Rhonda Rosenheck reading at Collar City Mushrooms in Troy, NY

Building Capacity In Others: An Interview with Rhonda Rosenheck

By Willow Singletary

Rhonda Rosenheck answered the zoom call while sitting in her car and using her phone as her source of communication. She joked about living in her car and instantly made the interview feel as if I were catching up with an old friend. Her demeanor during the entire interview was caring and pleasant and she seemed to be just as interested in engaging in a conversation with me as I was with her. Her down-to-earth spirit and experience as a writer made her the perfect candidate to learn from.

Willow Singletary: Are you good to start? 

Rhonda Rosenheck: Nope. I’m good. Yeah, I do a lot. I live in my car. I used to teach, in like five different places in the afternoons. I just lived in my car. My worst nightmare was showing up to the wrong place with the wrong books so, I just kept everything in my car, I did everything in my car so. Years ago, I’m used to it. 

W: Okay so, I’m just gonna start. I wanted to ask you, what is your writing process? Do you have any like, rituals you do before you write or places you go? 

R: Um. Well if I- it’s different for different things. So if I want to just see what comes- um I open my computer and open up a blank page. And then, I just see what comes you know so, a lot of my more observational poetry happens that way if I’m setting aside the time to do it. A lot of times if it’s coming to me I’ll take the notes app on my phone and open it- I have a subfolder of poetry and I’ll open it up and sit and at least start something there. I’m not a very disciplined person so I like- I need to capture it when it comes but my favorite kind of places to write are places where I’m kind of alone and kind of not so the pandemic has been hard for that but I love co-working spaces and I love coffee shops where you’re kind of surrounded by other people who are doing their own thing. So now I tend to like to and you’re going to ask me a little bit later about my- the writing house- the writing studio but trying to find places where even though I have to be alone there’s some form of a community like going to a retreat center where you write by yourself but you might come together for the meals or you just simply might know that other people are in other cabins writing. So that kind of peer positive peer-pressure Play my nose in other people or other cabins. So that kind of peer-positive peer pressure. Other people are doing this. Other people are focusing. So I’m going to focus. And I’m away from ordinary distractions before computers and before cell phones, probably before you were born. It would. I knew I’d have to get in my car with a pen and drive minimally forty-five minutes away from my home. To be far enough away where I couldn’t say to myself, oh you know let me just get back and do this one errand. Or yeah I’m done. I have to physically remove myself from distractions to stay focused and once I am that can be really productive. 

W: Yeah, I’m the same I can’t focus in like, if I’m not like forcing myself to do it like, far away, so, I can relate to that. But, branching off of that question you mentioned like basically like, people watching observing, would you say people give you the most inspiration for your writing? 

R: You’re asking very good questions, today. People – People being people is definitely the thing that interests me most in life. Like, I’m not a tinkerer, I’m not an artist with visuals so, I would say yes, i would say but, in a slightly different way, I would say that people being people and me reacting to that there’s always a reflective element right? So, watching what I’m watching and even if my poetry simply describes what I’m watching really what I’m doing is wondering how that reflects on me or, makes me feel or, let’s me think you know sort of opens up a door for me. I just recently wrote a poem that was- it was really almost just a complete transcription of something somebody said to me. And her opening sentence is the title of the poem and its something like “Whoever Thinks of a Hurricane Coming on Thursday Morning,” And then she told me this whole story about her three kids and how everybody’s on the Autism spectrum and everybody has a comfort bunny and that she’s getting everybody downstairs and into the basement. And the poem is just that sentence that she said and this very very terse thing about watching for danger and getting everybody safe from danger. So on the surface of it, it looks like I’m really just describing her life, and of course what I’m really doing is thinking about my own relationship to danger why that even struck me. 

