THE AUTHOR'S CORNER | Heart to heart with Alicia Cook

You know me and my love for poetry, right? I read it, I write it, I cry over it and then heal my heart with it. 

That is why the moment I had the chance to pick up Alicia's new poetry book I jumped at it like a fox who's been starving for months. Because me too, in my own dramatic way - blame it on my star sign - I was starving but for words. I was starving for a punch right in the feels and it was well delivered.

Alicia Cook's first poetry collection - Stuff I've Been Feeling Lately - got me obsessed with her world of words, the pacing, the music and her second collection was no different.
I Hope My Voice Doesn't Skip is more than just a collection of poems, it's a journey, a rollercoaster, a potpourri of emotions, stories all bound together by Alicia's delicate and at times raw voice. 

Alicia was kind enough to answer some questions I had spinning in my mind while I was reading her book, so if you're in for a ride, hop on and enjoy the drive!
I would suggest you read the book first so the whole experience won't be ruined by possible spoilers. Here we go!

Q: In your first book, Stuff I've Been Feeling Lately, you gave each poem a track, almost like a lullaby to listen to while the waves of words made their magic. In this new book, you gave music a whole new level of importance, turning poems into actual songs. Why? What's in music that really speaks to you? Why is it so important?
A: To me, music is poetry, poetry is music. How a line or poem I’ve written may touch someone, that’s how music touches me. Ever since I was young, I felt like even if I was misunderstood by my peers or at school or whatever, I knew there was a song out there that could help me feel less alone. I’ve never lost that connection to music so I felt like it was a very natural next step as a creative for me to try incorporating songwriting into my books.

Q: Why did you decide to write poetry instead of a whole novel? Do you think poetry speaks to people on a deeper level than a novel would?
AI don’t think it’s a “this” or “that” situation. I would love to write a novel one day – I definitely plan to. But right now I feel like I have more poetry to write before taking that genre leap. I do think poetry holds a certain power that other writing may not possess.

Q: What's your opinion on social media when it comes to poetry? Do you think social media are helping poets and writers to be heard and read?
AAt its purest form, social media was meant to connect people, or keep people connected. So, if used correctly and for the right reasons, I think social media is a wonderful tool for engaging with readers, establishing your brand, and staying relevant between published works. I feel very lucky to have the platform I have – so I try to use it ‘for good’ and that’s why you’ll always see me sharing work of other writers or advocating for families affected by addiction. On the flip side of all that, social media can cause anxiety – it’s hard not to compare yourself to others, it’s hard to produce great content, it’s hard to read the comments at times. A few years ago, people ‘caught on’ to the fact that poetry was taking off on the platform, so now it tends to be oversaturated which, in turn, makes it harder for people just starting out to stand out from the masses.

Social media is a wonderful too for engaging with readers, establishing your brand, and staying relevant between published works. On the flip side, sicial media ca cause anxiety - it's hard not to compare yourself to others, produce great content...

Q: More and more people today are joining the poetry world. Some of them share their poems online, others are self-publishing books. What would be your piece of advice to someone who is starting out and wants to publish a book of poetry? Also, what was your writing process?
A:  Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately started out as a self-published book! I love, and even miss, self-publishing. My advice would be to take your time. First impressions stick, so if you release a book that seems rushed or unfinished, readers who took a chance on your debut will remember that. I know it’s scary spending money on a dream, but make sure you have an editor – typos are easily missed and having an editor will provide an extra pair of eyes. Cover art and a unique concept will help you stand out – so, basically, my advice is to take your time on your debut (self-publishing or not). Because of the success of SIBFL, I was able to secure a lit agent and a publishing deal with Andrews McMeel Publishing, who re-released SIBFL and also published I Hope My Voice Doesn’t Skip.
My writing process is something I can’t really explain – I am sure a lot of artists can’t explain how exactly they go about creating, but I do write in a journal a lot and have recorded a ton of voice memos when a line or an idea comes to me. When an idea hits, make sure you record it somehow because it’s so frustrating when you forget the idea even an hour later!

Q: Diving into this book felt like a rollercoaster of emotions. It felt very different from the first one, more important and raw. You wrote about very specific topics, from gun violence to rape and drug addiction with such a care, a delicacy but also very right-in-your-face emotions. Why have you decided to write about these very delicate topics and were you scared to touch such heavy issues?
AThank you so much! High praise. I think I have always written about these topics, though maybe more implicitly; especially grief and drug addiction. I knew for IHMVDS I was going to be way more direct. I am 32, so I knew I was going to approach this book with an adult eye. More importantly, now, more than ever, we need people to speak up on things that truly matter. The hard-hitting issues. I think every voice counts and can help move the conversation forward. My only fear in doing so for this book, was I knew how much people enjoyed SIBFL, and I didn’t want to let them down but showing my more direct-yet-vulnerable side. I was as honest as I’ve ever been in this new collection. I really left it all out there for readers; my hope, my past, my pain; my wishes for the future. I am really proud of it.

