1. Why did you start writing?
As a kid I had always had an aptitude for writing. In retrospect, I can see where that natural inclination sprung from. I read a lot, I had a big imagination, and I spent a lot of time daydreaming, absorbed in my own head. (All three of those things still apply, actually.) The turning point for me came in sixth grade. I had a teacher who gave us monthly writing prompts for us to respond to. I loved writing those assignments, and my teacher loved reading them. The little words of encouragement he left in the margins of my assignments really stuck with me. He was the first person who told me that I was good at this writing thing and that I should keep doing it. He was my 'why,' pretty much.
In terms of poetry, I didn’t read it or write it or submit it until the summer before high school started. I spent about a year writing a bunch of terrible poems, and then I wrote this poem that ended up being a part of Gigantic Sequins’ annual Teen Sequins feature later that year. I knocked that poem out in 20 minutes. It was magic. It felt like everything had just clicked, you know? I remember reading it back and thinking, 'I’m going to be doing this for the rest of my life.' And I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since.
2. Where do you draw inspiration?
"Usually a song or a quote from something I’ve read online or in a poem will make me think deeply or help me discover something about myself and my own life, and I try to write towards that discovery. Although all of my poems have teenage angst at their core. You could give me the best, most intelligent song lyric ever, but I wouldn’t sit down and write a poem after that lyric unless something within myself compelled me to."
3. What is your method of writing? Notebooks, computer?
"As wonderful as it must be to write drafts of poems by hand, I have to write on the computer because my handwriting is atrocious. I’m also visually impaired, so getting to invert the page colour so that my words are white-on-black, getting to make the font as big as I want it to, changing the font to Garamond so that my words feel more poetic than they actually are - all of these things are necessary parts of my writing process."
4. How do you title poems?
"Honestly, vibes. It took me a long time to get good at titling my poems. Sometimes I’ll come up with a title that outlines the shape of the poem from the onset. Usually, though, I’ll write the poem without the title and then pick a title halfway through revision and try to match up the thematic contents of the poem with that title."
5. Who are your go-to poets?
"Alex Dimitrov, Richard Siken, Kaveh Akbar, Dustin Pearson, Ada Limón, Max Rivto, Mary Oliver. Also Elliott Smith, Taylor Swift, and Phoebe Bridgers, if you would call them poets. As well as all of the teenage poets that I’ve befriended online, whose work is so powerful and so necessary."
6. What do you do when you’re in a writing slump?
"I’m in a poetry slump right now, actually. I couldn’t tell you what I did last time the last time I was in a writing slump. Right now I’ve been reading a lot: a good number of books, a few litmags, a bunch of tweets (actually, this last one is still something I do even when I am writing poems). I don’t want to force my return to poetry too much. The lazy part of me wants it to happen organically. I’ve been trying to remind myself that I’m not going to outdo myself every time I sit down to write. But I can try to say something I’ve said before, just in a different way. I’ve said XYZ already in another poem. Now it’s just a matter of: how can I add to that conversation? How can I push the boundaries of my comfort zone? How can I go deeper? Those kinds of questions, I think, are going to help me get back to my best."
7. Would you like to share what current writing project(s) you are working on?
"Nothing concrete at the moment. Unless you count the Substack, but we’re getting to that. You know, every January I tell myself that I’m going to write a chapbook, but it never ends up being written. One day, though, it will happen, and it will be glorious.
It’s funny how my long term goals are so ambitious and yet my short term goals essentially boil down to me begging myself to write any poems at all. I’ve always dreamed of having a poetry collection, or an essay collection, or a novel to my name. All three, honestly. Those things will come with time and experience, but I can’t wait for them to happen."
8. What do you hope people take away from your work?
"The goal of my work has always been to make people feel, laugh, and think a little. Maybe even all three at once! I try to make that checklist apply to all of the essays I write. (I’m a bit more serious in my poems, though. One day that’ll change.) Honestly, I’m just grateful I even have an audience at all. At my core I’m still that kid in her room writing depressing, angsty poems just for herself, because she felt she had to."
9. You recently started a Substack, Things You Otter Know. What brought this about? Can you tease the topics you plan to write about?
"Last year I started writing more essays than usual that weren’t for school because they made me use my writing muscles in a way I wasn’t accustomed to. I love short, serious, and powerful poems—those are the kind of poems that I try to write. But these essays are long, low-stakes, and funny. They’re full of swearing and puns and exclamation marks. Which has always been my writing style. You just wouldn’t immediately know that from reading my poems. So that’s what the Substack provides for me—a way to return to my writerly roots while also helping me create my own motivation to write.
The newsletter itself is split into two 'columns,' for lack of a better term. One of them involves me spending a long time talking about something that recently happened and which irks me deeply. The one I just wrote was about Elizabeth Holmes and the whole Theranos scandal. In the future I’d love to tackle fun stuff like the Winter Olympics, the Royal Family, and the elections happening later this year in the U.S., as well as here in my home province of Ontario. The other column is just a 'here’s what I’m up to, and also, here is all the media I have been consuming in great amounts' column. It’s essentially the 'blog' of sorts that many of my friends have wanted me to start for a while now."
10. And finally, what do you enjoy doing that you don’t talk about enough? Tell me all about it!
"I enjoy making to-do lists. It’s basic, I know. But I enjoy writing dish every single thing I have to do in a day because I think it helps me relieve stress. And then I enjoy the satisfaction of crossing off the things I accomplish and tricking myself into thinking that I’m productive. I’ll sometimes have it right down to the minutiae and cross off things like, 'brush teeth,' and 'drink water.' It’s the simple joys in life."
Ottavia Paluch is a disabled high school student from Ontario, Canada. Her work is published or forthcoming in Four Way Review, Hunger Mountain, Gigantic Sequins, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and Best Canadian Poetry, among other places. She’s also an alumna of the Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program, Flypaper Lit’s Flight School, and the Iowa Young Writers Studio.
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