W: Right. Right, that’s interesting 

R: Willow I have this discussion with my mother who’s a social worker where when she’s reading my poetry or poetry by other people she knows she looks at it as if its poetry therapy. She’s thinking, “Oh what incident led her to say that?” or “What’s going on in her life?” or “I’m not sure what that means.” And I had a conversation with her recently, her brother, my uncle is a visual artist you know a graphic- painter and sculptor and such and I said to her do you see your brother’s art as art therapy? And she goes “oh it’s very therapeutic for him” I said but, is that why he does art? She said “no, it’s a creative impulse” I said “well my art is also a creative impulse” But I do use the things I’m feeling and thinking and wondering about and experiencing as fodder for my creativity but, I’m really good at expressing myself when I’m upset or when I’m confused I don’t have to write poetry in order to get at those things so it’s a little bit different it’s a little different it does reflect on me but it’s not because it’s my only way into myself it is a sort of a loop I take something in I process it through myself and I think there’s something of value of it come back out to others. 

W: That’s very interesting because I mean, personally when I write it- I’m not good at expressing myself I can’t I’m a very logical thinker so if I know I’m sad I just think I’m sad but, I’m not good with like, crying or talking about it and so, writing for me helps me break down those feelings but, it’s also similar in the way that you speak about it like it’s not expressing yourself but it’s like- is it almost like you digging deeper into the emotion itself? 

R: Yes, and looking for something a little bit universal right? Like not consciously but otherwise I will really be writing a poem I would be crying into my pillow or stretching and moaning and groaning to my best friend or my mother I am really good at that so when I’m doing it I am trying to find the Kernel of it. And in every- I used to think- this is kind of new for me to think of this, I’ve been writing since I was a child and probably as a child it was I was a very frightened kid so it probably was a way for me to articulate things that I might be afraid to say to others but, the rest of my career has been in education and I’m an aunt to both actual blood nieces and nephews and many people who think of me as their aunty you know. And I think of them in that way so, i have this relationship with the world where I feel that if you know, the most likely thing for them to write on my tombstone would be “she built capacity in others.” Like that’s- and I used to think before I retired from all of this and became a writer again that, writing poetry was the only part of my life where that was not true that that was the only part of my life that was not about building capacity in others and what I found over these last few years of writing full-time I’m not a full-time writer but, writing is my primary creative / work experience is that that is actually what my poetry does. I am opening up worlds for others to see and to wonder and to react against a lot of my poems have a little kind of a shrug at the end and a little like I might go all the way deep in and then I come back up out a little bit with a little bit of a almost an aside to the audience or a self-deprecating thing about what just came or shrug of verbal form and I think that that’s part of it that I never wanted to go so far that it is painful for somebody else so if I approach the so far I back up a little bit by the end and that- I think that is about other people though, I didn’t realize it until I began to do it- I don’t think I’m in the minute I’m not consciously thinking how will this be read. But, I’m also not consciously thinking about how will people perceive me when I’m “aunting” them you know or right? You know, it’s not conscious it’s- this feel like the thing to do and then afterwards I might say this is part of who I am and part of who I am is building capacity in others. So, I think it is in the poetry too. 

W: It’s a natural thing is what you’re saying? It comes naturally to do that. 

R: Yeah, Yeah and it makes its way in. 

W: So, speaking about things coming in naturally I wanted to ask you, do you think that your religion affects your writing deliberately or indirectly? 

R: That was a great question. Mostly, mostly indirectly but extremely strong. Right? I was so deeply shaped by my religious/ family/ community life that its hard to- which came heavy with life values right? So, the form of Judaism that I was raised with was filled with rituals but, it was not about-it was the lessons and the conversations were not- and the learning was not so much about the rituals but about the values and the ethics and the history and what the history shows us and how we’re supposed to be towards others because you know, I mean we should be that way anyway but take a look at this history and you never want to be that way to anybody else and so it was always this mixture of religiosity and kindness. And a sense of there was this concept of being a partner in Creation with God right? So that you have a job here and that is a part of your relationship with your maker and the interesting thing is I’m the only one in my family of origin with an actual belief in a personified type of God. So the people who taught me all of this thought of it as a framework for values and didn’t really believe there was a divine element to it. I really just started to have epiphanies and a sense of an actual God who knows me who has some consciousness of a greater level and who directs me and if I attune well enough I can find that direction like a tuning fork- either on key or off key and that’s how I can tell whether I’m doing the exact right direction or just kind of a right direction or a completely off base right so, so mostly it’s indirectly but I do find that a lot of my poetry goes back into the biblical texts or back into rituals with a skeptical eye with wondering whether the way this got transmitted is the only- Did this get transmitted to me as the only way it should be? Or as even the way for me to use it for the best purpose? Sometimes I have a – well this is one of the indirect things which is my particular education about the bible is that it is very robust and you can ask it anything and it won’t crumble. Right? You can throw any kind of critique, any kind of method of study at it. You don’t have to be afraid, you don’t have to be so reverent and respectful that you can’t dig into it. In fact, it’s meant to be dug into periodically by different generations in different ways. So I test that with a kind of snarkiness for starters. I have a book that’s at a publisher right now that’ll come out called the “Five Books of Limericks”. Where I have taken every chapter of the five books of Moses and written a limerick. Like that English class lesson they give you in a reading comprehension lesson where you read something and they ask you to write a subtitle right? 