Now, more than ever, we need people to speak up on things that truly matter. The hard-hitting issues.

QThis is your second poetry book. What do you think are the differences between the first one and this?
AIt’s been 2 ½ years since I released SIBFL. So, I really hope readers can see and feel my growth in my new book. I really took my time with I Hope My Voice Doesn’t Skip, by the time it made it to my publisher, it was on the 21st draft. I became obsessed. Word choice was so deliberate. I wanted to make sure that there was a rhythm to the poems, even the ones that didn’t rhyme. The themes are the same, just more raw and expanded. The songwriting is the new aspect, and it was really fun to work with the musicians who composed the lyrics into actual songs. 

Q: As I've already said, music seems such an important thing for you that you've decided to collaborate with young artists for this one. Where did that idea come from and what was the process of finding these amazing people to work with?
AThank you! I always try to think up ways to elevate my work. To make it more than just a book, to make it a true experience. The concept of my book, designing it like a record, came to me almost immediately following the 2016 release of Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately. Since music is such a big part of my life, I had already been following a number of singers/musicians whose work I admired, and they were following me as well. Most of the artists in my book….we’ve been following one another for at least 3-4 years! Two singers came into my life last fall through mutual connections. Prior to reaching out to all the singers, I had been working on a song with my friend, an amazing singer/songwriter/violinist, Ada Pasternak. She wanted to write a song about never losing hope, and she wanted to dedicate to people who are battling or love someone who is battling addiction. She is the reason I started to believe in my ability to even write songs! So I asked her if I could include HOPE in my book, and took it from there. I began reaching out to the other singers, pitched them my idea, and they were all about it! I am so grateful to them because it wouldn’t have been possible without them. It was a great learning experience for me too and continually helped me to hone this new craft.

Q: This book seems more personal than the first one. In a lot of poems, I saw a pattern: the constant presence of your past as a little girl and the presence of your family through memories. Were you scared to share a piece of yourself, your story, the loss of someone you loved with the public?
AI love that you noticed this theme. Nostalgia and time are definitely two of the biggest characters in this collection! I was not scared to share these intimate parts of my life, because these experiences made me the woman I am today. I am proud of where I came from and I believe I went through everything I did in order to help others who are going through the same thing. Like I said, this collection is as honest as they come, borderline memoir at times. But we are all so similar in our experiences, right? It’s eerie. I don’t think a writer needs to write in platitudes in order to connect universally with readers. People are going to judge you no matter what, but I hope that in sharing the more vulnerable aspects of my life, that I help someone cope or heal. That positive energy drowns out the negative.

We are all so similar in our experiences, right? It's eerie. I don't think a writer needs to write in platitudes in order to connect universally with readers.

Q: Since we're talking about poetry, do you have some poets or poetry books to recommend? I'm always on the hunt for some good ones!
ASO many! My favourites: Plath, Poe, Angelou, Leonard Cohen, Sexton, Mary Oliver, Emerson….Modern Poets: Sophia Hanson. J.R. Rogue. Christina Hart. Kat Savage. Emily Alice. Alison Malee. Lauren Eden. Caroline Kaufman. Christopher Andrews. TJ McGowan. Brittan Oakman…I can keep going!

Q: And finally, what did you want to accomplish with this book? Reading it, I felt like it wasn't something you published as a writer wanting to get her name out there but more like a story, the need to speak, loud and clear, to make people understand that they're not the only ones going through heavy stuff. It felt like a human need. Do you think this book was an outlet to get some words out of your chest? And what would you say to people going through some hard times that find themselves in your poems but don't have the courage or an outlet or a nice way to put it into words?
AYou said it perfectly. I only create work when I have something I feel I need to say, which is probably why 2.5 years went by between my releases. I write with the exact intention you noted – to help others cope, to help others feel less alone. I want to stress to people that recovery, from anything, is possible and that it does get better and that the world would be worse off without them here. The dedication of I Hope My Voice Doesn’t Skip reads: We are all recovering from something. This is for all of us. 
I think words hold so much power, and I intend to use this power for good.

A huge THANK YOU! to Alicia for taking a bit of her precious time to answer my question. It was such a pleasure to read her books and to actually talk to her.
Alicia, if you're reading this, thank you for being the extraordinary person you are. Every time I get to talk to you, it's like I'm in my bedroom with a sister or a best friend, you have such a great heart and a beautiful soul. You really are a precious gift to this world.

Stuff I've Been Feeling Lately is Alicia Cook's first poetry collection, I suggest you give it a go because believe me, you're in for a treat! I do have a book review if you feel like you need that extra push before buying it.
I Hope My Voice Doesn't Skip is Alicia Cook's new poetry collection which is already out! As usual, I do have a review for this book if you want to know more but you really need to trust me if I say, Alicia's words are the ones who want to get lost into.