Monday, September 23, 2013

Interview with Denise Powell, founder and editor-in-chief of The Voices Project, a literary venue for women focused on empowerment, self-expression and the promotion of positive social change

Interview with Denise Powell by Carol Smallwood (see Carol's bio following the interview):

Denise Powell is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Voices Project (, a literary venue for women for empowerment and self-expression. She holds dual B.A. degrees in English and Journalism from the University of Iowa and was a student of the university’s Undergraduate Poetry Workshop.  Her writing has been published in literary magazines, books, and blogs including the following: Earthwords (University of Iowa Undergraduate Review), LethologicA (Naropa Press), Scribo (CLC Press), The Pulchitudinous Review, Principles of Water Resources (Wiley Publishers), Nigel Barker's Beauty Equation, and Poetry Pacific (forthcoming). Recent works can be found on her poetry blog,

Denise has 9 years of experience in the publishing industry, particularly in higher education, as Associate Editor for Wiley Publishers and Senior Project Manager for Partner in Publishing. She is a member of the U.S. Board of Directors for OrphanAid Africa (, a non-profit organization based in Ghana, West Africa, that provides support to orphans and vulnerable children and their families to help families stay together. An avid traveler, Denise has visited 42 countries and has a passion for promoting human rights internationally and domestically.

1) Please describe your new magazine~

The Voices Project is an online literary venue for women to express their voices through poetry in order to promote positive social change within their communities and in the world.  I wanted to create a site where women and girls have an opportunity to express their personal story through poetry despite their backgrounds, ages, or education levels. By providing women writers a non-judgmental space to have their work published, the hope is that our contributors will in-turn be motivated to not only express their passions and show their talent, but to positively affect everything within their realms-- encouraging them to see opportunity instead of obstacles. 
2) Tell us about your own work as a writer~

I mainly write poetry, although I have dabbled in journalism. I am inspired by surrealism (art and writing). I use a lot of vivid imagery of what I see around me to begin a poem, painting a picture for the reader but also leaving space for various interpretations of the meaning of the work. I write in mostly free verse and I go back and revise my work many times before I share it with others. I write as much as I can while balancing my career as an editor, and family life. I have a poetry blog, which I do not share with many people. Most importantly, it keeps me writing!

3) What writers have influenced you the most?

John Ashbery, Jorie Graham, Pablo Neruda. Maya Angelou, Robert Creeley, Emily Dickinson, E.B. White, John Irving, David Sedaris, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Frank Conroy…to name a few. Since my current project focuses on women writers, I recently read Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg. The former CEO of Google and current COO of Facebook calls her new book a kind of  “feminist manifesto”, which she was reluctant to call the book in the beginning but later embraced it, about balancing family and career and her personal obstacles and triumphs getting to the top. Although I could not relate to everything she spoke about, I concur with her overarching message that we need more women leaders in the world to stand up and help shape our future for the better.

4) What are the most common writing mistakes you see?

I find that some people do not proofread their work upon submission. This creates more work for me. I am open to editing pieces, but when I see minor (and sometimes major) grammatical errors, it’s very glaring and can distract me from what the author is really trying to convey. And it happens more often than I would expect. Also, occasionally, authors will submit a poem that is more like a stream of consciousness that presents itself more like a complaint or rant, rather than well-crafted poetry with creative word choices.

5) What classes have you taken that have helped you the most?

I took every creative writing class offered at the University of Iowa, including reading poetry, fiction writing, non-fiction writing, writing poetry, and personal writing. Iowa City is one of the greatest literary communities, and I ate it up. The world’s best writers often graced the town’s tiny bookstore, and I was often in the first row for readings.  Just listening to professional writers share their work was eye-opening and served as a wonderful learning tool for me. I was also lucky to be selected into the university’s Undergraduate Poetry Workshop and was humbled by the 9 peers in my class, all seasoned writers.  I learned the most from reading other people’s work, and also having my own work dissected. I am still learning to this day how to be a better writer and I think the key is getting as much feedback as possible and not being afraid of criticism.

6) What advice would you give other writers?

- Write when you’re really inspired at random times…on a napkin, or in a notebook that you carry with you at all times. Those moments are precious and not to be lost because you’re without your laptop.
- Find a poet or writer you like and read a lot of their work. Try to write at least a paragraph after reading something that spurs your creative juices.
- Seek feedback from other writers whose work, and opinion, you respect and learn to take some criticism.
- Keep your writing tight. Eliminate superfluous verbiage whenever possible, as every word counts.
- Revise and proofread your work before submitting or publishing!

Interviewer Bio- Carol Smallwood co-edited Women on Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching (McFarland, 2012) on the list of “Best Books for Writers” by Poets & Writers Magazine; Compartments: Poems on Nature, Femininity, and Other Realms (Anaphora Literary Press, 2011) received a Pushcart nomination. Carol has founded, supports humane societies.