W: Yeah. 

R: What did you get out of it, right? And I’ve studied this material with so many different commentators and so many different scholars but this time I sat on my couch, I read a chapter, I wrote a limerick, I read a chapter, I wrote a limerick, I read a chapter, I wrote a limerick. And it was weirdly compelling, it came very easily. And it was unmediated by anybody else’s beliefs about what I should be seeing there. And, I took the book of Jonah and on Facebook and said “We read the book of Jonah on Yom Kippur, the Day of Fasting and the end of the period of Atonement because he’s a- he was an unwilling prophet, right? He didn’t want to do what God wanted him to do. God had to put him through all of these things to get him to say “Fine, I’ll go to Nineveh,” but weirdly enough he is also the only one hundred percent successful prophet anywhere in the bible. He is the only one who actually accomplishes what he set out to accomplish, which is, Nineveh had to stop sinning. And to his absolute disbelief, he said “You have to stop sinning,” and they said “Oh my gosh, we have to stop sinning, we’re no longer sinning,” And they lived by it. And he was completely confused by that and felt that it was even kind of a trick that God was playing some sort of trick on him because obviously they couldn’t have been such sinners if they just turned around- like nobody does that. He didn’t even believe it once it happened. So, he’s an interesting character to me. In that, you know, I’m very sensitive to people who want to be seen as prophets because the only really successful one was the most reluctant one. And so the year before last right? Around Yom Kippur I said to some friends “You know it would make a good sea shanty,” which were the like, the equivalent of and actually sort of the cousin of slave work songs of spirituals, right? What’s the music that’s going to get these unwilling workers to work together, to pull together, to get a really difficult task done at once. And here’s the unwilling prophet and it’s also all about being on the sea. So I wrote to the tune of  Drunken Sailor, I wrote the story of Jonah. And it’s actually, you know it started out kind of as a silly idea but really just a different lens. And it turns out not really silly. And so that happens to me a lot. So when I- that’s intentional you know I’m taking my traditions, my beliefs and my- what I’ve learned about where your permissions are with studying. And I poke at them to see what else I can learn. 

W: Okay, so going off what you said about- I mean you were talking about prophesying specifically but in a way most people that have gifts don’t usually- and they’re like the best at it don’t usually want to do those things so, do you remember the time that you decided to write? 

Rhonda Rosenheck

R: Wow. I was really young. It was always- you know I dream in words, I dream- my dreams even if they’re visual I have voiceovers. My dreams have voiceovers. Like it’s crazy. I see in words. I don’t know who I would be without language. And I don’t remember- I remember distinctly not liking to read and I remember what changed that but I don’t ever remember not liking to write. In fact when I didn’t like to read and we were up to reading chapter books I would read the first paragraph of every chapter and I would still piece together a book report that made perfect sense to the teacher and nobody ever caught me at it you know? So there was something about taking a little bit of something and filling in the blanks with my own thinking. And having it work. And I had no objection to writing but I will tell you a different thing which is, I thought I would write, I thought I would- I thought that this was my path, my creative path. And I had in my first year of college, a teacher who agreed with me. And really pressed me and really felt that this was absolutely the path for me and that the world would be bereft if I didn’t pursue poetry. And he put- I was in a community college my first year and he pushed me to get into- to go to a college with a creative writing program and I got into the creative writing program. And the primary teacher of that creative writing program hated my poetry. Hated it. Just hated anything I produced. We clashed as people. I didn’t take well to her form of critique. You know we would sit around a seminar table and she would critique somebody until they were in tears. So I would sit there and say, “You’re never making me cry,” you know? It was- and I got tossed out of the creative writing program. And, even though part of me understood that this was a matter- as much of her personality as it was anything else. It still completely diverted me. That was the end of me ever thinking I would write for others to read. And then I went a completely different career path and during that career path I wrote you know, newsletters and curriculum and letters to parents and you know, the occasional little diddy for somebody. But I did not write creative writing for thirty-three years. And then when I stopped I thought I would write detective stories cause that’s what I loved most to read. Only poetry was coming out instead of detective stories. So that was a moment for me when I realized the impulse to write poetry had not died. Even though any confidence I had that I was supposed to write poetry died in my second year of college. 

