BookLife Talks with Cheryl Cantafio
A sponsored Q&A with the author of 'My Stay with the Sisters'
My Stay with the Sisters grew from your personal experiences, but why did you ultimately put pen to paper?
I had writer’s block after I wrote and delivered my mom’s eulogy. I tried several times to write short stories, to continue my work on a novel I’d been pecking away at for four years, but nothing. Zip. My heart wasn’t in it. Months later, a writer’s challenge for poetry appeared on one of my social media feeds. I was intrigued. While I declined participating in the challenge, I wrote like I was in it. I found my writer’s voice again and released onto the page what I was feeling about losing my mom. I pushed myself to find a theme with which the poems could flow and create a full story. I didn’t have to look far to find the theme of sisters. Grief and Gratitude, the sisters in my book, are an amalgamation of my sister and my closest girlfriends. Books have always spoken to me, whether they were prose or poetry, and have helped me to better understand the world. And I really wanted my set of poems to help others. So, 15 poems became more than 100 poems, and those poems became My Stay with the Sisters.
What’s been your experience with poetry in the past?
I’m a late bloomer when it comes to writing poetry. Mostly, I’ve read and appreciated the works of William Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, Rupi Kaur, Amanda Gorman, Maya Angelou, Clint Smith, Walt Whitman, Billy Collins, and one of my favorites, Shel Silverstein.
How do you imagine readers at this moment will connect with My Stay with the Sisters?The past few years have felt so heavy. And so lonely. My Stay with the Sisters opens up a world where the sisters Grief and Gratitude welcome readers into their home and offer spaces for them to connect with emotions they’ve perhaps sucked up or suppressed. Each of the rooms, or sections, of the book represents a different emotion to explore. For example, there is the Rage Room for those feeling angry, the Kitchen for those seeking comfort, and the Entertainment Room for those feeling nostalgic.
I imagine the poetry within this book will help readers feel seen. Grief and loss are so compartmentalized in our culture. Three to five days away from work, and you should be right as rain and able to function, correct? Um... no. That feeling of loss never goes away. I hope that the poems help readers befriend and walk with grief, gratitude, and all the other emotions that come with losing a loved one.
What’s your advice for poets who are looking to publish their work?
• Be brave. You may get to the point where imposter syndrome sneaks into your brain. Ignore that cretin. Be brave and finish it. You never know if someone’s been waiting to recognize themselves in your book.
• Find yourself an editor who specializes in poetry. My editor, Shelby Leigh, who is also a phenomenal poet, helped me create a better book.
• Join a writer’s group. I joined a few social media writer’s groups, and the community, camaraderie, and advice I’ve received have been wonderful.
• Explore publishing options. Do your research and find out what’s right for you and your book. Consider things like cover art, book formats, and how you want to distribute, market, and sell your book.
Do you think you’ll continue writing?
Absolutely. I have outlines for a children’s book, a novel, and another poetry book.