Carolyn Oliver is The Worcester Review’s new editor in chief. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Cincinnati Review, FIELD, Indiana Review, Copper Nickel, Michigan Quarterly Review, Thrush, Booth, The South Carolina Review, Tin House Online, SmokeLong Quarterly, 32 Poems, Southern Indiana Review, America, and Tahoma Literary Review, among other publications.
Oliver’s writing has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net in both fiction and poetry. She is the winner of the Laurence Goldstein Poetry Prize from Michigan Quarterly Review, selected by Linda Gregerson; the Louisville Literary Arts/The Louisville Review Writer’s Block Prize in Poetry, selected by Maggie Smith; and The Worcester Review’s Frank O’Hara Prize, selected by Rachel McKibbens.
Alex Pietrick is a current student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, studying computer science and data science. He enjoys reading literary fiction and writing short stories.
This interview was conducted through email in May 2021.
ALEX PIETRICK: You have pursued the subject of literature through a plethora of different perspectives, such as a writer, scholar, and editor. How have these different approaches changed your relationship with the craft?
CAROLYN OLIVER: I hope that those different seasons in my writing life (which have overlapped, sometimes)—have made me a sensitive writer and reader. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to spend so much time with writing, with writers.
PIETRICK: What pieces of writing have had the greatest impact on you, both as a person and a writer?
- Anne Carson: Glass, Irony and God
- John Donne: Songs and Sonnets
- Carol Ann Duffy: Selected Poems
- Camille T. Dungy: Guidebook to Relative Strangers
- Claudia Emerson: Late Wife
- Ross Gay: Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude
- Li-Young Lee: Rose
- Louise Erdrich: The Round House
- Patricia Smith: Blood Dazzler
- Virginia Woolf: Mrs. Dalloway
I stopped at ten books; I could go on.
PIETRICK: In your Frank O’Hara prize-winning poem “Rhododendrons,” you use fragments of gothic and depressive imagery, such as “heavy draggers dragging” and “death-mask maps” to describe these rhododendrons. I haven’t seen flowers described in such a way before. How did you come to use such language in order to convey the central themes of this poem?
OLIVER: It’s always interesting to learn how others read one’s work; I hadn’t thought of that imagery as either depressive or gothic. I wrote “Rhododendrons” a few years ago, so it’s tough to remember the compositional process in detail, but I think I was trying to describe as best I could what the leaves looked like after the ice storm, within the context of the poem’s interest in ghosts and doubleness and loss.
PIETRICK: What do you look for in a poem when reading for The Worcester Review?
OLIVER: I want to be surprised—by a word, a phrase, an image, a sound, a form, a turn, a narrative, a persona, a detail of place or time—any of the myriad choices poets make in their work.
PIETRICK: As the new editor for The Worcester Review, what are your plans for the future of the magazine?
OLIVER: I’m so grateful for all the care and hard work Kate McIntyre has put in to ensure that the The Worcester Review is a vibrant, thought-provoking journal; I hope to continue that good work as the next steward of the review. We look forward to updating the TWR website and plan to make more of our contributors’ fine writing accessible online. I’m excited to continue to celebrate the literary heritage of Worcester County and Central Massachusetts, and to welcome more voices to the pages of The Worcester Review. I particularly hope writers from marginalized communities—BIPOC, LGBTQIA2S, immigrant, disabled, and low-income writers, among others—will feel encouraged to share their work with The Worcester Review and its readers.