W: Well that- there was one question I was going to ask you and you sort of answered it but, just to dig deeper into what you’re saying; why poetry and why not detective stories? 

R: I don’t think I can plot things out. I think that one of the reasons- I write little crimes- one of the areas of poems I write, mostly for fun, is crime poems. And their mostly poems of revenge. So mostly there’s a crime happening in it and when you learn why that crime is happening you kinda thumbs up the person doing the crime currently right? It’s a lot about women not being abused anymore- that’s the one last time you’re going to abuse me and things like that. But I don’t- I think that the reason I could enjoy detective fiction so almost indiscriminately is I never know what’s happening until they tell me. So I did try to create- I created a detective and kinda a sidekick character and I really loved them, they were really good and I started to write some short stories with them. And it would get to a point where I would drive around for three weeks saying, “Well how the heck would she have known that?” you know? Like I have my detective detecting something and I couldn’t figure out how she would know it. So I really- I’m just not good at that plotting of things or at least yet. And what poetry allows me to do is use the story- my poems are very narrative, most of them. But what I’m doing instead of using words to tell the narrative I’m using the narrative to tell a Kernel of an idea. I’m being reductionist. And bringing an idea down to its most Ha! The thing where you go Ha! In a story and that’s what I’m trying to bring it down to. That I can do. And I was at a women’s writing retreat at Pyramid Lake, it’s a retreat center, I don’t know it’s part of the Diocese of Albany. But there’s a women’s writing retreat there and in my first year I had a poetry teacher and a narrative teacher and they ganged up at me at lunch one day and said, “First of all, you can say you’re a writer you don’t have to give your entire biography and then say and now I write. You’re a writer. Second of all, if the poems come let the poems come, if the stories are going to come they’ll come,” you know? So they put to rest the sense that I should- I think I always have a feeling that the thing that’s harder to do is the thing I should be doing and the thing that comes naturally to me is less valuable. They put that to rest. They allowed me to say “Oh I’m a writer and mostly I’m a poet.” And then I feel from there I started, that was the weekend I started to write the crime poems and that’s also the point that Yeah hey it’s okay that poetry comes somewhat naturally to me, that probably means I’m a poet. Sorry I don’t know what I’m touching here that’s making that- there we go. 

W: Wow. You answered a lot of my questions but, going back to the being tossed out, did it change the way you view writing? Being a writer? Being in the English field? Did it discourage you?

R: Yeah, it discouraged me a lot and I don’t have- I still don’t have any expectation that I will ever you know, have any living from writing or have any monetary value or even any broad distribution of my work. It’s completely out of my imagination- It discouraged me completely. he once said to me, “Someday I’m going to try to make an appointment to see you” which was at the end of the- which meant to me that you’re going to be a well known writer you’re going to have some measure of fame. Which was itself surprising to hear. But my first college-level professor was saying that to me so there must be some truth to it right? And the next one said to me, “You really suck at this, why did I let you into the program. Out you go.” I mean she booted me out of the program. 

