Under Pressure: Dorsey Craft

Dorsey Craft’s debut collection, Plunder (Bauhan 2020), won the 2019 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Massachusetts Review, Poetry Daily, Southern Indiana Review and elsewhere. She currently lives in Lake City, Florida and serves as Poetry Editor for Southeast Review. Visit her here.

Here, Dorsey Craft discusses the pirate Anne Bonny, the inspiration for Plunder, and how Charleston and the routines that inform her process.


Gabriella Graceffo: How long did you work on Plunder, from conception to publication?

Dorsey Craft: The oldest poems in Plunder are about five or six years old, but most of the work took place over the past three years. 

GG: Where did you get your title inspiration from? Does the word plunder have several meanings to you?

DC: My friend and I were studying and decided to procrastinate by renaming my manuscript. All of my favorite titles of recent poetry books were one-word titles, so we actually plugged “pirate” into an online thesaurus and got synonyms. I loved the way that “plunder” sounded—and the way that it echoed the “l” and “r” sounds that were so present in the poems already. And Anne certainly does a lot of plundering in the poems—she enjoys material luxury for sure, but her plunder is also very much about a chaotic kind of feminist resistance. In the poem “The Pirate Anne Bonny Goes Through Her Lover’s Pockets,” I wrote “This is your way, to search before learning / what to find” and I think that Anne and the contemporary speaker are both reaching for something uncertain and undefinable. 

GG: How do you feel about deadlines? Are they a good or bad pressure for you?

DC: I thrive with deadlines and pressure. I honestly don’t know if I would ever get anything done without them. I try to psyche myself out and set deadlines for myself, but it’s never quite the same. 

GG: Besides writing, what other daily rituals do you participate in or feel are important to your writing?

DC: Reading is pivotal—I read a lot of literary magazines and new collections of poetry, but also older texts and prose. This summer I am plugging away at the Old Testament and Middlemarch, but I’ve also been reading new collections by Marianne Chan (All Heathens), Traci Brimhall (Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod), Kathryn Nuernberger (Rue), and Justin Philip Reed (The Malevolent Volume). This year has busted up a lot of my usual routines, but having coffee, walking my stubborn dog, and jogging are still always on the schedule. 

GG: Do you keep a journal, or do you prefer to write on anything you can find?

DC: I have always aspired to be a journal keeper, but the construct of writing for just myself is too strange. Official journal entries feel like I’m performing “me” for me. But I definitely jot down images and lines that occur to me in my phone or computer all day long—and sometimes in paper notebooks back when we were still going to school in person. 

GG: What is a favorite piece of advice from a mentor of yours? How did it help you with your writing?

DC: This is actually in the acknowledgements of Plunder, but my favorite advise was from Jillian Weise just after I got accepted into my MFA program. I had gotten in off the waitlist and I was going straight in from undergrad. I said “I’m worried I’m not good enough,” and she said, “You’re just going to have to get over that.” It was excellent advice, and I’m still following it with varying levels of success. 

GG: When and how does inspiration find you? For example, do you go outside to find it in nature, or does it suddenly come to you in the middle of the night?

DC: Morning is best for me—my mind is fresher when the day hasn’t started weighing me down yet. Usually inspiration starts with reading, but the poem doesn’t always happen immediately. I will sit down to write, read a whole collection of poetry and feel like nothing is going to come. Then I’ll lie down for bed that same night or go outside to get some sun and write a sonnet in my head. Chatting with my poet friends is also helpful for me when poems are in a germination stage. 

GG: What are some things you learned from creating this debut book? Do you have any advice you could give to writers putting together their first collection of poetry?

DC: Plunder had to change shape several times to find what it was really about. In spring of 2017 it had more poems about family and the American South that were trying to coexist alongside the poems about gender and Anne Bonny. I wanted it to be working because I wanted to be done.  I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to write enough good poems about one theme to make a book, so I kept trying to juggle. One of my classmates in workshop told me it was really two or even three books, and I finally accepted that I was going to have to streamline it and then write more poems. Almost all of my favorite poems in the collection were written after that point. So my advice would be not to be afraid of your subject or to doubt your ability to sustain it over time. 

GG: Plunder braids together personal narratives, stories focusing directly on Anne Bonny, and poems that put the pirate in conversation with famous literary characters. Is there a particular structure you used to make them all connect?

DC: The connections were forged as I exhausted different avenues of the Anne Bonny series. I wrote the first ten or twelve focusing only on Anne in scenarios that were historically plausible, but our knowledge of her life is very narrow and often based more in legend than fact. Even her death is murky—we know she was imprisoned in Charleston, SC and sentenced to hang, but we don’t have a record of her actual hanging. I took this as permission to imagine her in more mythic or contemporary scenes, which helped to really solidify the relationship between Anne and the speaker. Once I could show the speaker and Anne Bonny playing video games or on a road trip, their relationship became much more concrete and the manuscript really came together. 

GG: If you could describe Plunder in three words, what would they be? Why?

DC: One of my words would be “lush.” The Anne Bonny poems really allowed me to get carried away by language, and I love the way that the stacking of euphonic sounds echoes the pirate’s tendency towards accumulation. Another word, certainly, would be “feminist,” since Plunder explores, and hopefully extends and interrogates, canonical feminist texts. The last word has to have something to do with the ocean—maybe “salty,” but “salty” as in it tastes like the sea, not “salty” as in “I’m still salty about that thing you said in 2015.” 

Order Plunder here!