growth pt 1 Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is 2,000 acres of coastal state park. a handmade ecosystem: sandcrabs crawl through sandy fingers, young fingers, curious, teenagers take to hiking cliffsides, surfers switch through trails, like ants with boards underarm they trek through: snakes, bees, sand dusting any skin bared, and cacti in bloom with spikes as big as their fruit scraping up towards the sun, like scraping grit from sweaty limbs before a stop, for burritos and soda, the seagulls will try to steal squawking over spills in the sand, sticky hands, laughter shoved into a crumpled plastic bag zipped into another so the gulls and squirrels can’t get at it.
growth pt 2 My boyfriend says he likes my stretch marks. They remind him of tree bark, of growing. I’m not sure when they found their way to my hips, or when that growth happened, or which part of me stretched, but I like them too.
growth pt 3 Torrey Pines remains one of the wildest stretches of land on the Southern California coast. locals collect like rocks onshore in winter. we join, now old enough to face the northern swell for prom pictures, ditch day, the shock of the sea better than caffeine. we learn to kiss on a blanket at night while waves rise up the shore to nip ankles sand sticks in sheets and in my bra and I am sinking into the sea. it will curl my hair like the lip of a wave and leave seaweed in tangles, on my head and on the shore, shells in my pockets, salt crusted in my brows, and sand sewn to the floor of my car. scraggly skinny trees rooted in sandy cliffs, like me trembling in saltwater smell, droplets dewing on tongue, sand burning toes.
growth pt 4 The Torrey Pine is the rarest pine in North America. Exposed trees battered by coastal winds are often twisted into beautiful sculptural shapes. The grows Torrey like Pine this. Scraping Scraggly. for Strong. grip. Trees will follow their roots until they find s a n d s t o n e a n d h e r e h o l d t i g h t g r o w t o w a r d s l i g h t d r i n k m i s t
Adrienne Rozells holds a BA in Creative Writing from Oberlin College. She currently teaches writing to kids and works as co-EIC at Catchwater Magazine. Her favorite things include strawberries, her dogs, and extrapolating wildly about the existence of Bigfoot. More of her work can be found on Twitter @arozells or Instagram @rozellswrites.
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Interview with Adrienne Rozells
It actually took me quite some time to come to poetry! I’ve considered myself a writer for as long as I can remember, but growing up I really only wrote fiction. I think writing often begins as imitating, and all I did as a kid was read novels, so that was what I wanted to write!
I went to college to pursue a BA in Creative Writing. When I arrived at Oberlin, there was a “gateway” course into the major, meaning you had to apply for the Poetry/Prose workshop, get in, and take it before you could go on to more specifically focused workshops. The class forced me to write poems, and to be honest, I didn’t like a lot of what I produced. My class was taught by a mostly-poetry-focused professor who seemed to favor the mostly-poetry-focused students, and my little freshman self was scared.
I remembered what I’d done to learn fiction; I wrote in the style of the poets we read, my talented classmates, etc. It was a natural process, and I started to produce work I felt much better about. But during midterms my professor told me that some of my poems “lacked substance” and that he didn’t believe they were my own voice. That made me sad, because I’d felt like I was finally finding my poetic voice when I submitted them for grading. He offered some guidance, which I followed in the edits on my final portfolio. After that, he told me I follow directions “too well” and my grade didn’t change at all. So. I stopped listening to closely to what others thought I should do with my writing.
That professor is no longer on staff at the school, and the CRWR department has changed massively since my time in the gateway course. In fact, that workshop is no longer a major requirement at all. I think it’s really awesome, and I hope more students from other disciplines are able to experiment with new types of writing without the pressure!
Because ultimately, relieving pressure is what turned me into a poet. I went on to take an upper-level workshop in Documentary Poetics, and found that was exactly what I needed! None of us had any idea what a researched poem was coming in. The level playing field allowed me to go wild. Everything in the “Growth” collection began in that course.
During my senior year, I taught poetry to seventh graders at the local middle school. In our mini-workshops the kids were encouraged to write quickly and freely. It didn’t have to be perfect, polished, or even finished when they shared out to their peers. I wrote along with them. I got to play! And I think that idea of play as part of the process saved me as a writer. My degree was absolutely worthwhile, but I needed the reminder that writing isn’t about a grade. Writing purely for fun gave me that. I haven’t stopped creating poetry since!
How long do you usually spend writing a single poem?
Oh boy, it really depends! Some of the poems I wrote in that Poetry/Prose workshop in 2017 continued to be edited and played with to be published years later, when I started sending work out in 2020. Sometimes I’ve even pulled out pieces written in high school and tried to remix them into something Adult Adrienne would write.
But often I just sit down and go. I roll a poem out in an afternoon, and look at it for basic edits the next day, and that’s it. Sometimes I feel bad about it, because I worry others wouldn’t see that as treating the work seriously, but oh well. Not every poem has to be serious, and on the other hand, serious things can come to us in writing with the clarity we can’t always have in our brains!
Who are you currently reading?
Right now I’m reading Tamsyn Muir’s Locked Tomb series (so good! I’ve never read anything written like this before!). I’ve also been reading a lot more poetry chapbooks, most recently Sara Matson’s <personal fashion> and Erika Meitner’s Holy Moly Carry Me.
Who are some of your favorite poets?
I love Chen Chen’s work! I also recently discovered Nikita Gill through her piece “93 Percent Stardust” and so far love everything I’ve found from her. I’m also a big fan of Adrienne Rich, as she was one of the first poets I really dove into before learning to write poetry myself.
In what ways has your work evolved most significantly?
I would say that my work has evolved most in regards to how honest it is. It took me a long time to contend with the idea of other people reading and reacting to my writing, even when it was pure fiction. Now that I use poetry and CNF to reflect on my real life in more obvious ways, there’s certainly a fear of negative response from family members or loved ones who tend to appear in my work, whether in obvious ways or little symbols. So far though, I’ve gotten nothing but love (and a few tears, though I was assured these were good tears), and that’s allowed me to branch out more in my language and topic matter!
What poem should I read to my daughter for bedtime tonight?
I recommend “To The Guanacos at the Syracuse Zoo” by Chen Chen.