Preciousness of Every Word: Interview with the Mostly-Poet Olivia Braley

Thursday, March 25, 2021
Olivia Braley is a writer and author of the chapbook SOFTENING. She is a co-founder and Editor in Chief of Stone of Madness Press, and a Reader at Longleaf Review. Keep up with her work on Twitter @OliviaBraley or at her website,

The first piece of Olivia’s writing I read was her poem “Litany of things to remember” published in issue 16 of Emerge Literary Journal, in which she was the featured writer. The poem left me in goosebumps and a desire to seek more of her work. The more I read, the more I wanted to learn about her style, writing process, and experiences as an editor, teacher, and new chapbook author. She has graciously shared her experiences with us. If you haven’t already done so, check out some of her writing and return here for a chat with the author. 

WOW: You write a mixture of prose, poetry, and hybrid pieces. How do you decide when to use which form, or, what is your writing process like? 

Olivia: Oh - good question - and one that I haven’t really thought about, at least not consciously! I came to writing through poetry, so even though I write prose and hybrid, I consider myself a mostly-poet. I think often I start writing something that looks like prose poetry in an early draft and take it one direction or another from there. I think the benefit of growing up in poetry is that you get an acute awareness of the economy of language: the preciousness of every word. Words are not just denotative, but also have a cadence, a rhythm, a sound, a history, a feeling. That’s something that is at the heart of all writing I do. I think poetry has the ability to shirk a lot of the logic of prose - to connect images and metaphor through feeling and gesture more than narrative - so if I feel I’m working on something that doesn’t adhere to a uniform logic, that is when I tend to move towards poetry. And I guess I’m often trying to get away from logic. 

WOW: Even your description of poetry is poetic! I love the phrase “preciousness of every word.” Thank you for the insight into your process. Not only do you write, but you provide a space for others to share their writing with Stone Mountain Press. Why did you co-found Stone Madness Press? What has been your experience as the poetry editor-in-chief? 

Olivia: It’s always been a dream of mine to be able to edit a journal - not to keep people out (sending rejections is really the worst part) but to give a platform to essential voices that are not always represented, and were certainly not present to me when I began reading poetry seriously. It was essential to L (my cofounder) and I to give voice to those like us, who may find the “literary world” inaccessible: queer, trans, and neurodivergent people. We weren’t finding a great platform that has this kind of accessibility and uplifting principle at its center, so we made one! My experience as Poetry EIC has been phenomenal. I have a wonderful team and get to read so many talented perspectives daily. It’s really put poetry and these identities at the center of my life which is such a privilege. 

WOW: It’s wonderful that you found a hole in the market, sought a remedy, and created a publication that adds more to the literary world and has given you joy. Tell me more about the decision to focus the latest issue on hybrid writing. Did you see a market need for this, or is there another reason you chose this genre? 

Olivia: I have to credit our brilliant Managing Editor, Cavar, for this. We love reading hybrid but with my comfort being poetry and L being prose and micro, Cavar’s championing of hybrid was such a welcome and innovative addition to our team. We had been getting hybrid submissions before this issue that we had to sort of figure out how to place and we thought rather than trying to force the writing into a genre, we should encourage and give a platform to this writing that exists in the space between. As a journal that has queer/trans/neurodivergent voices at its heart, it was a very natural fit, and we are going to make hybrid issues a regular feature at Stone of Madness. 

WOW: In addition to writing and editing, you’re also a writing teacher. The perfect trifecta! In what ways does teaching writing help or hinder your own writing? Do you teach hybrid writing? 

Olivia: Teaching writing is a huge privilege and helps me consider my work in new ways. I mostly teach poetry, but teaching also challenges me as I try to tailor and curate my teaching to the needs of the students. I have taught to students of all ages and experience levels, and with similarly varying interests in writing, from formal poetry to graphic novel. It really forces me to think of new and better ways to talk about and consider my own methods and approaches. It forces me to continually revisit writing at its most foundational, and hear what others think as well. I learn a tremendous amount from teaching. 

WOW: Congratulations on the publication of your chapbook SOFTENING! How would you describe a chapbook as different from another type of publication? What has been your experience as the author of a chapbook? 

Olivia: Thank you! I think all works that are larger than a single poem or prose piece have to have some kind of logic in its arrangement, some kind of arc - whether it’s a general plot in a thriller novel or the arrangement of poems in a collection - but this pressure feels heightened in the chapbook. It’s lean and the content similarly needs to transition from one idea to the next without being too one-one nor too far-reaching. It gives you the chance to expand upon a single idea or a few themes, but it is not easy to go both deep and wide in such a small format. My experience as the author of a chapbook has been incredible - just saying that out loud is wonderful, but my inclination after this book is to write something really different. I’m concerned with being pigeonholed in one genre or with one type of theme - I’m eager in thinking of future works to do something new and distinct. 

WOW: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us about your writing, editing, and teaching experiences. I cannot wait to see what you create next! 

Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, book reviews, and profiles of writers and competitive sportswomen. She is also a competitive swimmer, a trail adventurer, a dog lover, and a new mom. Tweets at @dr_greenawalt


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