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April Bayer on Writing as a Student and Postgrad Instructor

april bayer capsule stories isolation edition

April Bayer is an MA student in English literature at the University of South Dakota. She graduated with high distinction from Concordia University, Nebraska in 2019 with a BA in English and theology and a BS Ed in educational studies. When she isn’t busy teaching her students about literature and composition, she enjoys writing poetry, playing with cats, and researching the works of Willa Cather. Her work has previously appeared in Potpourri and Capsule Stories.

Her prose poem “March 29, 2020” was published in Capsule Stories Isolation Edition. The piece focuses on a video call with the speaker’s best friend as the friend cooks breakfast and holds her son during the pandemic. The poem explores the uncertainty of this moment in time and the ways in which we continue to seek human connection in times of crisis, wishing we could offer comfort in the midst of an impossible situation or feel the touch of another’s hand through the barrier of a phone screen.

Capsule Stories: What drew you to write about this moment or this relationship as a way to reflect on the pandemic (rather than, say, yourself, roommates, or your family)?

April Bayer: I originally crafted this piece for a poetry workshop tied to my graduate studies. In late March, I began to feel frustrated with form and line breaks and shifted into writing prose poems because trying to force my insecurities and anxieties to conform to what I saw as artificial structures began to feel disingenuous. I knew that I needed to write about the coronavirus pandemic because it was difficult to imagine writing about anything else at the time, but it was difficult for me to bring myself to do so. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to write about the isolating experience of social distancing without using the words “quarantine” or “pandemic,” to challenge myself to capture the uncertainty and emotions of the situation through a scene. My mind wandered to a recent video call with a close friend and her young son, and I began to think about how, despite the relative security of our situations in the moment, everything could crumble in a matter of days or weeks. When you watch a child growing from a distance in the present situation, you quickly realize not only how many important moments you’re missing, but also how uncertain the future is for those who are most vulnerable.

Capsule Stories: What idea(s) did you cut from earlier drafts of this piece?

April Bayer: To be completely honest, I made minimal edits to this piece. I wrote the poem in a span of about 20 minutes right before class after staring at a blank screen for about double that amount of time. I have had few moments like that as a writer, and producing a poem I am truly happy with usually requires multiple drafts and revisions. The biggest change I made was shifting the voice from past to present tense, which I believe helps draw the reader into the moment with the speaker.

Capsule Stories: What has your relationship to writing been post-undergrad and in grad school?

April Bayer: If there is one thing I carried with me from my undergraduate studies in English, it was the need for constructive feedback. Without imposed deadlines, it is certainly necessary to find ways to motivate yourself as a writer and learn how to guide some of your own revisions. However, I think finding ways to connect with other writers beyond a classroom setting, whether it be online, through a community group, or through some other setting, is incredibly important. In many ways, graduate school puts me in a privileged position when it comes to my development as a writer, and I am very grateful for the opportunities it provides. I found my weekly Zoom meetings with my creative writing workshop to be especially helpful during the pandemic—I knew I was in a safe and supportive environment with people who would be respectful but also give me honest and useful feedback that would help me improve. With this particular piece, I also had the ability to work with an amazing mentor in Lee Ann Roripaugh, whose poetry I greatly admire. It is a privilege to have your rough drafts torn apart by her—she helps you put them back together in fascinating ways.

Capsule Stories: How has teaching literature and writing influenced how you think about your own writing?

April Bayer: Teaching composition has reminded me of the importance of thinking about writing as a process. I tend to be a perfectionist by nature, and by constantly reminding my students that writing awful first drafts and going through multiple rounds of revisions helps you grow as a writer, I have begun to reinforce that mentality for myself. If I want to be an effective writer and instructor, I have to practice what I preach and approach writing with a growth mindset. What I want my students to understand is that writing is messy and often difficult, but by learning to communicate our ideas effectively, we also begin to understand more about who we are as human beings. As a result, my philosophies of teaching and writing have become one and the same: try, make mistakes, learn, and grow. 

Capsule Stories: You’re taking a postgraduate class on publishing. How has that class changed how you think about publishing your own work as a writer?

April Bayer: As a writer of any age, but especially as a young writer, it can be difficult to find the courage to submit your work to lit mags and journals where it will be placed under the scrutiny of a team of editors. However, when you are able to understand the process of publishing in all its aspects, from editing to design to business, I think you begin to better appreciate that, like writing, publishing itself is an art that can help facilitate engagement with your work through a community of readers. Having the opportunity to learn from someone like duncan b. barlow, who started his own small press from the ground up, helped me to understand the beauty of collaboration in publishing. As a writer, you can advocate for what you might consider to be the integrity of your piece, but you can also greatly benefit from the expertise of editors and designers, who are there to help make sure your piece is communicating its ideas to readers in the most effective way possible.

Capsule Stories: How has your writing changed since the pandemic began? (Your process, or your work, or both)

April Bayer: In the past, one of the biggest challenges I faced as a writer was wanting to tie up everything with a neat little bow, to try to give form to my pain and insecurities, to make sense of things that will never make sense. While I am a highly emotional person, I am not always the best at expressing it, and I am generally more drawn to analyzing others’ work through the lens of literary criticism than I am to exploring things creatively. Writing during the pandemic forced me to confront thoughts and feelings I had been burying and gave me an outlet to begin writing with more honesty and emotional vulnerability than I ever have before. It can be difficult for me to search through the dark corners of my life for poems and essays, but I have learned that they have the power to help me process and heal. My hope moving forward is that I will not only maintain the courage to be vulnerable but to put those thoughts and experiences out into the world.

You can follow April Bayer on Twitter at @yesaprilmae.

Grab a copy of Capsule Stories Isolation Edition to read April Bayer’s prose poem “March 29, 2020.”

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