Rosalynde Vas Dias will be teaching “Digging for Gold: Mining Your Obsessions and Writing Linked Poems,” a four-week course starting June 6th where students confront their irrational fixations and generate a series of thematic poems. A talented poet and member of the Frequency Board, Rosalynde’s poetry has appeared in Crazyhorse, The Cincinnati Review, West Branch, The Pinch, Laurel Review, The Collagist, The Four Way Review and elsewhere. Her first book, Only Blue Body, won the 2011 Robert Dana Award offered by Anhinga Press. She has lived in Providence for over a decade and supported herself by working in a range of office environments—including a nightclub, a horse farm, and one or two mental health centers.
Ben Williams: How did you choose this course and settle upon the theme of obsession?
Rosalynde Vas Dias: It’s been a long time interest of my own. I guess it’s because I can be reluctant to write, so sometimes I have some resistance to writing. I find that if I hit upon something that I really want to work with then I can coax myself down the road to write it. The other aspect I really like is it gives you an extra method of control and exploration.
BW: That’s interesting that you think of obsession as a method of control since it often requires relinquishing control in place of irrational fixation.
RVD: Poetry is such a controlled medium and there’s lots of ways to exert control over the material. You have a mechanism to arrange things. You take back some power. You put your obsessions into words in a kind of fruitful way instead of keeping them in your head or sort of spinning your wheels over them. For poets, obsessions naturally come out in the work they do. If you have ten or twenty poems, you’ll find a sort of theme or continuity to them.
BW: In your previous work, Only Blue Body (2012), you fixate on animalistic forms. Was this a type of obsession for you?
RVD: I just wrote a bunch of poems and saw what went together. My obsessions did naturally emerge and I had plenty of material, but I wasn’t consciously trying to write poems that went together. It’s challenging. You might get bored. You might get restless. You might resist your material. It was a different way for me to work. But it’s been helpful because I’m kind of a reluctant writer, but now I have a reason to try it again and work on something. I can get past the feeling of failure.
BW: What sort of material have you been working on since Only Blue Body?
RVD: I’ve been working on a chapbook called Sweet Herald. That’s what brought me to this topic for the course in the first place. It’s a project that’s kind of about loneliness. A woman finds herself trapped in another dimension, a world without other people. She came from a normal world and she’s trying to puzzle out how to get back or how to feel comfortable there. The “Sweet Herald” of the title is an oriole. He becomes a symbol, sort of an imaginary figure.
BW: If you define yourself as a reluctant writer, how did you become such a successful and dedicated writer?
RVD: I started pretty young. You aren’t really critical at that age. And that critical self came in later and I had to figure out how to work around that. I think that happens to every writer. They must confront that editorial voice that says the work isn’t truthful, the work isn’t worth their time.
I went to Warren Wilson College for an MFA program. On graduation day we sat down with the director of the program, and he said, “Some of you will never write again.” And that’s true. I’ve seen people fall away from writing, unable to overcome the terror of the blank page. It’s profound when someone says that to you. I spent a lot of money on the MFA and I couldn’t not write again. For me it meant a lot to me. For me, and a lot of other writers, you have to work around that fear and you have to get to the place where you make yourself do it.
BW: You’d mentioned failure as a critical part of confronting obsessions. How do you incorporate that into your writing process?
RVD: I think it’s really important to put it into process, to almost use it. If you can work with it, and if you can write a poem where you address those failures, then that’s pretty exciting too. If I’m not doing something well, it’s okay for me to rush into not doing it well and talk about that in the poem. You get your power back. You take power from your failure and make it into something like a poem.
One of the other things I wanted to think about in my course is not being afraid to actually bring in the writer, not the persona, I think it’s okay to have the writer come in as a voice sometimes. It’s good to work it into your material, almost like working soil. You work it into the sequence, talk about how you feel about a character or a persona.
BW: Only Blue Body dealt with transformation, and obsessions tend to involve a sought-after, yet elusive transformation. How do you relate the notion of transformation to obsession, and how do you confront your fixations as a means of seeking transformation?
RVD: As a writer you need to be friends with your obsessions. You can’t just run away from them. I’m always thinking of how I can generate what I write next. Making friends with your obsessions helps you confront your fears and empowers your writing. Those obsessions aren’t going to disappear. You have to get comfortable with them. They can give you so much.
BW: Lastly, could you speak a bit about Frequency and the Providence literary community, or the Rhode Island literary community in general?
RVD: Frequency was really a godsend for me. I didn’t know that many writers when I moved here. I have had a hard time making writer friends. It’s a bit hard to break into the Brown community if you aren’t part of that. Two things that were big to me were Kate Schapira’s Publicly Complex Reading Series at Ada Books and the creation of Frequency back in 2011. I took my first course in 2013 and then a couple more courses after that. I wanted to help them out in some way, so I started volunteering as their bookkeeper last summer. I finally got the courage to write a course proposal, so I hope this course goes well. And I may propose more in the future.
Check out our “Summer Courses + Events” page to read more about Rosalynde’s upcoming course and register for it! It’ll be a great opportunity to confront your obsessions through writing, and learn more about what Rosalynde has been obsessing over lately.