JoAnne McFarland. My motto is be humble and stay busy, so I'm always working on either my poetry or art. I like to stay busy because that wards off depression, anger, anxiety, all those other modern ills that can so easily overcome us. I try to stay humble so that I am awake to things that may happen creatively, and so that I do not get too attached to or egotistical about successes, or stalled by failures.
I keep materials on hand at all times — paper for poems, canvas or wood panels for painting, color scraps for collages. I go to the studio every day. Going every day means I'm always a little bit ready. And I do something creative every day. I think of myself as a maker, stopping and starting within a constant stream of activity; so that a book is a stop, an exhibition is a stop, or a culmination I suppose. But really these are just ways of making manifest an overarching impulse.
I tend to be particularly productive during the winter and spring. Summer and autumn are periods of gestation with what seem to be lots of false starts and stagnation. The work usually comes extremely fast. For instance, the ideas for my poetry collection Acid Rain, (slated for publication by Aquarius Press, Fall 2012) circulated in my mind for over a year, but the actual writing took only a few weeks. I'm often disappointed how quickly the work comes, because I love making, while gestation hurts! I find having two fields of interest helps in this regard, because I can switch between them and stay busy.
If I start a project I finish it. I have no unfinished pieces. My intention, when I first sign a painting, is that it's done. I finish things so that I can move my energy forward. When I'm working on a painting or poem, I never look at what's come before, so that I can start each piece fresh. My studio walls are empty except for the piece I am working on. This tabula rasa allows me to sometimes make great mental leaps, to change my thinking in surprising ways.
I know when something is done by how it feels. When I get to the end of a poem that is ‘right’ I feel a kind of calm excitement, an organic vibration. A finished painting coalesces when I suddenly look at it, I don't find myself looking at parts of it, but become absorbed in the whole gestalt.
My work serves as a kind of journal, a reminder of what I believed at a particular stage of my life.
Aisha Sharif received her MFA from Indiana University, Bloomington. Much of her poetry and nonfiction explores how religious and gender identities intersect. Her poetry has appeared in Muslim Wakeup!, Touchstone Literary Journal, Poemmemoirstory, Callaloo, and Mythium. She is a Cave Canem fellow and teaches English at Park University in Parkville, Missouri, a short commute from her home in Merriam, Kansas. READ HER INTERVIEW