'Permission to Write' with Poet Jerri Miller
Updated: Aug 29, 2022
Sunday night Lineup: We hope you tune in on Ketchupedia, our new Podcast on Spotify, iHeart Radio, or your favorite podcast service. And We are also now LIVE on Kansas City at KONN 100.1 FM for an hour of poetry radio. Tune in tonight at 6 pm central on their website or app. Local Kansas Citians listeners can tune in from any old-fashioned radio. This week we will feature teen poets and editors! Tomorrow debuts our teen lit magazine page, Ketchupstand.com.
Our one-hour show will feature the word of the day "Magic" with Hope Houtwed, as well as interviews with writers, songwriters, poets, and creatives. The show will focus completely on Poetry and Poets, both regional, local and national. Myself and Poet t.l. Sanders, our 2019 poet in residence, will be the cohosts and international artists and poets as our guests. We are proud to be a part of "One KCRadio unites the multicultural voices in the Kansas City Urban Core through programming and community services that entertain, educate, inform and inspire."
No matter your education, experience, all writers struggle with trying a new genre or medium. Introducing our Spotlight Poet of the month, Winner of the 2020 JoCo Library Short Fiction contest, Jerri Miller. She shares below how she switched lanes by giving herself permission to try something new.
It all started last fall when we were able to write an unusual and exciting writer's prompt for Johnson County Library's Annual Writers' Conference. The library felt its first online version of the community gathering needed something special. We stepped in with a fun prompt that our editorial team came up with in the studio. Writers were asked to submit a choose your own adventure story written from five mini prompts. Their stories would start at the Central Library in Kansas and head out to the I70 Turnpike and into a fantastical world of adventure of their own choosing. The judges picked three winners, and they each won an editing session from a guest speaker at the conference.
I was so happy to sit down and talk about poetry with author Jerri Miller. Jerri is a writer and poet whose love of words and culture draws her to new places through books and travel. Her work has been published in Blue Insights, From the Library, The Ascent, Better Marketing, and her own website and blog EverydayScribe.com. We went over about twenty of her poems and talked for almost two hours: What editors look for in poetry? How to think about Point of View, Context, and Voice (character)-in such a short narrative scope?
As always, in talking to a poet, I made a new friend.
I asked Jerri to send us a little bit about what it's like to begin moving from "I'm someone who likes poetry" to "I'm someone who writes poetry." Here are her notes that she sent during the cold weather months, and we are so happy to share them with you today.
What was your first time at a poetry open mic like?
They called my name and my heart started pounding so fast I thought I might pass out. Somehow, I stood up and walked the distance to the microphone. It was probably only a few feet, but it felt like a few miles. I could feel the crawl of embarrassment and anxiety creeping up my chest and shining brightly on my face. I read the words on the page in front of me, rushing through them until each syllable melted into the next. When the last word escaped my dry lips, I rushed from the stage and sat down hard as applause clouded around me.
Did it get any easier? My next visit to the microphone that night was a little less dramatic. I even took a moment to thank the audience for listening to my poem before I walked back to my seat. It was my first poetry reading. Mary Silwance had invited me, telling me to bring a couple of poems “just in case.” I surprised myself when I asked them to put my name down when the organizer visited our table.
What were your feelings about yourself as a poet when you first began? My poems were amateurish at best. I felt I would never be as good as some of the poets I read, their words floating off the page and pulling you along into another realm. I would never be as good as a poet like Mary. Her performance of her poems brings goosebumps to my skin even now.
What did you take away from that first open mic? That night may have been a nightmare at the time, but it spurred me to improve. I went to a poetry workshop where we had to write three poems. I read two of them for the group with a bit more confidence than I possessed at the poetry reading.
After class, one of the participants came up to me and thanked me for sharing one of the poems because it moved her.
How did it feel to switch places? You became the poet that had inspired someone else. It made me examine why I kept my writing largely to myself. I always felt I was a writer, and I wrote the occasional poem or vignette (which is what I called flash fiction before that term became popular), but I rarely shared them. I felt they weren’t "ready" or "good enough," or I wasn’t good enough. I wouldn’t allow myself the freedom to make mistakes and to experiment. The words had to be perfect the moment they flowed from my brain and out my fingers. If they weren’t perfect then, they never would be. Now I know these were all stories I told myself to protect my fragile ego from ridicule and embarrassment.
So you felt critique would mean you weren’t really a writer, and that means why share something imperfect? Yes, and if I wasn’t a writer, who was I? I examined the limiting beliefs I held that kept me from writing and sharing and examined them. In doing this, I started writing more and hoarding my words less. I submitted poems and short stories to publications: Rejections piled up. Crickets chirped in the silence. But instead of deterring me, this experience encouraged me to continue writing. To keep improving, but also to recognize when the stories of "not being good enough" crept back into my thinking.
So how did you get inspired to enter the JoCo Library Writers Contest? I heard about the writing contest Johnson County Library was hosting in conjunction with their annual Writer’s Conference. I could write a story based on a series of writing prompts and possibly win a chance to work with you. When I learned of the opportunity to work with Polly Alice McCann, I could not wipe my grin from my face, nor could I shake the fear in my heart.
Well, that's hard for me to imagine. But I know how you feel. What did you do next? How did you get the courage to submit? I selected several poems for her to review, my cursor hovering over the “send” button, wondering if I chose the right ones. I didn’t want to reveal myself as a terrible poet, especially to a poet I admired. Finally, my desire for feedback and improvement won, and I allowed my finger to press down on the mouse.
I know that we had a great time at our editor's meeting. What did you think? It was so encouraging, and you shared many ways I could improve my work. We went through every poem. A lot of my questions were answered, and you provided actionable tips for writing poetry. When I clicked the “Leave Meeting” button on our Zoom session, I was filled with the certainty that I could do this writing thing.
Oh, that's so wonderful. Encouragement for writers is what Flying Ketchup Press is about. I think a lot of editors and teachers want to encourage writers. Even we go to editors with our own work. It's a circle. What advice would you give to others now who are thinking about writing poetry or submitting work? I stumbled along the writing path for years until that short walk to the microphone. If it weren’t for that one moment, I’m not sure I would be on that path at all now.
I credit Mary for dragging me to that first reading, but it was only me who walked up to the mic. It was me who examined my beliefs. It was me who entered the contest. Polly gave me validation, but I am the one who gave myself permission to write.
Jerri is a writer and poet whose love of words and culture draws her to new places through books and travel. She has been published in Blue Insights, From the Library, The Ascent, Better Marketing, written copy for several websites, and writes on her own site, https://everydayscribe.com.
You can also find her on social media.
Facebook: everydayscribe Twitter: everydayscribe; Instagram @everydayscribe_com
Flying Ketchup Press ® grassroots and artist-run, we are a trademarked small press in Kansas City using traditional and hybrid publishing formats established to develop new and diverse voices in poetry and short story. Our dream is to salvage lost treasure troves of written and illustrated work-- to create worlds of wonder and delight; to share stories.
Make friends with your inner editor. Just a dash.