Portals Magazine Artist Spotlight: Holly Walker
by Jamie Leigh Royal
Jamie: We are certainly delighted to have you here. I have several questions from a few Cape Fear students that are familiar with you and your work. To begin, I would like to kick off our interview with a little bit about you and your background.
Holly: I was born in Virginia, but have lived in North Carolina for half my life. I’m a creative writing major and an English minor at UNCW, and I’m graduating after this semester. I’m a senior, and I have three jobs. I’m a supervisor at the UNCW café, a writing consultant, and I have a small business where I do on-the-spot typewriter poetry.
Jamie: I actually looked up one of your poems last night, and I unexpectedly found your website. I saw that you sold poetry. Would you mind talking about that?
Holly: Yes, I've had a small business for the past two years. I started when Covid first happened, around May, and I pretty much started on Twitter. People gave me ideas for poems, and I turned those into typewriter poems. I would type them up a typewriter poem, put them in a little envelope with the wax seal, and send them out. I did that for about a year and a half, and then I started doing more local things. I did the market and some of the festivals around here; I’ve traveled out of city out of state for some events which was really cool. My website gives the option to custom order typewriter poems if you can’t visit my markets in person.
Jamie: That sounds so cool. I noticed your logo on the website, and it reminded me of this little pink and white ceramic typewriter I saw in a store, and right in front of it said, “you’re my type”.
Holly: Oh wait, my roommate got me that for Valentine’s Day! (Laughter)
Jamie: Well, this is a coincidence because it goes with one of the student’s questions. They wanted to know is why use a typewriter.
Holly: I’ve always been super into like vintage things, antiques. I love a good vintage store, or an antique store. I’ve always been super into that stuff when I was younger. And, when it came to a typewriter, I wanted to learn more about the tools of writing instead of just typing on a laptop or writing down things. I wanted to expand my knowledge of different tools that people used way back when, when typewriters were a little more popularized. So I got a typewriter for Christmas from one of my family members, and initially I used it to write my friends little letters or write my partners, at the time, love letters or whatever. But once covid hit, I started my business, and I asked myself what I could do to pass the time, make money, and get my name out there. When it came to my writing, I was a freshman, and I had no idea how to make a name for myself or at least try to get my writing out there in some way. I had all this free time. I had seen street poets in various cities, like Chicago and New York, in big cities like that. They just sit on the side of the road and write typewriter poems and give them to people. I remember seeing one of those in Chicago, and for some reason it stuck in my mind, and I’m like what if I did that. But I didn’t feel like I was a strong poet. However, I obviously got so much better at it, and I practiced, and I wrote a lot of poetry for other poets. I studied poetry in school as well, so I got a lot better.
Jamie: Speaking of poetry, one of our students asked, “Where did you get the idea for Yellow Like Sunshine”.
Holly: Well, it’s based on a true story. It’s creative non-fiction, so if we are just talking about the creative non-fiction piece itself, it’s based on an interaction between me and this father. He was describing his wife because he wanted a poem for his wife. I always ask the same question for when it come to couples when they are getting love poems and stuff. I always like to ask the question, what color do you think their energy is and why? I get a variety of answers and it’s such a fun question. And sometimes I use it for my poems, and sometimes I don’t. I love asking it because I love hearing the answers and people often gush about their partners. When he told me that his wife reminded him of yellow because she was sunshine and he started crying…it was a very monumental point in my career as a small business owner, as a writer in general, and just as a human because it shown me that vulnerability between strangers can be so beautiful and so important. It was so interesting to see this stranger gush about their partner and cry over the fact that he loved her so much, and it just stuck in my brain. I kept in touch with the daughter, and she ended up coming by and picking up the poem that he had purchased. She messaged me on Instagram, and I told her that I had written a piece about her dad and offered to let her read it. And she was like oh my God, yes! And she read it and said that they were sobbing, I showed it to my dad and stepmom and they loved it. I messaged them again, and I told them it was getting published! They were like, wait, what! That’s crazy! (Laughter) That moment between me and that man just really stuck out in my mind because it was so different than anything I had experienced with other strangers. I have had strangers/customers, people I don’t know, who are buying a poem end up crying, and then we’re hugging and it’s just an interesting moment, and it’s so beautiful I can be in that moment and be the catalyst for that moment. Sharing human experiences is so important when it comes to connection and writing.
Jamie: I completely agree. With certain poems, obviously with certain requests, but do you try to get as much information from people as possible, or is it a balance between the personal and creativity?
Holly: I think it depends on what they want. I always ask if people want poems about other people, of they want something general, or if they want something more specific about their relationship. Sometimes they say general, and then I have more creative freedom, but if they say more specific to their relationship, I try to include as much detail as I can about that relationship. I wouldn’t say there is no creative freedom, but obviously I am basing my poem off of the information they are giving me rather than the idea I pull from different things.
