In Conversation With
M. Stone is a poet and fiction writer, and her work has appeared in San Pedro River Review, UCity Review, formercactus, and many others. Additionally, she is the author of the micro-chapbooks Evolving God and Longing for Elsewhere and the chapbook Lore. M. describes herself as a “bookworm, birdwatcher, and stargazer,” and she lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Megan Valley: I'm especially interested in the connection between place and authorship: how has living in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains affected how or what you write?
M. Stone: That’s a great question! And it’s one I’ve considered at some length, since the mountains feature so prominently in my work. My parents were born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains, of which the Blue Ridge range is a part, as were many of my ancestors. Growing up, I listened to all kinds of stories about mountain life and came to understand early on what an important role the mountains played in my family’s history. I find that I retreat into the Blue Ridge whenever I seek solace and clarity. Standing on a mountain and looking over a rolling valley below, feeling a constant breeze and listening to birdsong, I find renewal. For me, the mountains are truly a sacred place and where I am most at peace. I feel a connection to them that I’m always trying to convey through my writing.
MV: The nuance between poetry, prose poetry, and flash fiction can be hotly debated. As someone who writes both poetry and flash fiction, how do you differentiate between the two?
MS: Sometimes it’s a fine line for me, particularly since my poems lean toward the narrative. I feel like I’m a storyteller at heart regardless of the medium. When I’m writing flash fiction, I can sometimes detect traces of poetic imagery and even rhythm creeping into the paragraphs, but those elements aren’t integral to the work, the way they are to poetry. As someone who spent a lot of her younger years writing fiction, I’ve had to work to develop a sense of rhythm in my poems. I’ve read pieces of micro fiction that skillfully incorporate these elements and start drifting into what could be called prose poetry. I think the definition of what constitutes a poem is highly subjective. I might consider a piece to be micro fiction, whereas someone else would deem it a prose poem, or vice versa. But I find that my favorite poems use language that surprises and encourages the reader to perceive the ordinary in a new way, so I try to focus on achieving that with my own writing.
MV: A sort of followup: has a work in one medium ever changed or evolved into another?
MS: Yes, actually! Two of my poems, “Catalyst” and “Reaction,” were recently published in Nice Cage, and they started out as vignettes. I originally intended them to be pieces reflecting streams of consciousness, glimpses into the narrators’ thoughts. But as I revised, I started shaping the paragraphs into couplets, focusing on metaphor, listening for the rhythm as I read them aloud. The opposite happened with a micro fiction piece, “Assisted Living,” which was published in formercactus last year. It started out as a poem but works much better as a kind of stream-of-consciousness narrative revealing the plight of the speaker.
MV: You've been publishing your work very consistently since July 2017. What publication, other than the first, felt like the biggest breakthrough?
MS: That’s a tough one! I have described myself as the least ambitious person I know, so when I initially set out to submit my work for publication, I didn’t put a lot of emphasis on whether a journal was prestigious or had a huge readership, but more on whether I enjoyed reading the issues, and also whether the journal’s mission resonated with me. I’ve worked with a lot of new presses, and in the vast majority of cases, it’s been a wonderful experience. It’s fantastic celebrating and being part of an inaugural issue, and then continuing to witness a new press flourish, so I feel that I’ve had the same sense of excitement for almost all of my publications, whether my work has found a home at established journals or ones just getting started. That being said, when I’ve tried to step out of my comfort zone with my writing, for example by writing a more experimental poem, then I’m especially thrilled when that piece finds a home. I had that experience with my work published in Star 82 Review and Pendora Magazine.
MV: How are birdwatching and stargazing like poetry?
MS: The act of observing is crucial to all three. Whether I’m looking at the trees in search of birds, or at the night sky in search of a comet or meteor, I have to get out of my own head and pay attention to the world around me. I found that when I started primarily writing poetry, my sense of observation sharpened. I began paying much closer attention to my surroundings. Poetry encourages that, just as birdwatching and stargazing encourage it. If you’re not paying attention, you won’t see many birds or constellations, and you won’t write many poems that are worth reading.
MV: What's next for you?
MS: For my next project, I’ll be focusing on poems about endangered or vulnerable species native to the Appalachian Mountains and especially the Blue Ridge. I discussed my connection to the mountains earlier, and while a lot of my poetry up to this point has been confessional in nature, I want my next collection of poems to focus on something much larger than the self. This region, like many others, is in dire need of environmental protection and conservation, and as environmental regulations are currently being slashed at a devastating pace, I feel it’s an especially important theme to explore.