Catching Up With Natalie Solmer

Where can we read some of your recent work? 

I was very lucky to have two poems nominated for the Best of The Net this year. Being nominated at all is a first for me, so this was very exciting! The two poems are: “Girl of Water, I Could Swallow A Garden,” published in EcoTheo Review, and “My Shame Is The Bowl of Duck’s Blood Soup,” published in the Flying Island Journal.

Fun fact: there is a line in the “Girl of Water” poem that I wrote 21 years ago, when I was working at The South Carolina Botanical Garden. It was one of my earliest attempts at a real poem. I have had that line rattling around in my head ever since. The rest of the poem has escaped me, but one day last year, that line came back with a whole new poem and a whole new perspective of writing about the time I spent working as young horticulture student at Clemson University.

It was also exciting for me to be included in Rust Belt Publishing’s Indianapolis Anthology. Rust Belt is such a cool press, and I was honored to have my poem, “Floral Lady’s Employer Files For Bankruptcy” included. This poem is about (among other things) my 13 years spent working as a grocery store florist!

Lastly, I have gotten really into visual poetry in the past few years; I even edited a Visual Poetry Issue for The Indianapolis Review last fall. My own visual poems have found several homes this year, including a whole suite of my Iris Basilica visual poems published in talking about strawberries all of the time.

What are you reading right now? 

Because I was a horticulture major and because before that I spent 13 years in Catholic school, where nothing remotely taboo was assigned to read, there are many gaps in my reading. This past year, I have been working on reading some of the Russian classics I missed out on. Over the summer, I adored reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, so I decided to move on to War and Peace. I know; I was feeling ambitious!

After the cashier at the bookstore made some snarky comments about my choice (“Why are you doing this to yourself?”), I went home and found out via Twitter that A Public Space was doing another #TolstoyTogether event, which was reading War and Peace, a bookclub, of sorts, led by Yiyun Li. The goal is to read 15 pages a day.

Dear readers, I have fallen hopelessly behind during my maddeningly busy fall! However, I am still plodding away (I will admit that battle scenes bore me. What I love about Tolstoy are his depictions of relationships, the tiny details: facial expressions, eccentric personalities and their accompanying tics, and awkward social situations). I hope to finish War and Peace by fall 2022. I’m giving myself a whole year. This sounds like a lot, but I have two sons who have either basketball or soccer or some other thing every night and/or day of the week!

In between War and Peace, there is always poetry. Today, on my kitchen table, it’s The Collected poems of Anne Sexton. It’s Scorpio season, and I’m forty-ish and menstruating right now. Sometimes I just need Sexton’s voice to remind me of what poetry can do—how it can cut bluntly, wildly, boldly. How can I get that weird element of surprise and subversiveness into my manuscript? This is a question I am always asking while reading.

Also, recently reading at my kitchen table, my couch, my bedside: Be Holding, by fellow Hoosier, Ross Gay, Frank: Sonnets by my idol Diane Seuss (who grew up in Michigan, just across the state line from me), Alessandra Lynch’s Pretty Tripwire (Alessandra is a dear friend and mentor and I interviewed her in The Indianapolis Review), and Joyelle McSweeney’s Toxicon & Arachne (I interviewed Joyelle this year as well in The Indianapolis Review).

Lastly, I love to read random nonfiction books that relate to things I’m exploring in my poetry. Just now, I have books from the library about wetlands and books about the lives of famous composers. I’m exploring the landscapes where I originated, and also thinking about people like Mozart, who died very near the place where my grandfather was born, just outside of Vienna. I recently learned that my grandfather had a (rather troublesome) drive for one of his three sons to become a music prodigy. I knew my father was in the family band, and that it wasn’t pleasant, but I didn’t know about a lot of the backstory.

What’s next for you? 

I am polishing my manuscript, Water Castle, and sending it out now. Like so many poets, I have been working on my first book for about ten years, and struggling to find a publisher or figure out where it would be a good fit. My book has a lot to do with where I grew up, and my relationship to my grandparents and the mysteriousness of their own origin stories. I also explore my own love relationship, the fact that it is an interracial relationship and that we have children together, and I dabble a lot in my horticultural background throughout!

I hear so many stories and know poets who had publishers reach out to them, and while I would love for that to happen to me, I certainly can’t rely on it. So, I’ve been going the contest/ open reading period route. Anyone who might be interested in more of my work can find me at my website, on Twitter @nataliesolmer or Facebook at Natalie Solmer.

Natalie Solmer is the founder and Editor In Chief of The Indianapolis Review, and is an Assistant Professor of English at Ivy Tech Community College. She grew up in South Bend, Indiana. Her poetry has been published in numerous publications such as: Colorado Review, North American Review, The Literary Review, and Pleiades.