Form and Possibility: 5 Questions for Dr. Taylor Byas

“Lean into your own individuality. It’s because no one else can write the thing the way you would write it that it’s special.” -Dr. Taylor Byas

Dr. Taylor Byas, Ph.D., is a Black Chicago native currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she is an Assistant Features Editor for The Rumpus, an Acquisitions Poetry Editor for Variant Literature, a member of the Beloit Poetry Journal Editorial Board, and a 2023-24 National Book Critics Emerging Fellow. She is the 1st place winner of the 2020 Poetry Super Highway, the 2020 Frontier Poetry Award for New Poets Contest, and the 2021 Adrienne Rich Poetry Prize. She is the author of the chapbook Bloodwarm from Variant Lit, a second chapbook, Shutter, from Madhouse Press, her debut full-length, I Done Clicked My Heels Three Times from Soft Skull Press, which won the 2023 Maya Angelou Book Award and is shortlisted for the 2023 Chicago Review of Books Award in Poetry, and her second full-length Resting Bitch Face, forthcoming in 2025. She is also a coeditor of The Southern Poetry Anthology, Vol X: Alabama, published with Texas Review Press in November 2023, and Poemhood: Our Black Revival, a YA anthology forthcoming from HarperCollins.

On Saturday, April 6, Dr. Taylor Byas is teaching a class for the WLT called “Form and Possibility: Finding Freedom Within Constraints.” In this class, you’ll discuss three popular poetry forms–the sonnet, the pantoum, and the sestina–and will delve into some tips and tricks of working through (and with) their formal constraints to create possibility and surprise.

Here’s what Taylor had to share with us:

Scribe: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you write? How did you come to writing?

Taylor Byas: I’m a writer and editor, and a Midwesterner at heart. I’m from Chicago but I currently live in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I balance my corporate writing job and my writing life. My main love these days is definitely poetry, but I also find myself wanting to return to prose in different ways. I always knew that I wanted to be a writer, but I was actually a fiction writer first in undergrad! Towards the end of undergrad, I took this ekphrastic writing class, and it completely changed my life and career trajectory. It hit me like “Oh! THIS is what I want to do.” I immediately switched to poetry for my Masters, went on to get my PhD in Creative Writing (focusing on poetry), and here we are!

Scribe: In your own work, how do you approach overcoming the challenges that come with writing, be it writer’s block or craft or business-related challenges?

TB: I’m someone who needs to give myself fun exercises and prompts to work myself out of blocks. I have a handy list of fun little word and punctuation exercises that I return to when I need to take myself less seriously on the page. Also, I’ll just read something. Half of the battle with writing is not having anything to say because I haven’t been consuming or studying enough. So I read, and then I play a little game of some sort on the page to push myself out of my comfort zone.

 Scribe: Has there been a moment of epiphany in terms of your work, when you thought, “This is it! Now I know what I’m doing?” How long did that feeling last?

TB: That epiphany happens to me at some point in every poem, because I’m always trying to figure out what I’m doing every time I draft. That’s the fun of it, I think, giving yourself over to the page and the poem and being open to what happens. So I guess the feeling is sort of fleeting since it’s happening with each poem, but it happens as often as I create, so it balances out!

Scribe: What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to writers again and again?

TB: So many books are being written and created, and so many writers have their own styles. Lean into your own individuality. It’s because no one else can write the thing the way you would write it that it’s special. That is why readers will come to it. Nurture your quirks, your way of seeing the world and the page. That’s the point, that’s why we’re all here.

Scribe: What is one thing that people will take away from this class?

TB: People will walk away from this class armed with a few tips and tricks that will help create possibilities within formal restraints (or ways to even think about sprucing up your language and punctuation to make your language fresh). Hopefully, you will walk away from the class feeling more enthusiastic about form!

Thanks, Taylor!

Click here to learn more about Dr. Taylor Byas’ upcoming class.

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