Nothing but the Truth: Interview with Visiting Poet Avery M. Guess
On March 30th, 2022, Louisville poet, Avery M. Guess, provided a reading of her work for UC Clermont students. During the reading, Guess chose selections from her first full-length collection of poetry, The Truth Is. The collection was published in April of 2019 by Black Lawrence Press. The event, provided by the East Fork Journal, was held in-person and virtually.
Before the reading, students had the opportunity to ask Guess questions about her life and work. After the reading, students were allowed to listen to Guess read her poems.
The poems consisted of the burden of abuse, the challenges of moving past PTSD, and the process of being at peace in the present moment. One such poem that resonated during the reading was “The Body Keeps the Score.”
Following the ending of the poetry reading, Guess shared her insight and enjoyment of the event. Here is an interview with Guess by Lantern staff member Shannon Wells.
Shannon Wells: What did you enjoy most about the conversation with students and the reading and book signing?
Avery M. Guess: I loved being able to talk to people and just be conversational. The night before, I was like “I’m not cool enough for this.” But everyone made me feel welcome and had good questions.
Wells: What questions from the students were most interesting?
Guess: The advice question about just starting out was great. I love when students ask me what my favorite poems that I have written are or the scariest. It makes me think about the entire collection. Each one is written on their own and when they come together it is a whole different thing.
Wells: In your experience, what types of poems do you think work best for poetry readings?
Guess: The one thing that I noticed when I was reading was the ones that have intense language and sound things going on – those are really hard to read. Being able to hear those out loud really gets you attuned to what’s happening in the poem, sound-wise. But, it’s terrifying. When I was reading them, I noticed there are a lot of “S’s.” I felt like I was stammering over each of them. But, I love getting to hear that when other people read. As a reader it is scary.
Wells: What did you think about the turn out for the poetry reading?
Guess: I thought it was great. This was the first reading I’ve done in person since 2019. Just seeing people in person is amazing. I’ve done a few online events, but those just don’t have the same energy. You feel like you’re just reading to yourself and you’re just looking at yourself in the camera, which is awkward. Not having to look at myself in the camera is delightful, but also seeing people’s faces is amazing. Also, getting those visceral responses as opposed to just reading to a screen – which is draining, energy-wise.
Wells: What did you want students to take away from the reading?
Guess: I didn’t really talk about it during the reading, but we talked about it before in class. My first book came out when I was forty-seven. This full-length book came out when I was almost forty-nine and it’s never too late. I spent my twenties and early thirties thinking “Well, I guess I’m not a writer because I didn’t have a book published when I was twenty-two and I’m not famous yet and nobody knows my name.” But it’s okay. You’re on your own time schedule and you’re not competing with anyone. Take in what you can and go from there.
Wells: What advice do you have for students who want to be future poets?
Guess: Read all the books, and read widely. Read a variety of poets and other reading material. I read fantasy, science fiction, mysteries, non-fiction, and poems. Pay attention to all of that. Also, while you’re reading, pay attention to the way the language is being used. It is really helpful because you can think about how you can use it and incorporate it in your own writing.