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Interview with Pattie Palmer-Baker, Runner Up in the WOW! Q2 2021 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest


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Pattie Palmer-Baker is a Portland OR artist and poet. Over the years of exhibiting her artwork—a combination of paste paper collages with her poetry in calligraphic form—she discovered that people, despite what they may believe, do like poetry; in fact, many liked the poems better than the visual art. She now concentrates on writing, both poetry and personal essays. Nominated for the Pushcart Poetry Prize, and published in many journals including, Poeming Pigeons Anthology; Voicecatcher; The Best of Voicecatcher; Ghazal Page; Voices, The Art and Science of Psychotherapy; Calyx; and Phantom Drift. First prize 2016 Timberline Review. First prize 2018 for the Del Sol Press most promising novel (MALL). Ageless Authors Anthology 2019 first, second and the Bivona prize (for the best overall entry). First prize 2020 in the Central Oregon Writers’ Guild contest. Her chapbook, The Color of Goodbye, was recently published by Kelso Books. 



 

----------Interview by Renee Roberson

WOW: Pattie, welcome, and congratulations! "Winter Rainbow" is such a gorgeous, illuminating piece. Could you tell us what your favorite line in the essay is and why? 

Pattie: I wonder if I made up this sight, how his red feathers erupted, how his black beak curved. This sentence captures my feeling when I saw a cardinal in real life for the first time, and in that moment, this gorgeous bird relieved the color deprivation I experienced during my first winter in an eastern state. 

WOW: Could you tell us more about how you landed on your unique style of creating collages with paste paper and how poetry plays a part? 

Pattie: All my life I have loved words, so much so that after many years of art classes including calligraphy and paste paper, I evolved a style that combined my poetry in calligraphic form with collages of paste paper – an ancient decorated paper technique wherein I paint color mixed with my artist-made paste on wet paper. Before the paint/paste dries, I use texture-making tools to form designs and images on the surface which I will cut out and use in collages inspired by poetry I have written. I write the poem around the finished assemblage in a calligraphic style based on the Carolingian alphabet from the 8th century. 

WOW: Your debut novel, “Mall”, received the Del Sol Press Prize for First Novel. Chelsea Ennen from Kirkus Review had this to say about it: “ Palmer-Baker’s talent as a poet shines through in her fiction as clear, direct prose and succinct worldbuilding.” The premise sounds fascinating—could you share a little about the plot of “Mall” with our readers? 

Pattie: Set in a sparkling alternative world, MALL is a place where almost everyone is beautiful, and everyone is employed to have enough income to experience a myriad of pleasures - drugs, gambling, theater, holographic adventures. No illness, no poverty and very little crime. A lot of sex. But what’s the catch? And what happens when Sara, a 21st century woman from our reality, accidentally finds her way into this alien yet familiar world? Nona, a MALL Mental Health Practitioner, who is assigned to treat Sara upon her arrival, goes against the MALL code to help her pass as a Mallite. Why? Because Sara is an antidote to Nona’s secret dissatisfaction. But how can anyone be unhappy in this paradise where few if any suffer? Perhaps because the strict and authoritarian MALL Code forbids close, long-lasting relationships, one of the main causes, the MALL fathers believed, of pain and suffering. At first, Sara desperately wants to get home, and, as she seeks a way out as well as answers about her new reality, she discovers some of the darker places of MALL like an orgiastic dance club, a bet-your-life gambling establishment, and weekly “reincarnation” convocations. She risks involvement with Paul, the leader of the shadowy rebel group, the Junkers, who have been creating increasingly frequent and dangerous disturbances. Not only are they fighting against Mall Management and the MALL Code, many of them seek a way ‘Outside’ – if one exists. If they do find the way ‘Outside’, who will leave? Paul who is wanted by the authorities for fomenting rebellion? Will Sara even want to leave or will she choose to stay in this pleasure-drenched world? How about Nona, whose relationship with Sara has underlined the emptiness of a life in MALL? 

WOW: You have an impressive body of creative work, from your gorgeous collages to poetry to creative nonfiction and fiction. How do you divide your time between these many projects and figure out how to give equal attention to them all? 

Pattie: Over the years of exhibiting my artwork, I discovered – to my delight and surprise – that most people, despite what they may believe, do like poetry, and in fact many liked the poetry better than the visual art, inspiring me to concentrate on writing, both poetry and personal essays. Because the artwork process is so time-consuming, I make the paste papers used in my artworks only about once a year and maybe devote several weeks to creating some collages. The rest of the time, my creative output is limited to writing, for me, an activity much more challenging than making visual art. Also, I have a fair amount of completed artworks on hand. To see examples of these pieces, please access my website: www.pattiepalmerbaker.com 

WOW: What is your process like in finding new markets for your writing? 

 Pattie: I use New Pages. Like many writers, I have submitted dozens and dozens of time and places (and, of course, I have experienced almost that many rejections) so that I am on many journals’ mailing lists.


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