Jamie: What would you say is your strategy to help someone who is looking to write poems? How would you suggest that they gain confidence in writing poetry?
Holly: When it comes to writing poetry, it can be a vulnerable experience. That’s one thing that people tend to struggle with. One thing I recommend is keeping a journal and treating it as a diary. It is important to talk and vent in your journal to get your feelings out there. Initially, that’s what I did because growing up I had a really hard time voicing how I felt, so I would journal. Because I did that, I feel more comfortable writing my feelings out on paper, and now I feel comfortable writing it as poetry. Vulnerability is a little easier for me because I was able to write out my feelings in my journal. If people are interested in poetry and have a hard time specifically with vulnerability, I definitely recommend journaling first and seeing where that takes you.
Jamie: Writers who have their own sense of style have their own process for writing. For example, Dan Brown (author of The Da Vinci Code) is always saying “protect the process”; this means protect how you choose to write, where you write, and the time of day that best works for your writing. What is your process?
Holly: When it comes to my writing process, my process is not just writing. It’s just whatever is right in the moment. When it comes to writing, you can’t just sit down and write. You have to find something to use for inspiration, whether it sparks something or not. Writers should constantly try to educate themselves or trying to learn different forms of writing or reading. Sometimes, I’ll be in a mood or a moment in my life where I have all this inspiration and all these things I can be writing about, but I also get in a book mood, and I really want to read a bunch of books, and I need inspiration and more clarity from different kinds of things, so I’ll read a bunch of books. Then sometimes I get into a movie mood, and I really want to educate myself on the different kinds of movies and I’ll just watch a lot of movies, or I’ll just not do any of that and be very aware of how I am existing in life. I’ll just go and enjoy life. I’ll go take a trip somewhere, or I’ll go explore something, I’ll be very aware of what’s going on in my surroundings; I’ll take notes. I think all of that is part of the writing process. I don’t think it’s just the writing. If you’re just writing consistently all the time, then how are you living? I feel like living, in my opinion, is a huge thing for me when it comes to what I write about because I just love writing about things that happen in my life. That is where I draw most of my inspiration and my content; I just write about my experience, and if I don’t do that, then I have nothing to write about.
Jamie: That brings me up to my next question because there is a phrase that is “a writer should write what they know.”
Holly: That’s crazy! (Laughter)
(Holly shows me her tattoo on her arm that says, “write what you know”)
Jamie: That’s just too funny! I’m curious, in your opinion, do you believe people should write what they know, or should they explore different avenues and try to write about it?
Holly: So what’s crazy is that my creative writing program does this thing where they don’t allow something called genre fiction, which is pretty much anything that’s not realistic fiction. The kinds of things like fantasy and sci-fi, because it's so much easier to write what you know than to write what you don’t know. Before you can break the rules, you have to learn the rules. I think for new writers, write what you want, but I think when it comes to studying craft and really trying to grow as an individual, it is easier to start writing things you know or have experienced., even indirect experience rather than starting straight on with fantasy. It can be a lot, and world-building is a huge project in itself, and I think all new writers should write about more grounded subjects that you have already experienced or are more familiar to you than a completely different world. I think this is a good start and will help a writer prepare him or herself for the much harder genres in writing.
Jamie: Is there a specific genre that you gravitate toward the most?
Holly: Probably literary fiction. I like things that are more human, more mundane. I do like writing fiction sometimes, and the short fiction pieces I do have kind of zero in the mundane real moments. I feel it is important to be able to put into words what the human experience is like because it makes people feel less alone.
Jamie: What advice would you give someone who is lacking the confidence to write?
Holly: You know the way that I would put it is we’ve all SUCKED! We were all bad. I don’t think there’s such a thing a writer doesn’t need anymore growing. Like we’re all learning, we’re all growing, and I’ve had some writing that I have looked back at and said, “oh my God, that’s awful”. I wouldn’t have known that if I didn’t keep writing and keep getting better, and I think you don’t have to post it everywhere because I know that is challenging in itself. But doing it not on the daily, but doing it for a long period of time will allow you to grow. If you don’t do it at all, then you’re not growing. If you don’t practice the act of writing, then how do you expect to grow? Just know that we are all in the same boat unless you’re pretentious and you think you’re all that; then you don’t count because that is a completely different thing. There’s nothing wrong with writing bad things because you have to write bad things in order to write good things. We all start somewhere. I think you gain confidence over time as you keep writing, and as you expose yourself to more pieces of literature, and film, and even to other writers. Have a healthy dynamic of people cheering for you and you for them. Immerse yourself in the experience of being a writer, and the confidence will come.
Jamie: Absolutely wonderful advice. I totally agree with what you said. Thank you so much for taking the time to join me and for participating in the first Portals Artist Spotlight.
Holly: Thank you so much for picking me. This is crazy.
Jamie: Well, you are the reality of what writers strive to accomplish. You have been so sweet and kind, and your talent certainly displays a level of magic that shines bright.