Ask a Poet: Rachel Wiley

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Welcome to the Ask a Poet blog series! Leading up to the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival, we will be putting the spotlight on poets you can see at #DPF18, October 18-21. Learn more about a new Festival Poet every Wednesday and Friday, presented in no particular order.

Today, we’re chatting with Rachel Wiley!


What books of poetry/poets do you recommend to a new reader of poems?
Rachel McKibbens, Sharon Olds, Hieu Nguyen, Sam Sax, Franny Choi, A. Van Jordan, Jericho Brown, Mahogany L Browne.

When did you first discover poetry? What poets made you want to write?
When I was a kid – maybe 3rd grade – I found a book in the school library called Honey, I Love by Eloise Greenfield and I fell in love with the rhythm of the poems and the way someone could say so much with so few words. I started writing secret poetry around then and continued that practice into my 20’s.

What was your experience with poetry in high school? If you wrote poetry as a teenager, who were your influences then and what did you write about?
We sadly did not explore a lot of poetry in high school. I stumbled upon Sylvia Plath on my own and was still writing secret poems – once I discovered Sylvia Plath’s work I felt I had permission to write the angstier feelings I was having as a young woman trying to figure out what was ahead of me.

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?
It always baffles me when someone says “…so do a poem!” It’s not an on/off switch – no one asks a painter to paint on the spot. Also being a poet with videos on YouTube I get recognized in public sometimes and that is never not weird. It’s really cool but it’s also
just weird. I’ve been recognized while out on dates and once while stuffing a burrito into my mouth at a food truck.

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?
I am always afraid to share what I write. The more scared I am the more I likely need to write and share it.

Do you have a favorite Festival moment from the past?
My first Dodge festival was in 2014 and it was overwhelming in the best possible way. The whole experience will likely remain one of my favorite lifetime memories. If I had to choose 1 major highlight though it would be the Women in Poetry panels I got to be part of first with Rachel McKibbens and Jan Beatty and the second with Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Sharon Olds, and Eavan Boland- those were empowering panels. I was in awe and honored to be part of them but I also felt like I belonged there.

Rachel Wiley is a queer, biracial poet and performer from Columbus, Ohio where she somehow holds down a rather boring day job. She is an ardent and intersectional feminist and a fat positive activist. Rachel is a fellow and faculty member of the Pink Door Writing Retreat held each year in Rochester, New York for women and nonbinary writers of color. She has toured nationally performing at slam venues, colleges, and festivals. Her work has appeared on Upworthy, The Huffington Post, The Militant Baker, Everyday Feminism and PBS News Hour. Her first poetry collection, Fat Girl Finishing School, was published in 2014 by Timber Mouse Publishing. Her second collection, Nothing is Okay, was published in March 2018 by Button Poetry and spent some time as Amazon’s #1 Gay & Lesbian Poetry Collection.

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