R: I think the thing I would want you to know as an earlier writer, somebody in a position I was in back then, was that I gave so much more credence to the wisdom and expertise people- older than I was. If somebody older than me said something was true, I presumed it was true. It was particularly so if they were male also. You know male and older than me was like you know, that was like “daddy” and “daddy” knows everything. So, it took me a very long time to recognize that even if somebody’s- even now I struggle with it if somebody is older than I am and says something I have to take a deep breath and give myself enough credit to think that they might not actually be more right than I am if we disagree about something. And I- a couple of people since I’ve moved to Albany have been real role models for me in that they’re younger and have learned that sooner. So I don’t know if you know Danielle Colin, D. Colin is her poetry name. 

W: Yeah, I know who you’re talking about. 

R: And she’s my poetry hero. You know she at some point- I don’t even really know her well at all but, at some point, she said, “I’m going to make my living as a poet and as a writer and as an artist, and I’m going to figure out how to do it,” And she did. And I gotta guess some people sometimes said “mmmmmm” To her you know? And she did it anyway. And there’s a young man that I also met, Adonis Richards I think is his last name (don’t quote me on his last name). And he also did the same thing- I give myself X number of years to make my living as a writer somehow. And he’s doing it. And I know an artist who did the same thing and just sort of lept from having a day job and doing his art at night- to doing it. And I would not have had the courage to do that unless, an older person, you know, said to me “Yes! You can and should do this, right now,” on my own I wouldn’t have believed that I- I didn’t believe that I could- it a didn’t even register- it didn’t even dawn on me that could right? Like it wasn’t like I thought I could and then I thought I couldn’t. It didn’t even dawn on me that I could once I was told I couldn’t. I’m not sorry for, in any way for the career path I took but, I am- I do regret that I didn’t so much make that decision to leave writing for something else on my own. It’s simply assumed that somebody else was correct about my level of talent. And that it wasn’t enough.

W: Right. So that kinda goes into the question I was going to asks you if you had any advice for aspiring writers, would you say that’s your advice? 

R: That’s my advice. You know, I- have role models definitely. As you get older some of them are younger than you too not just older than you. But, don’t presume- when you- if you have something in your gut and somebody else is telling you otherwise, I would say don’t be locked into either believing them or just completely disbelieving them. Right, so that’s my problem. My problem is I either completely rebel against something, I don’t like to be told what to do but if somebody tells me- for some reason I completely accept when somebody tells me what is. If they tell me what to do, I rebel. If they tell me what is, I believe them. And, that’s not- those two things haven’t helped me. You know, better if somebody tells me what to do, to use my own judgment and hear what they’re saying and wonder why maybe I should do this differently and maybe not. But you know, not just completely rebel against it. And when somebody tells me how the world is I should remember that person is not this person. And that person has a perspective and perhaps even an agenda. Even if they don’t have an agenda they have a different perspective. I’ll tell you another example of that was wrong was, everytime I went into a new community as an educator and there would be somebody there before me who would introduce me to the world of the community and they would sort lay out the political landscape and the, you know, the expertise landscape through their own lens of who’s good and who functions well and who is well-liked. It took me several of those transitions to realize I can take it in and set it aside and not let it color my impressions as I meet these people. Right, so I don’t have to be naive but I also don’t have to see the situation through the glasses somebody else hands me. It took me a lot time to recognize that. So my advice to you would be to really try to tell when somebody’s giving you advice or shaping your future in some way, listen to them, but don’t presume either that they’re right because of who they are or that they’re wrong because of who they are. See if you can take it, set it aside, and use it but not be consumed by it.

W: Thank you. Thank you for that advice 

R: You’ll be better off. And I’ll tell you another thing, is as a young African-American woman it’s going to happen to you a hell of a lot more even than it happens to me. Right? So really, really pay attention to not to assume other people are right about you. 

W: Thank you for that advice. Did you want to talk about your Tiny House Writers Retreat?

R: So it was- I’m- I have just a weird obsession with just tiny houses and yurts. And I don’t know why it’s just almost like a hobby you know? I always look at these things and when I couldn’t belong to a coworking space anymore because of COVID I- and I realized I probably never will at this point in my health and my partner’s age and certain health issues. Now that I know something like COVID can happen I’m probably never going to feel comfortable sitting around a table with twelve people I don’t know – sitting at my computer for twenty-seven hours. So I wanted to find a way but- if you recall I can’t easily be home and working right because it just inspires me not to work to be home. So I decided that to have a writing studio that has some sort of communal element is still solitary. So I still have this little piece of property through the land bank and I got the planner of Cohoes to work with me- I said look I’d like to make the front of this property – put a free- what do they call a little free library. Which are those libraries at the front of- along the- those boxes along the sidewalks where you exchange books.

W: Yeah. 

R: And make a reading garden and sort of make that a public area and that’s across the street from a playground so it could be a nice little sort of addition to the playground. And then the back I would put a tiny house as a writing studio. And I would share it with others but not at the same time like, so either maybe when it opens maybe local people will be out there every Tuesday and somebody else is there on Wednesday or something like that. Or sometimes have people come and use it as a writing retreat for a weekend or a week like something like that. So that’s- and it’s called the Poet’s Perch and Yanmar Carter of Yamaguchi is going to make the sign and Dana Owens who was the artist I told you about who leapt over into art, that I knew, He has already drawn the logo and Yanmar is going to burn the wood for me when I’m ready for the plaque but it’s just been a communal thing. The town of Cohoes is already looking at these little free libraries and decided their town council decided to put them in parks but, because of my project they’re not putting one in this park. Mine is going to be the one in this park. So it’s exciting to me because it’s- yeah so it’s a way to have solitude, it’s a way to be twenty-five minutes away from home so, in a sense far enough away to not be drawn back into the distractions and it’ll be a nice aesthetic environment very simple just- but also, have a communal area. So that part of me that wants to do things for other people- I’m not an educator anymore but I can create a garden where two- a kid and a parent or two kids can pull a book out and read. And one of the libraries is going to be up at adult level and one of them is going to be down at kid level so that the kids themselves can pick their own books you know? And maybe have some relationship with the elementary school in the area or the middle school in the area and have some poetry stuff. So I don’t know I have little strength so I know I want to do some things with the community there but that’s the idea. So that I can write in solitude but still have it be a point of connection to others in the community. 

W: That just gave me a new question 

R: And you can borrow it and use it so when it’s there you remind me and you’ll get some like you know a hundred percent discount or something. 

W: Thank you. 

R: I’m putting out- I’m actually you know sort of like- it’s going to be like a kitchen and have a number of different places you could like sit and get comfy if you like to recline back or sit at a desk and I’m going to have like a printer in there. So it’s really like it’s being set up as a place for writers. 

W: Well it’s like a writer’s dream though, to have like a place they can go to and write

R: I know. 

W: Yeah that sounds really cool. 

R: And it’s on wheels so if I have like a- I have to move I could take this with me. So this is my- this is like an indulgence of my lifetime cause I will have this whether it’s in my backyard somewhere or on another piece of land or there; I will always have it. 

W: It’s right there- the question 

R: It’s alright. 

W: Okay I got it. How- like in level of importance where would you place community for writers over like your individuality? 

R: It’s an odd thing right? You have to write in solitude- writing is such a solitary environment. You have to be in your own head. You have to tune out what’s immediately around you somehow to do your work but, some writers can be hermits and write forever. I mean I think of Emily Dickinson she was close to you know, a- I don’t- was it Emily Dickinson. Somebody 

W: I think towards the end of her life she was a hermit. 

R: Yeah. Exactly. So you know- and that can be writing but for others, they have to find ways to balance things out and I think that a lot of the writers I know do it through writing conferences and retreats and seminars where they get together with other writers. And they- and be engaged that way. And then, some of us do it by just a whole means of ways. Some of us have other jobs you know, and that connects us and some of us do it by being engaged in communal efforts that are not necessarily about writing but keep us connected. So that there’s some balance there. It’s pretty lonely to write. It’s pretty lonely to write. Even if you’re compelled to do it. Not everything you’re compelled to do is easy to do. Right? So even if you feel compelled to write it’s lonely, it’s anxiety producing. God forbid you actually want to publish something you’ve written. You know you’ve go to be rejected twenty-seven times you know, at least before anything is accepted and you have to rejoice in rejection in order to even be accepted. It’s- It can be grinding in that way. So most of us have to balance it with some sense of communal engagement. I don’t remember- there was somebody else- I never have trouble with the exact details but- there was a French author who- he had a family and they lived on a farm and the rest of the family did the farming and he slept all morning. Woke up around midday, spent the afternoon and the evening with his family then, they all went to sleep and he wrote through the night. And then slept through the morning when they went out and did the chores and then spent the afternoon- you know everybody sort of finds their own balance. So how do you find that solitude? And how do you engage with others so that you don’t just go mad. 

W: And, do you have a favorite poem that you wrote? 

R: Yes! Let’s see if I can say it. I mean find it- it’s a tiny and it is my favorite poem that I wrote. And now that I’m on my laptop I could get it right here. Let’s see. Willow, what’s your major? 

W: English but, I’m a minor in Creative Writing and Psychology. 

R: Beautiful. When I was at SUNY Binghamton I ended up graduating with a degree in Literature and Rhetoric with a concentration in Journalism. And the Literature and Rhetoric was interesting because the Rhetoric was really Journalism with a few exceptions. So half of my teachers were telling me that I have to fill out my writing, that I wrote too- I leapt from concept to concept and the other ones were taking a red pen and telling me I was writing too much you know? So I- It’s not coming up- Let’s try- So I actually learned how to write differently for different people because in order to please those professors I had to learn how to write differently for them. Here it is! It’s called- you ready? 

W: Ready. 

R: Okay. It’s called “Something Whole”: 

Succulent red flesh
Of watermelon drenches
My mouth and quenches
The urge I feel to devour,
Down to green rind, something whole. 

W: Oh, I love that. 

R: I’ll put it in the notes for you. 

W: I had a professor this semester tell me that the best poetry, in her opinion, is the one that is full of imagery.

R: Yeah.

W: And I read your other poem- I think it is “Sweet Thing”? 

R: Mhm. 

W: And your writing is so immersive that even though- Even though you said poetry is sort of like a “blip” thing that you do it’s like I had to reread it three times because I was so into it, that I didn’t get the whole picture, you know what I mean? Your imagery in your writing is so immersive like you really feel like you’re tasting, or smelling whatever you’re describing. 

R: Oh, thank you. You know what that second professor told me? That my writing wasn’t visual enough. I was kicked out because my writing wasn’t visual. Thank you. 

W: No problem. And then I have just one more question for you. 

R: Okay. 

W: What do you want the people that read this interview to know about you? What do you want them to take from it? 

R: That’s a good question. I think I am almost equally torn between caring a lot about people like, caring supremely about people and caring about ideas. I move between those two things. When I went to graduate school after many years- I was tired of school, I wanted to be in the work world. I went to graduate school and I found that it was the environment I could be the two things I craved being which was overtly kind and overtly intellectual. I didn’t have to hide either and I didn’t have to protect myself from a world that maybe didn’t value one or the other of those. So I think that that is who I am. And I think that that plays out in my writing. I also show almost no sense of humor here but I am kinda a goofy person too. And that does show up in my writing sometimes even in that little shrug in a lot of things. It’s self-deprecating humor usually but on the serious side of me being filled with ideas and filled with care for humans and others but you know, I really care about humans. I care about kids getting what they need and humans growing into who they can be and I am naive but meanness still really surprises me. I still can’t even you know, I’m not hardened to it because I just don’t get it. If somebody wants to know me they probably should know that I care about kindness and ideas a lot.

W: I think that’s a great answer. To be honest. 

R: For a poet? Better for an educator interview. 

W: Well, for anyone to be honest. 

R: Thank you. 

W: I really did enjoy speaking to you. I do have to say you are one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. I really enjoyed your answers and I really do enjoy your writing and so thank you for taking the time out today to do this interview with me. I really appreciate it. 

Rhonda Rosenheck is both an amazing writer and teacher. She is able to take what she’s experienced and offer help to those coming behind her as well as turn it into art. She’s as open about her failures as she is with her wins. Rosenheck is a refreshing individual to speak to and hopefully, this interview showcases just that. 

Learn more about the Poet’s Perch at https://www.tinyhouse-writersretreat.com/