Rappahannock Review Poetry Editor: There’s tension between the sweetness of the image of the fawn and its iconic vulnerability. How would you consider the image in its potential symbolism in terms of (human) children in our culture?
Melody S. Gee: I think a lot about my children’s safety in the world. Somehow this became a poem where the tension lies between a fawn’s need to survive by eating and survive by camouflage. But there’s also the deliciousness of the world to be experienced for its own sake—an experience beyond instinct. For humans, it feels more like the tension between safety in hiding and our need to be seen. There’s also an alertness in animals that translates to anxiety in us—being hyper aware of danger doesn’t help us survive so much as debilitates us.
RR: We’re drawn in to the balance of innocence and danger in “Learn to Walk,” and we love how that plays out in formal poetic ways, in terms of the very unsettling enjambment and the precipice of the line break. Can you tell us how you usually approach form, image, and language, and how they inflect each other in the poem?
MG: The poem is trying to look hard at the fawn looking into a clearing with hunger and temptation, who is also being looked at through a hunter’s scope. I think the enjambments are trying to capture how fractured, partial, and obstructed all those gazes are. And how entangled. (At least, that’s what I hope.) I love enjambments that make the reader a little uncomfortable. Not with every line. Sometimes a line just needs to be a complete thought or a breath. But within every poem, I want some lines to carry you into a thought or image and then upend your expectation—giving you a double reading, or suddenly altering the tone. Unsettling enjambments make a familiar topic feel strange, sometimes uncanny. I love an enjambment that alters the meaning of both words straddling the break.
RR: Do you have any unconventional or unusual writing habits or techniques?
MG: Lately, I’ve been listening to a podcast called “Where Should We Begin?” to spark some writing. It sounds strange to use a couple’s therapy podcast for writing, but it’s an hour of raw emotional vulnerability between people struggling to find their words. And then there’s this guide (with an amazing voice) mirroring, probing, and eliciting. I’ve found it extremely fruitful to listen to an episode, take notes on all the emotional material that comes up for me, and file it away for later. There’s always something useful in that writing where I feel opened up and even a little bit triggered.
RR: As a freelance writer and editor, do you have any advice to those who would like to pursue a career in writing but are unsure of where to start?
MG: I fell into freelancing about 2 years ago, after I was laid off from a community college teaching job that I loved. It was a frightening and stressful transition, but I’m finally in a really good place with my career, with a full-time project load, mostly steady income, and complete control over my time. If you’re looking to freelance, I would check out websites like Virtual Vocations and Upwork just to get a sense of how much and what kind of work is out there, and what feels right for you. I had no idea that freelance writing could mean anything from blogging, social media management, medical editing, content marketing, writing product descriptions, etc. I also realized that I did have transferable skills from academia—research, communication, project management, giving useful feedback.
Freelancing is a good fit for my personality. The truth is, I’m not very teachable and I prefer to figure it out on my own, even if it’s haphazard and the hard way. I love feedback and collaboration, but I hate instructions. So, I took a lot of low-paying jobs and nightmare clients out of desperation for money and to build a portfolio. I learned everything by trial and error and Google—how to write better job proposals, get faster at unpaid admin tasks, create a project scope, and really listen for what a client wants. I guess my advice would be to jump in, find your niche, get over the embarrassment of marketing yourself, and try to enjoy learning as you go.
RR: What projects do you have on the horizon? Anything new that you’re currently working on?
MG: I’m excited to be working on some essays about my religious conversion and the spiritual and cultural background of my childhood, which I hope will eventually become a memoir. I’m also working on my third collection of poetry about conversion, immigration, assimilation, and motherhood. In terms of work projects, I’m really enjoying ghostwriting a memoir.
Melody S. Gee’s work appears in Issue 7.1: