Meet and congratulate Serena Agusto-Cox of Savvy Verse & Wit, who is shortlisted for both the BBAW 2010 Best Poetry Blog and Best Author Interviews awards! Besides being a fantastic blogger, Serena is the co-host of the blog War Through the Generations, a Washington, D.C. Literature Examiner, a published poet and photographer, a wife, and a proud pet-owner. You can also find Serena on Goodreads and Twitter.
How did you get started blogging and how has your blog and reading tastes changed since you started?
I originally had two other blogs on Friendster and on Yahoo! 360, which is now dismantled. Mostly, they focused on personal events, etc. Gradually, I focused more on the Yahoo blog and started talking about books and authors. Eventually, Anna of Diary of an Eccentric said she was starting a blog on blogger, and she said it was easy and anyone could comment. The main problem I had with Yahoo was you had to be a member to leave comments. Blogger widened my possible audience.
My reading tastes haven’t changed all that much because I’ve been an eclectic reader, but I have found some young adult novels that are much less fluffy than the ones I previously read. I still don’t enjoy westerns, self-help books, and cheesy romances.
You participate in a lot of reading challenges. As a blogger who has yet to participate in a challenge, what do you like/dislike about them? What am I missing?
Actually, I don’t normally participate in a ton of reading challenges. This is the first year I’ve participated in more than 3. I like the challenge it provides in reading outside normal boundaries and how it provides me with a concrete reason to read certain books I’ve wanted to read, but put off. What I dislike is the deadlines that end in the middle of the year. I tend to prefer the 12-month long challenges. 4-6 months tends to be too short for me to meet my goals, especially since I tend to over commit myself.
I also have to keep myself open for a perpetual reading challenge I host with Anna at War Through the Generations. This year our challenge is focused on the Vietnam War, which means our participants can read fiction, nonfiction, poetry, anything really that has to do with the build-up, the war, and the aftermath. This year we also hosted our first read-a-long for the challenge with Paco’s Story, which got a few participants really talking and thinking. I hope we can incorporate more of that in the next challenge in 2011, which will focus on a different war. We’ve already done WWII, but there are so many other wars to read about and I hope the site continues to grow strong. So, with all of that work, I really need to pare down challenges, since I always commit to the minimum of 5 for my own.
You also do memes regularly. Which ones are your favorites and how do you balance memes, challenges, reviews, giveaways, and the other features on your blog?
I really enjoy participating in Mailbox Monday, and that is truly the one that I participate in all the time. I do it religiously unless I don’t have any books to share. I love seeing what everyone gets in the mail or through other means. Reviews tend to fall into place with the challenges because I only choose challenges that encourage me to read books that I enjoy. Giveaways are generally dependent upon the money I have to send internationally or not…and whether publishers want to offer them, so they don’t tend to be as often as some other blogs.
As for the features, I really love the Virtual Poetry Circle where my readers and myself get together to discuss a poem once per week on Saturday. I’ve fallen off the wagon on the Literary Road Trip again, which I wish I had more time for. The other regular features are generally guest posts from authors about their writing spaces where we all get a peek at those spaces.
What advice do you have for new bloggers like me?
My advice is get involved in the community and comment on blogs, which enables you to get your name and blog out to others who may be unaware of your blog. But my foremost advice is to blog because you want to and never let it start to feel like work. If you’re not enjoying it, it defeats the purpose of doing it.
Do you consider yourself primarily a reader or writer and when and how did your love for poetry begin?
I’ve been both for so long! I’m not sure that I’m more one than the other. Poetry love began when I was very young. My nana gave me my first book of love poems when I was 9 – maybe younger. I’d read them constantly out loud and loved how they sounded. I started reading Shakespeare around the same time on my own, and loved that as well. I was a child in love with words. I started writing poems in school about my friends soon thereafter and short stories. I think my first novel, which is unfinished and needs a rewrite, was written at age 11.
Here is one of Serena’s poems (published by Beginnings Magazine):
Slipped through my fingers,
brown without rainbow dye,
they are brittle and become dust in hand.
An empty peach hourglass.
The chill was sharper than
an ax on a grinding wheel.
Sunlight seeped through cracks,
set these dead leaves afire.
Dark green canopies shelter my way-
deeper behind the farmhouse.
Sunlight sparkles on wrinkled foil,
Caesar’s victory crown, still
The blustery wind blows,
dries their skin,
stings my lungs.
They sway clumsily in the draft,
so weighted, they fall.
Ballerinas in Swan Lake
skate across glazed ice
lighter than parchment, but
heavier than air.
Rest upon the ground
bruised from impact and careless trampling
Swiss cheese foil
bronzed and useless for wrapping.
I’ve walked down this wooded way
lined with pine guards armed with sharp needles.
Carelessly treading on crisp rice
echoing pain in the shade.
Which books would you recommend indiscriminately within the different genres you read?
Young Adult: The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
Classics: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice
Literary Fiction: The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Contemporary Fiction: Paco’s Story by Larry Heinemann
Cultural Fiction: The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar
Historical Fiction: Watermark by Vanitha Sankaran
Poetry: Dien Cai Dau by Yusef Komunyakaa
Are there any lesser known poems or poets you can recommend indiscriminately?
I really love the poetry of Kay Ryan, John Amen, Ted Kooser, Mary Oliver, Yusef Komunyakaa, Fred Marchant, Bruce Weigl, Arlene Ang, and there are so many others.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite poems:
“A Greenness Taller Than Gods” by Yusef Komunyakaa
When we stop,
a green snake starts again
through deep branches.
Spiders mend webs we marched into.
Monkeys jabber in flame trees,
dancing on the limbs to make
fire-colored petals fall. Torch birds
burn through the dark-green day.
The lieutenant puts on sunglasses
& points to a X circled
on his map. When will we learn
to move like trees move?
The point man raises his hand Wait!
We’ve just crossed paths with VC,
branches left quivering.
The lieutenant’s right hand says what to do.
We walk into a clearing that blinds.
We move like a platoon of silhouettes
balancing sledge hammers on our heads,
unaware our shadows have untied
from us, wandered off
& gotten lost.
How did you get started with photography and how has your blog influenced that hobby?
Photography was another hobby started by my nana, who gave me my first 110 mm camera when I was in 7th grade. I took mostly photos of my friends on trips or at parties, but then I stopped taking photos until I went to the Azores, Portugal, with my parents and photos took over. I had bought a 35 mm SLR by then and was having a blast capturing images on film and in my sketchbook. I loved rubbing pastels to mimic the scene, but photos were crisp renderings. Photography, poetry, and my reading don’t necessarily influence one another, so much as mirror my love of nature, words, and images. You can check out my photography on Flickr, though that also houses blog images as well, and on my photography blog.
Here are some of her published photos from around the New England/D.C. area:
When you’re not reading, writing or taking photos in your free time, we would find you…
What free time?! I’m probably at work or with my husband on some adventure somewhere. We’re pretty sedate these days – bowling, hiking, watching movies or television, fantasy football, and sometimes we take adventures to new places we haven’t been. It’s been a rough year for us, so we’ve just tried to stay positive about the good things in our lives. Enjoy every moment, no matter how boring.
If you could be any character in fiction, who would you be and why?
Any character in fiction? I’d love to be Elizabeth Bennet because she’s independent, unconventional, and has not lost her childlike innocence in spite of her family’s behavior and financial circumstance. I also love that she speaks her mind and that she holds love in the highest regard.
And finally for fun, describe yourself and your blog using two titles from books you read this year:
Thanks, Serena for answering my questions! It was fun getting to know you and your blog.