Dianna Rae Samuelson is a writer and artist who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she also works as a book and paper conservator. She earned a BFA at age 60 from Eastern Michigan University, where she discovered, to her great amazement, how education makes life's puzzle pieces click into place. Her work has appeared in Cellar Roots and Arts & Letters. Her poem “Maybe a Fence” is included in the Summer 2016 Premium Edition of Carve. Preorder or subscribe by July 11 for special savings and discounts.
You originally submitted this piece to our fiction category. What did you think when we contacted you asking if we can publish it as poetry?
I'm frequently told that my short fiction reads as prose poetry. That is surprising to me because I've never studied poetry. I think readers are responding to the emotion and imagery that comes out in my work.
Is this piece characteristic of your writing style, or did it feel like a departure in some way?
I often write in what I think of as a thoughtful or distracted voice, as someone under stress might — the mind meandering or drifting away in mid-sentence and coming back to attention not sure where it left off.
To us, part of what felt so poem-like about “Maybe a Fence” was the repetition of the “They say/I Say” sentence pattern. Can you tell us about how that developed in this piece?
I repeat phrases or words to convey a character who is a little bit stunned and trying to make sense of a situation. That makes it sound intentional but it starts out quite spontaneously. When I see that sort of voice developing in a piece, I try to enhance it.
From the first stanza, in which the speaker feels uprooted, to the second to last sentence, “I say I will cut my own firewood and split it myself,” the speaker seems to have experienced significant growth. Can you talk about how action and dialogue can develop character or plot in a short piece like this?
I really don't think of writing in that way. When I'm developing an idea, I ponder the situation, allowing myself to feel it very deeply. Then I pour everything onto the page (longhand, every other line) and later begin to add, subtract, and rearrange until it feels right, has the pacing I want. It's very much the way I create my prints and paintings. I create a collage that I tinker with until I'm satisfied with the composition and then I make the final piece. I don't think about the elements of writing or design while I'm creating but look to them later if something isn't working.
The ending of “Maybe a Fence” feels very hopeful. Did it take many drafts to find this ending? How did you know this was the end?
I do think the ending is hopeful. A theme that runs through most of my writing is the search for identity and strength. This ending began as the next to last paragraph. It wasn't until the fourth draft that I saw its power as a last line. I go back to pieces again and again, constantly amazed at obvious little changes that cry out. I don't consider a piece to be finished until it's published. Then I leave it alone!