• Caitlin Andrews (she/her)

Motherhood and Catharsis: An Interview with Award-Winning Poet, M.A. Dubbs

As part of Periphery Magazine’s first foray into interviewing fellow writers, there are few more talented and well-versed in the craft, creation, and publication of poetry than that of M.A. (Melinda) Dubbs. Alongside winning first place in the 2012 Melba Geoffroy Poetry Contest, and serving as a judge for the 2022 Poetry Out Loud’s state competition, Melinda has amassed a wealth of creative accolades throughout the span of her long-standing career, including winning the prestigious 2014 “Best of Poetry” award by Genesis. In 2021, she additionally released her debut anthology of poetry and short fiction, entitled Aerodynamic Drag: Poetry and Short Fiction, which was an erudite step in reflecting Melinda’s well established creative abilities. Throughout the body of her work, she often makes reference to the topics of sexuality, womanhood, mixed cultural identity, adolescence, and a frankness surrounding the discussion of mental health.


Periphery Magazine was fortunate enough to conduct an interview with M.A. Dubbs in discussion of her experiences of motherhood, creative processes in developing her work, and discerning advice for young people hoping to make it in the literary industry. You can also find some of Melinda’s lovely poetry within our Creative Writing section here.

 

Caitlin Andrews: Welcome to Periphery, Melinda! How are you?


M.A. Dubbs: “I’m doing great! Thank you for having me!”


CA: You’ve had a relatively long-standing career within the arts, heralding over a decade’s worth of published poetry. How do you think your writing style or preferred content topics have changed over the past ten years? Did your entrance into the creative arts begin with writing poetry?


M.A.D: “I can’t believe it’s already been ten years! Well, I started, as I think most people do, writing just for fun as a teenager. I earned my BA in English at Indiana University and decided to take a poetry creative writing course as one of my English electives. I really enjoyed the workshop process and being surrounded by other writers and poets, so I did more courses and it just took off from there. My professors really encouraged us to submit our work which I then carried on after graduating. I would say my style has definitely branched out over the years. I still mostly write free verse but I also enjoy the form of haiku along with found poetry, black out poetry, and other visual mediums. I find it an interesting challenge to have some limitations while writing. For content, I would say my work has shifted to more personal. I’ve become more comfortable with being vulnerable in my writing, sharing more about my life experiences. It’s a bit terrifying at first, allowing a reader to know so much, but also liberating.”


CA: Can you walk us through one of your own favourite pieces, and what the work means to you? What does your process look like when it comes to writing a poem?


M.A.D: “My poem “Slash-and-burn” is one of my favorite pieces and really showcases my tonal shift to more personal writing. The poem explores the nature of an abusive relationship and domestic violence starting with a metaphor of the abuser as a hunter-predator. It shifts to examine the concept of a woman’s body as land which is captured and de-humanized through exploitation. The piece ends with the narrator reflecting on the concept of womanhood and reminiscing on her youth before the relationship. The work holds intimate meaning to me, exploring my own familial inter-generational trauma through a feminist lens.


As for my writing process for poetry in general, I typically start with a concept or line that has been stuck in my mind. Sometimes a specific call for a submission prompt will also spark an idea. I will jot the idea in my phone notes and write out a rough version of the piece. I’m a big believer in giving writing some room to breathe, so I’ll go back a few days or weeks later to do some editing. I’ll read it out loud to check for the flow and just to make sure it sounds natural, otherwise I’ll do some more trimming.”


CA: Which fellow writers or creatives have most significantly influenced your creative process? How strongly do you agree or disagree with the notion that in order to be a good writer, you need to be a consistent reader?


M.A.D: “I’m a big fan of Toni Morrison and Virginia Woolf and I see their influence of feminism and the impact of trauma in my own work. I’ve also always enjoyed reading Edgar Allan Poe’s disturbing and macabre works which I then enjoy viscerally exploring in my own writing. I definitely agree that good writers need to be good readers. I think it’s important to read whatever genre you’re writing but also to read what you enjoy! I love reading fellow poets and seeing what they are doing, discovering what topics and styles that are most important to them. It exposes me to something outside of my own work which I can then play with later. Plus it’s just fun to geek out over writing sometimes!”


CA: Previously, you’ve broached a variety of difficult topics throughout your work, including that of issues like postpartum depression. How much of your poetry is an act of catharsis, and how much is written with the reception of an audience in mind? Is poetry an outlet for you?


