There's a reason why poet L.M. Browning prefers to write at night. The daytime hours of a publisher and editor tend to fill up quickly. The evening hours, she notes, provide a filter of sorts after a busy day.
"I usually do most of my writing between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. I find it easier to write when I can clear my mind of distractions and put the day's work behind me. Night is a kind of sensory deprivation. I find it is easier to be creative at night - hidden in some dimly lit corner scratching away," she says.
It's a model that works, if the Stonington native's accomplishments are any indicator. Since 2010 she has earned three Pushcart Prize nominations for her poetry and completed work on a full-length novel, "The Nameless Man." Her poetry book "Oak Wise: Poetry Exploring an Ecological Faith" earned a gold medal at the 2013 Nautilus Book Awards, which recognize books that promote spiritual growth, conscious living and positive social change. Browning's Nautilus win places her in a peer group that includes Barbara Kingsolver, Deepak Chopra, Thich Nhat Hanh and the current Dalai Lama.
Between books, Browning launched the Stonington-based Homebound Publications, which publishes contemplative literature, and joined as a partner Hiraeth Press, an independent publisher of ecological titles. She is also co-founder of "Written River: A Journal of Eco-Poetics"; founder and executive editor of "The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature"; and a Fellow with the League of Conservationist Writers.
And yet, many busy nights later, Browning has completed work on a poetry collection of her new and selected older works. Titled "Vagabonds and Sundries: Poetic Remnants of Past Lives," the book will be released by Homebound on Nov. 15. In advance of its release, we asked Browning five questions about her new collection and writerly vocation.
Q. Would you say there's an underlying theme to this latest collection? There's a strong sense of transition, growth and certainty throughout the book.
A. I would say the theme is revealed in the subtitle: "Poetic Remnants of Past Lives." We all carry with us remnants from parts of our life that have come to an end. Some of those remainders we carry are scars, some are questions, some are faded ideals, and finally, the memory of opportunities not taken.
The "sundries" spoken of in the title are, in this case, long-held wounds, outdated beliefs and nagging questions that I wish to leave along the roadside as I go forward into my future. As with any book, the poems in this collection each have a personal significance in my life but the emotions felt and conveyed are universal. Each reader will imprint themselves on the verse in different ways.
Q. Can you describe your writing process? Do you write poems piecemeal, as inspiration strikes? Or do you sit down at a desk on a mission to crank out a book?
A. I don't know any poet who sits down at a desk and churns out final copy. I think poetry is inherently more fleeting, depending on inspiration - a lightning strike - rather than a formal daily endeavor. For me at least, unlike prose, poetry cannot be forced. When I try to force poetry, I find I am writing solely with my brain, excluding the soul/heart, and as a result the verse isn't as moving. ... My poems seem to build silently within me over months and years and then come forward when they are ready. I write poems in bursts. I'll write a handful of poems over the course of a few days and then stop and let it build again.
Emotions and thoughts gather in my mind, eventually translating into a final piece. I am a firm believer in carrying a journal (personally, I carry a Moleskin). For years, I jotted down thoughts on little bits of paper as they would come to me, now, thankfully, I have disciplined myself to collect my ramblings in a journal.
Q. What, for you, does poetry accomplish that other media do not?
A. Personally, poetry comes easily to me. I have written novels but I find I have to chain myself to my desk and force myself to write prose, whereas poetry just flows naturally.
Poetry is more emotion-based than prose is. In prose, emotion is woven throughout the framework of the story but in poetry the emotion stands alone as the complete work.
Q. Are there other poets or writers you consider creative influences?
A. Throughout most of my life, I have lived at the library. I love the library, not only because there are books at every turn but because, in the library, people are forced to have the manners they usually otherwise lack. Almost every writer starts off as a voracious reader. I think we learn to write great poetry or prose by reading great poetry and prose. The greatest literary influences in my life would have to be Rainer Maria Rilke, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Helene Hanff, W.B. Yeats, J.K. Rowling, Hermann Hesse, Virginia Woolf, J.M. Barrie, Charles Dickens and even a lot of folk singer/songwriters.
Q. Tell us more about your win at the Nautilus Book Awards. What does the award mean to you?
A. It was actually rather surreal. Over the course of one week, I learned that "Oak Wise: Poetry Exploring an Ecological Faith" had won the Nautilus gold medal and my collection "Fleeting Moments of Fierce Clarity: Journal of a New England Poet" had been named a finalist in the 2013 Next Generation Independent Book Awards. Both collections have taken on huge followings in the poetic community - bigger than I could have ever foreseen.
At the time I learned of the awards, I had just had major surgery, so the news helped boost my spirits during an otherwise dark period. Overall, both awards were validation for the decade of work I have put into my career thus far.