An interview with Philadelphia poet Erica Abbott

I am pleased to welcome writer and poet Erica Abbott to the blog today. Erica and I grew up in the same area and attended the same grade school (Go Cross) and high school. She is a Philadelphia-based poet and writer, and has been writing for over 15 years. Her work has been published in several publications, including the Toho Journal, perhappened, and Flora Fiction. She will be releasing her debut poetry chapbook “Self-Portrait as a Sinking Ship” this year. I was actually not familiar with what chapbooks are and looked it up. According to Book Riot:

In a nutshell, chapbooks are teeny books. Merriam-Webster defines them as a small book containing ballads, poems, tales, or tracts. They are collections of poems, stories, or an experimental mix of both. 

Find her on Instagram @poetry_erica and on Twitter @erica_abbott, and pre-order her new book of poetry Self-Portrait as a Sinking Ship here. Keep reading for our interview below.

Welcome Erica! To being – what is your writing process like? Where do you draw inspiration from? 

I really thrive on writing prompts. So many of the poems in this collection were written during National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo). I wrote a poem-a-day in the month of April, and all of them were written using prompts. Several others come from the online writing courses Poems That Don’t Suck that Megan Falley leads and Sierra DeMulder’s WORDY. I also draw inspiration directly from my own experiences with mental illness, specifically anxiety, and that is a big part of the “Darkness” section of my chapbook. I’m also inspired just by the random, daily goings-on of the world.

Tell us about your debut poetry chapbook Self-Portrait as a Sinking Ship – what was the inspiration behind it?

Self-Portrait as a Sinking Ship focuses on two main themes: darkness and hope, as anchored by a contrapuntal that I wrote this year, which was published in Toho Journal. The first section, darkness, centers around mental illness—specifically anxiety and depression. A lot of that section was directly inspired by a lot of difficult things that happened in about a two-year period (like losing my dog and my mom’s cancer diagnosis). The hope section mainly concentrates on how I kept my head above water most days. The poems in that section are more about the people, places, and thoughts from that time that kept me from being swallowed by the darkness—the hope is really about those things that were big sources of light and life.

Since we went to the same grade school and high school I have to ask – was there a particular teacher you had who inspired or encouraged you to write? 

Not from grade school, but definitely high school. John Brown, Drew Cocco, and Heather Minauro were all such big sources of encouragement for my writing in high school. I’m not sure I’d be the writer I am today without the inspiration and encouragement I gained from poetry club, the literary magazine, and my junior-year English class. 

Which poets/authors do you admire? 

So many. One of my most favorite writers will always be Mary Oliver because her poem “The Poet With His Face In His Hands” was the first one I read as part of high school poetry club and it’s stuck with me ever since. Others I admire are Megan Falley, Sierra DeMulder, Kaveh Akbar, Andrea Gibson, Donte Collins, Olivia Gatwood, Michael Lee, Sabrina Benaim, Morgan Parker, Neil Hilborn, Rudy Francisco, Kate Baer, Kelly Grace Thomas, Elizabeth Acevedo, William Bortz, Tracy K. Smith, Ocean Vuong…I could probably go on for pages and pages.

I have a whole stack of poetry books in my room that I’ve still yet to read. I’m constantly finding new poets to admire because their work is so inspiring.

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