I’ve penned—many dealing with broken relationships.

3288 Review: You have had quite a bit of recent success with your poetry, with a book published earlier this year, and several more poems appearing in journals. “Over a thousand penned” suggest you write several poems a week, which is quite impressive! How much of a given day do you devote to writing? Do you have a set routine, or do you write them as they come to you?

Dawn Schout: I don’t devote time each day to writing poetry. If I attempt to write poems because I want to but don’t have any ideas, then the poems usually aren’t very strong and sound forced or incomplete. The poems are much better if I write them when they come to me or if my emotions are raw. My writing happens in spurts, so sometimes I don’t write for weeks. Other times I’ll get an idea for a poem and end up writing a few more poems immediately after that. I tend to write poetry more when I’m going through challenging circumstances. When everything is going well, I have a harder time writing.

3288 Review: Do your poems tend toward specific subjects? Do they reflect the circumstances of the moment, or are they part of a larger narrative which you revisit from time to time?

Dawn Schout: My poems tend toward specific subjects, such as places I’ve traveled to, nature, animals, and relationships. Most times, my poems reflect the circumstances of the moment, or a moment I keep coming back to, which will make me feel like I should write about it.

3288 Review: The literary scene in West Michigan is slowly gaining strength and momentum. How much interaction do you have with other writers in the region? Do you belong to any writing groups, or do you participate in readings and open-mic nights?

Dawn Schout: I like getting to know other writers in West Michigan. For 10 years, I’ve attended the West Michigan Writers’ Workshop in Grand Rapids, which is a group of amazing writers (several of whom have published books) who have taught me much about writing and publishing and have helped strengthen my writing with their valuable feedback. I’ve tried out some other writing groups in the area, but this group is the only one I’ve enjoyed because of the constructive criticism. I’m also part of a few Michigan writers’ groups on Facebook. I’ve participated in several readings and at an open-mic poetry night at Story Cafe in Grand Rapids.

3288 Review: How much of your writing process involved editing previously written poems? Given the immediacy of your poetry, do you find the editing tends to move the older poems in the direction of your current creative space, or does the editing process move you back toward where you were when you first wrote the poem.

Dawn Schout: A lot of my writing process involves editing. There may be only a few short poems I wrote that I haven’t edited because of their brevity or because my writers’ group liked them as is. I revise most of my poems after writing them and again after sharing them with my writers’ group. Some I’ll also revise if I’ve been submitting them frequently and they haven’t gotten published. I want them to maintain their original intent, so the editing process usually moves me back toward where I was when I first wrote the poems.

3288 Review: Can you tell us about a poem that you have written, that has special significance? For instance, where did it come from, and what makes it particularly important for you?

Dawn Schout: The first poem that came to mind is “Sunset Canoe Ride on Pushaw Lake.” It’s included in my first book, Wanderlust, and has special significance for me because I wrote it while I was with my husband on our honeymoon last year. We rented a cabin on a lake in Maine, and the scenery on a night we went canoeing inspired me as soon as we left the shore. Not having a pen and paper, I repeated the lines that ended up in my poem until we got back to our cabin. My husband (who is not a writer) contributed ideas and came up with a description that became the last two lines of the poem.

3288 Review: What are you working on now? Do you have another collection in the works?

Dawn Schout: My first book was published this year, and I’ve mainly been focused on promoting that. I have another poetry collection in the works but haven’t submitted it to publishers since Wanderlust was published. I’d like to polish it before submitting it again and then start putting poems together for another collection.