HomeLatestPoetry Highlight: An Interview with C.W. Bryan

Poetry Highlight: An Interview with C.W. Bryan

In honor of National Poetry Month, it is fitting to ask fellow poets about their personal experiences woven into their works. We celebrate the transformative power of poetry, its journey from manuscript to publication and the challenges and joys of sharing one’s innermost thoughts with the world. Join us as we illuminate the path from inspiration to publication with poet and cat lover C.W. Bryan.

C.W. Bryan is a student at Georgia State University. He lives in Atlanta, where he writes poetry, nonfiction and short fiction. He is currently writing his weekly series, Poetry is Plagiarism, with Sam Kilkenny at poetryispretentious.com. His debut chapbook Celine: An Elegy was published with Bottlecap Press in 2023, and his first full-length collection of poems, No Bird Lives in my Heart, is forthcoming with In Case of Emergency Press later this year. 

Amelia Moran: Tell me about your two published books and your thought process that went with putting them together. What was your inspiration for them?

C.W. Bryan: The inspiration behind the two books was radically different. Celine: An Elegy was written over the course of three days. Celine, our cat, passed away very suddenly and I couldn’t do anything but write that collection. The final book is a little shy of 20 poems, but I wrote around 50 or so. It was poetry that wrote itself.

Through the Garden was a much more detail-oriented endeavor. I was reading a lot of Sylvia Plath at the time I wrote it, so that is to be expected I suppose. The inspiration is pretty goofy, honestly. I found a box of notecards at Goodwill called “Useful Plants and Shrubs” for landscape architecture. It cost me $1.50. I took the notecards from the box, pulled the names of the plants for the titles of the poems and wrote based on the information from the notecards. Poetry really can come from anywhere.

AM: Do you plan on publishing more? And if so, what do you have planned for the future?

CWB: I do! My first full-length poetry collection, No Bird Lives in my Heart, is being published later this year with In Case of Emergency Press. I also share a lot of my work on my website.

AM: Take me through your creative process. Does it ever result in multiple poems on the same topic like in Celine: An Elegy?

CWB: Celine: An Elegy is a piece that exists outside of my creative process. Those poems were written as part of my grieving process instead. There were certainly some creative inspirations as to how they manifested. Carl Sandburg’s poem “Fog,” and C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed inspires part of the text. 

Here’s a little poetry secret of mine: I almost never edit poems. I hate doing it. I would rather just write a new poem than edit one I’ve already written. So typically, I will write several poems on the exact same topic out of sheer necessity. I guess it is like a form of editing, in a way. That being said, for anyone reading this who wants to write poetry: do not do this, edit your poems! I don’t know why I hate editing so much; it is a terrible habit of mine, one that I am constantly trying to break. 

AM: As a cat lover myself, I wondered what Celine was like in person. Was she sweet, feisty? Did she have a favorite sleeping spot?

CWB: This is a phenomenal question. We always called Celine our little alien. She was such a weirdo. She loved playing fetch with a little butterfly toy, loved getting wet in the bath and then getting dried off with a towel. The cover of the book is actually pulled from a picture of her sitting in a big houseplant. She was incredibly sweet, especially with my partner, Sarah. The two of them were attached at the hip, and that’s why the collection is dedicated to her. 

AM: What themes or ideas do you find yourself returning to in your poetry, and how do they resonate with you?

CWB: I find myself obsessed with writing about two things: death and the mundane. Death is an obvious one, everyone writes and reads about death because it is the universal truth that connects everyone together. The mundane does this, too, though it is slightly less obvious. I owe my obsession with the mundane to Ted Kooser. His poem “Egg Carton” changed my life. It’s a short poem, but insanely beautiful, all while just describing an egg carton. I knew instantly that’s the kind of work I want to write.

The mundane is everything, it is the everyday life, the things you wouldn’t like twice at. I love creating a poem that makes the reader look differently at the world around them. Every person in the world experiences the mundane. It, like death, ties us all together, and so I try to celebrate that every time I write. 

AM: How do you balance personal experience and universal themes in your poetry?

CWB: I don’t think that there is a balance. I believe that personal experience and universal themes are one and the same thing—in the particular is contained the universal and all that. I wrote Celine about one cat, my dear sweet baby Celine. When people read the work, they don’t see Celine as I did, no one could. 

Instead, they see the quirks of their own cat, or dog or whatever pet they have or had. Some of the most influential poems I’ve ever read, like “Having a coke with you” by Frank O’Hara, are lousy with personal details, and those are the ones I remember. Those are the ones I find myself in.

AM: Is there anything you hope readers take away from engaging with your poetry? Are there any emotions you aim for?

CWB: There isn’t any specific emotion or feeling I aim for when writing. I hope that maybe I can help the reader see the world in a new way. But the main thing I hope people take away from reading my work is a desire to start writing poetry.

Check out C.W. Bryan’s roundup of live poetry and arts events in Georgia this spring here.

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