Thursday, December 22, 2022

Q&A with Eric Stiefel




Eric Stiefel is the author of the new poetry collection Hello Nothingness. He is a Ph.D. candidate at Ohio University, and he lives in Athens, Ohio.


Q: Over how long a period did you write the poems in Hello Nothingness?


A: The earliest poems in the collection would have been written around 2016, and I spent time editing and revising the newer poems up until the manuscript's acceptance, which means the entire process was spread around six years or so.


Q: How did you choose the order in which the poems would appear in the collection?


A: While selecting an order for an entire manuscript of poetry from scratch has always felt like a daunting task, I find the process much more accessible when I start by finding connections between individual poems, then grouping them together by tone or mood or theme until they start to form small sequences. 


After these sequences have been formed, I find it easier to see which moves the manuscript makes as a whole, which threads of connection can be found between bigger movements, how I want to introduce a reader to the world of the manuscript, how I want them to navigate this space, and so on.


Q: The poet Donald Revell said of your work, "In a time of careful equivocations, Stiefel makes unequivocal sounds--immediately clear, immediately welcome." What do you think of that description?


A: I think it's a generous compliment—one of the most rewarding aspects of sending my book into the world has been finding readers who are receptive toward what I was going for with the book. 


Even though my work often deals with ambiguous subject matter, from the murkiness of memory and perception to the (at times) bewildering experience of being human, I hope that my work speaks clearly and earnestly about its subjects, as unclear as they may be.  


Q: How was the collection's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: I cycled through around half a dozen different titles before settling on Hello Nothingness, which comes from a poem called "The Next Painting Was Full of Dark Clouds," which was inspired by Francisco Goya's "The Parasol." 


There's a moment at the end of the poem, which ends with the speaker saying "Hello, nothingness" to an empty black room before, at the end of the line, the empty room responds back "Hello, hello." 


So it's a bit of a nod toward Friedrich Nietzsche's famous "When you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you," but I also liked the playfulness of meeting that nothingness with an upbeat greeting in the title. 


That conjunction of darkness with playfulness, without undercutting the gravity of that darkness, is emblematic of what I try to achieve in my work, so I was quite happy when I found that title.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm finishing my Ph.D. in English with a concentration in poetry and creative writing in the spring, so I'm busy working on my dissertation and brainstorming ideas for new poems in the meantime. I have an idea for a new sequence that'll be at least four poems long, but I'm giving myself time to let the new work come. 


Writing, editing, and submitting the poems that make up Hello Nothingness took up the entirety of my artist life over the last few years, so it has been interesting to relearn what it's like to start from scratch.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I don't have anything else to add, except to say "thank you" for the interview and that you can find my website at, where you can find links to order the book and to poems that have been published online.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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