Nicole Tallman is a poet, ghostwriter, and editor. Born and raised in Michigan, she lives in Miami, serves as the Poetry Ambassador for Miami-Dade County, Poetry and Interviews Editor for The Blue Mountain Review and an Associate Editor for South Florida Poetry Journal. She is the author of Something Kindred (The Southern Collective Experience Press), and her next two books, POEMS FOR THE PEOPLE and FERSACE, are forthcoming from Really Serious Literature and Redacted Books, respectively. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @natallman.
In this conVERSEverse, Nicole talks about why she is a poet, her experience collaborating with visual artists, and shares advice for poets aspiring to publish their work.
VV: Tell us a bit about why you write poetry.
NT: I’ve written poetry since I was a child because I have always heard it, but I didn’t really start publishing my poetry until 2020. Though I’ve engaged in several mediums, poetry in particular speaks to me because it’s the best medium for communication in a succinct way. It’s the perfect container for expressing my most intimate thoughts and for evoking emotion in and connecting with others. And there’s so much flexibility with poetry. I tend to write mostly prose poetry, and I love the space it affords and that the rules can be bent so easily.
VV: Why is pop culture such a central part of your work?
NT: I try to approach poetry from a position of relatability and accessibility, and I also try to write poems that I think will resonate with people who may not necessarily like poetry. I love it when poets love my work, but I also love it when people who don’t necessarily like poetry tell me they like my poems and say to me, “Wow, I didn’t even know that that’s what a poem could be.”
Pop culture helps me to bridge the gap with everyday people who may not necessarily have an MFA, or may not have any formal training and makes my work more relatable. I find that the poems that people like the most of mine are the ones that use relatable concepts like television shows or well-known characters. For example, I’ve written poems about The Sopranos, Firestar (a Marvel cartoon character), and Paris Hilton.
Something else I like about pop culture is it’s really reflective of the moment. When you’re reading older poetry, poets back then were trying to do the same thing. They were looking at what was going on around them, and they were using that as a way to situate their work. Similarly, pop culture reflects our society’s current values. By capturing this moment, I’m also capturing some of our history and it serves as a time capsule for future generations.
VV: Tell us about your experience writing Something Kindred.
NT: It’s funny because the initial draft of this book was about the pandemic; a book called The New Normal. I pitched it to Clifford Brooks, the founder of The Southern Collective Experience. He read it, was frank with me, and said he thought that people were tired of the pandemic and by extension any content about it.
I could see what he was saying and so I set out to rework the book. As I went back through the material, I realized there was more to my words than just the pandemic. My mother passed away from ovarian cancer in 2017, and it took me about five years to find the courage to write about that. I noticed the poems I labeled as pandemic poems were really grief poems. I was processing this parallel loss between my mother’s death and our communal loss as a result of the pandemic. I ended up scrapping the pandemic-specific poems and turning my work into a non-linear grief handbook for people to process loss, regardless of what they’re grieving.
VV: Do you have any advice for poets aspiring to publish their work?
NT: To people who are trying to publish a first book, I would say be patient because it might take a while to land. It will take some perseverance, but keep writing, and strive to get your work published in journals. This can be an important step towards finding the right home and the right publisher.
Be open, be flexible, send your work out, and maybe do some open calls. If you’re going to enter a contest, make sure your work is really ready because you can be paying upward of $25 per contest to submit and that can add up quickly.
I’d also advise writers to be active on social media, too. I know a lot of people say they don’t like Twitter, but it can be a valuable resource for connecting with people.
Lastly, don’t necessarily feel like you have to be in the top-tier journals right away. Some people think “I’m not going to publish unless I can be in The New Yorker or The Paris Review”, but I’d say start small, maybe with some local publications, and then slowly progress upwards into some of those bigger journals.
VV: How was your experience collaborating with artists on visuals for your work?
NT: With theVERSEverse, I submitted my poems to co-founder Ana Maria Caballero, and then she paired me up with artists. I loved what all three artists did with my work. Ana was the connector, a matchmaker of sorts, and it turned out remarkably well.
Brook Getachew was the artist for Poem for Sylvia Plath. At first, I didn’t really understand his interpretation. I looked at it and said, “Well, this is beautiful. I don’t get it, but it’s beautiful.” I wrote back to Ana asking for the artist’s interpretation of the piece, and he wrote back this very thoughtful explanation of why he did what he did.
I had recorded myself reading the poem, which we originally thought we would use, but Brook felt it was distracting the viewer from the overall composition. Instead, to make sure there was that personal element, he asked to send over my thumbprint to include in the piece. I was actually traveling and I didn’t have much with me. I realized I had some red lipstick from my purse, ran that over my thumb, and put it on a piece of hotel paper. I took a picture of it, sent it over, and said, “This is all I have, I don’t have an ink pad or a pencil or anything. Will this work?”. Brook loved it because of the beautiful red color and ended up using it in the visual.
When you put art out into the world, you have no idea how someone else will interpret it. To see these artists take in my work and then produce something in a completely different direction than what I could have imagined was a magical experience.
VV: What is your hope for the poetry space at large?
NT: I would like to see poets celebrated and elevated more as artists and to be fairly compensated. That’s one reason why I love theVERSEverse, and this idea of “poem = work of art.” A lot of times when people hear “artist,” they don’t think of poets. They think of visual artists, musicians, photographers, etc.
There are a few poets out there, like Rupi Kaur, who has a world tour and is treated like she’s a rock star, but examples are still few and far between. I also don’t know that all poets would want that level of fame because it can be difficult for people, especially if they’re introverted, but I would like to see more poets in the spotlight, and especially poets whose work I really admire.
Being a poet is a very special skill set, and I don’t think it’s fair for people to expect us to do everything for free. A lot of times we’re expected to write poems for free and to do readings for free, but our heart and soul goes into our work, and that work should be fairly compensated.
I work for the Mayor of Miami-Dade County as her Legislative Affairs Director and Poetry Ambassador. I’m extremely grateful for my job, but I also think it’s unfortunate that a lot of us poets end up doing things outside of our art in order to sustain ourselves. Imagine if poets could be sustained just on our poetry. Wouldn’t that be cool?
Check out Nicole’s work on theVERSEverse here