M.A.D: “My writing, especially at this stage, is almost always an act of catharsis. Since the birth of my children and the start of the COVID era, I have been on a journey of healing and understanding myself; trying to understand and process the things that have happened to me, the mistakes I have made, and finding peace through the trauma. It can be hard to verbally express these things but I can often find the words through writing. Some of the topics are heavy, as you noted, but are topics that I believe should be addressed. I know I’m not the only person who has experienced abuse or assault or struggled with acceptance and exploration of their sexuality or mixed identity. I know that it can be hard to find personal representation in the media and I know if I write my story that maybe someone else can find that. That gives me hope that a reader can find some common ground and maybe we can find some solace together.”


CA: What has been the most impactful memory in your life? If you had to select a piece of work to represent the culmination of your life, which piece would you pick?


M.A.D: "I would honestly say the birth of my children and my own personal birth into motherhood has been incredibly impactful. The shift from taking care of oneself to others being dependent on you is startling and forces self-reflection and self-care. If I had to select one piece that culminates my life, I would probably select “Postpartum: Day One." The piece was inspired by a letter I wrote in therapy to process birth and NICU trauma. It was the tipping point that showed me that I hadn’t dealt with the trauma of my youth and I needed to get help. The piece itself is raw and vulnerable, showcasing both my shifting mindset but also my personal style that I’ve developed over the years.”


CA: How would you describe yourself as a person? What’s your perspective on the idea that writers need to suffer in order to succeed? (e.g. the “starving artist” trope)


M.A.D: “Hm, I guess I would describe myself as sensitive, empathetic, hard-working, and somewhat shy. I’m definitely an introvert and need my alone time but I do enjoy being outdoors and have way too many hobbies. I also have a competitive streak for sure! To answer your question about the “starving artist” trope, I think it’s a bit oversimplified. I honestly think those who have experienced suffering or trauma are often attracted to art because, like we talked about earlier, it’s cathartic and an outlet. It’s healing to have something you can control and create when so much of your life has been out of control. On the other hand, I think the trope minimizes suffering in some ways. My writing is an

outlet but to really make changes in my life and cope, I had to do hard work in therapy to improve my mental health, change my communication style, open up to others about the things that have happened to me, etc. I once had a writer friend tell me that they were envious of my life experiences since they assumed it would give me better writing skills! It was in jest but the trope is a bit hurtful because neuro-divergence is incredibly tough and isn’t something solely for artistic enjoyment for others. Plus, let’s not forget that art also captures the beautiful, the hopeful, and the brightness of life!”


CA: Given the prevalence of rejection within our industry, what advice would you give to younger people hoping to enter into the craft? How do you personally cope with rejection or failure?


M.A.D: “Is “expect the worst and hope for the best” too cynical? You are right, though. Rejection is a huge part of our industry and to keep pushing through you have to develop a bit of a thick skin. You can expect numerous rejections to a piece before finally getting an acceptance. It’s truly a numbers game. I know people don’t want to hear that, but it’s true. There’s a million reasons an editor or reader didn’t care for your piece, but that doesn’t

mean that your piece will never find a home eventually. I personally don’t react too much to rejection at this point. Maybe I’ll gripe for a bit if I was really shooting for a specific publication but then I just send out another wave of submissions and hope for the best. Persistence is key for publication.”


CA: Which success throughout the course of your career has been the most important to you? Do you have any upcoming publications or releases planned for the course of 2022?


M.A.D: “I would say my most exciting success would be getting asked to be a judge for the 2022 Indiana Poetry Out-Loud state competition. I was honored to be asked, and I love being able to encourage the youth of my state to engage with and love poetry! I do have some upcoming poetry publications in Plants & Poetry Journal and Heartland Society of Women Writers. Both will feature audio readings and I’ll be doing an interview with Heartland, as well. I will also be doing an in-person reading this summer with more details to come on that!”


CA: Where can Periphery’s readers find you and your work?


M.A.D: “I have a Wordpress blog where readers can get updates on my latest publications and readings; I also love collaborations or use of my work, so that is also a great place for us to connect. Readers can also find me on Goodreads and can make purchases on my Amazon Author Page. Thank you again for having me!”

 

Periphery Magazine thanks M.A. Dubbs for her contribution, and wishes her luck with future publications! You can find her portfolio links and some examples of her previous work here:


Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/21107505.M_A_Dubbs

Wordpress Blog: https://melindadubbs.wordpress.com/

“Postpartum: Day One” Poem: https://melindadubbs.wordpress.com/2022/02/06/poem-in-open-minds-quarterly/


If you are interested in being featured in Periphery Magazine’s interview series surrounding interesting people in creative roles, please contact Caitlin Andrews at: cait.peripherymagazine@gmail.com.