By Anne Macdonald
Alix Klingenberg is the author of two books of poetry. She draws on the natural world, cycles, and seasons to express the light and dark within each of us. Her second book of poetry, Bread Sex Trees, was published on October 17, 2023, by Central Avenue Publishing. Alix is also an ordained Unitarian Universalist spiritual director.
Alix and I are both writers-in-residence at the Writers Studio at Follow Your Art Community Studios (FYACS) in Melrose, MA, where Alix lives with her husband, son, two black cats, and a ridiculous dog named Cricket. I sat down in the Writers Studio with Alix to talk about her new collection, her writing process, and the importance of a writing community.
When did you decide to write poetry?
Third grade English. They took several of us who were ahead of the rest of the class, bored and loud, into a separate classroom and gave us each a journal and basically told us here’s your new English class. I decided to write poems, which surprised my parents. I’ve written poetry as a kind of journaling for most of my life now.
Did you want to publish any of your early poetry?
I really wanted to submit to Highlights magazine, and I was totally afraid to do it, so I never did. Which is funny to think about now that I have two books of poetry published. The first is Secrets & Stars and the second, my most recent, is Bread Sex Trees.
You self-published your first book and traditionally published your second. Why the change?
For my first book, I wanted to know where my poems were. I hired an illustrator to create about 10 illustrations for the book and do the cover, and an editor to review my work. I designed, formatted, and uploaded the book myself. The book was for me, and, I thought, maybe five other people. I’ve sold 2,000 copies now. I never in a million years thought that would happen. I curated the poems in the second book to see if a publisher would pick it up. I submitted the second book in January 2021 and they picked it up in May 2021.
Was having a book traditionally published important to you?
I do think that I care somewhat about the establishment and how the ways that we curate words are put out there into the world.
Why do some of your poems have titles while others do not? And why are different fonts used?
All the ones without titles are intentionally shorter, a vibe, more of a pull quote than a poem. The ones in the typewriter font are designed to divide sections in the book, like a chapter heading but subtler. They speak to a moment in time where I feel something internal to myself shifted.
Did you focus on poetry in college? What did you do after college?
I studied film and photography and art history with the goal of becoming a fine art photographer. To do portraits, kind of like Richard Avedon. I love those black and white, very stark studio portraits. I moved to San Francisco after college and started building my portfolio. You can’t really jump into a life of photography financially speaking so I ended up doing second shooting for a wedding photographer, and then eventually it just made sense for me to take over the lead. I started my own wedding photography company. I did weddings and portraits for 10 years.
Why did you stop doing wedding photography? What happened?
It was never the thing I wanted to do but it was a way to make money in that art form and it was very rewarding as a career until it wasn’t. I was going to weddings every weekend and I began to feel like an observer but not a participant in my own life. What I liked most was talking with people and guiding them through this very challenging but significant day. At the same time, I was working as a youth advisor so I decided I would go to seminary and become a minister.
Are you a practicing minister now?
I’m ordained, but I never wanted to be the leader of a church. In seminary, I learned how to create sacred space, essays, and prayers, and how to publicly speak. Now I lead creative classes online and in person using writing as a creative expression and a fine art.
Do you write alone? Or in a community?
I find the focus of writing in community very helpful. My writing is either at five in the morning or in a community of other writers. The Writers Studio at Follow Your Art is an amazing place to write, both in solitude and in community, and I’m incredibly grateful to have it so close to me!
What is your writing process? Do you write every day?
On days when I can focus on writing I wake up about 5 or 5:30 and write for an hour or two. I take a break and get my son ready for school and then I go back to whatever I’m working on with a fresh cup of coffee.
How do you find community of other writers?
I take a lot of classes. I’m a big school nerd. I really, really, really like school, particularly for the structure that someone else provides. The class I’m taking now is called Poetry of Attention. I find many of the classes and communities I participate in through social media and by following other poets and writers. I also find local writing and arts organizations like FYACS to be a really wonderful resources for communities.
Do you also teach?
I consider myself a facilitator more than a teacher. I lead my own monthly workshop and writing retreats. I also facilitate writing sessions at Follow Your Art. For writing sessions, I pull prompts from various poems around a theme. We write together and share what we’ve been writing. I get a lot of my work from leading writing classes.
Do you critique the other writers?
I create a safe space where the goal is community, and we share our writing in this space. It’s so vulnerable to write something and immediately share it with others. There shouldn’t be a feeling of not being good enough in that moment. There is time for critique, but I don’t think it’s at the same time you’re creating.
Do you write by hand or use a computer?
I write fiction, essays, and sermons on the computer. Poetry comes out on paper. I have very different personalities depending on the medium.
Where do you keep your poetry?
For my first book, I wrote in anything that was on me when the poems were coming through—on receipts, in a little notebook I had in my purse, on the Notes app on my phone. I miss that time; it was fun. After getting all those poems together, I thought if I don’t put these all into a notebook, I’ll have no idea where they went. Now I have 14 notebooks, all the same size, for my poems.
Will you write another book of poetry? What do you need to do to get those poems ready?
Definitely. I wrote and submitted Bread Sex Trees in 2021. I have two years of poetry that I’ve written while waiting for Bread Sex Trees to be released. The 14 notebooks of poems I have need structure, editing, typing up, and transcription. I’ll curate the poems and about 80% to 90% will not be used. The next book will be ready sooner rather than later, probably.
You grew up in Illinois and have lived in San Francisco and Chicago. How did you end up in Melrose?
My husband is a biochemist and I’m a Unitarian Universal Minister and we wanted a lot of options for work. We moved to the Boston area five years ago thinking Boston was an obvious choice for both of those fields. Then we looked for a house at the end of the pandemic. We made offers on various homes in the Malden, Medford, Melrose area and after having several offers rejected, we bought a house here. We didn’t really know very much about Melrose, except it had great public schools, which we wanted.
How did you find Follow Your Art?
One of the very first things that I did, about a month after we moved in, was to Google “writing or art communities in Melrose.” Follow Your Art popped up immediately. That day I wrote to Elizabeth, who volunteers as the Writers Studio coordinator, and came over to meet her and see the space. I’ve been a member of the Follow Your Art’s Writers Studio ever since. It has been a dream of mine to part of a community that combines art, writing, and justice-focused community, so to find that here has been one of the greatest joys!
Alix Klingenberg is the author of two books of poetry. Learn more at www.alixklingenberg.com
Anne Macdonald is a writer currently working on a fictionalized story of her family during WWII, with the working title, The Macdonalds of Cedar Park. She lives in Melrose, Massachusetts, with her husband and enjoys walking, gardening, and reading when she’s not writing. Find out more at https://anneswritinglife.blog/
Read more stories on Palette.