Marissa Bell Toffoli On Her Blog + Whether Poetry is A Dying Art

marissa bell tofoliName: Marissa Bell Toffoli

Author’s Website, Writing Blog

Hometown: Danville, California

Based In: Berkeley, California

Education: MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts, BA in English from UC Santa Barbara

Briefly: I’m a writer and editor, and I teach creative writing to young people. When I’m not working
on those pursuits, I love to travel, read, dance, and watch Bollywood movies. My poetry e-chapbook, Under the Jacaranda, was published by TheWriteDeal in 2011.

Favorite Read: I have a hard time choosing one favorite anything. How about a top three? The Sun
Also Rises
by Ernest Hemingway, Three Comrades by Erich Maria Remarque, and The Wild Iris by
Louise Glück.

Author Crush: I just read and loved John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, so it would be a amazing to hang out with him sometime. Otherwise, it’s usually the author I’ve just interviewed—I get extra jazzed about their work after I get to know them a little bit! Sometimes writers even show up in my dreams right after an interview.

Pet Peeves: When people don’t appreciate what they have.

Fiction How-To Book You’d Recommend: Just read a lot. Read great books, books you love, books other people loved that you hated—read it all, and then consider how and why it works, or doesn’t work. What makes it a good story? How is it structured? What do you like most about the writing?


If You Weren’t a Writer You’d Be…Hmm, probably something with a more straightforward career path.

What You Have Lined Up Next: The poems from my chapbook are part of a full-length poetry manuscript that I’m seeking a publisher for, and I’m working on a new collection of poems. More interviews for my blogs, of course.

Who was the most avid reader you knew growing up?

My mom. I come from a family of readers.

What inspired you to publish your poetry chapbook Under the Jacaranda?

I’d been working on the poems for a few years and I thought a chapbook would be a good way to test if the full-length manuscript was headed in the right direction. A number of poems had been published in journals, but I hadn’t had any luck with chapbook contests I had entered. I heard about TheWriteDeal from a friend when the publishing company was just getting started and offering open submissions throughout the year. When they selected Under the Jacaranda for publication, I was excited to work with an editor, to talk about the poems and with someone who believed in them as much as I did.

Do you think that other than in musical form, poetry just might be a dying art?

Certainly not. I need an essay to really take this on, but for now I’ll let Michael Wiegers of Copper Canyon Press speak for me. In the recent New York Times blog “Poetry Profiles: Copper Canyon Press,” Wiegers had this to say about why to publish poetry (and, to me, this holds up for why to write or to read poetry as well): “In poetry I find what cannot be found elsewhere, and that intangible, irreducible ‘thing’ or ‘expression’ at the heart of the best poems is a wild, untamable part of the human landscape. Poetry is the oldest form of considered expression and through it we are connecting not only with our generation, but with centuries of human expression. And we learn about ourselves. I want to be a part of that making and engage what I consider to be the better parts of the human intellect and imagination.” If poetry were a dying art, there would not still be publishers like Copper Canyon Press nor folks like

Wiegers dedicated to that “untamable part of the human landscape.”

You started your Words With Writers blog in mid-2010, and it has become a great community for authors and aspiring writers. What have you learned from this journey? You’ve practically become a community gatherer in the process.

I’m a pretty shy person, but doing these interviews has helped me become more outgoing and take risks in reaching out to other writers to expand the community. I love meeting new people and learning about their work. It enriches my experience of their books. There are so many different ways to live the writing life, and I’ve enjoyed gaining a wide perspective on what it means to be a writer through my interviews.

The other thing I’ve learned is balance; even if I want to say yes to every interview query, I can’t do it. I had to figure out how much I could do and do well, and when to say no so I didn’t get overloaded.

Which interview has been your most memorable?

This is a tough one. There are so many that stand out for one reason or another. Here’s two that have really stayed with me.

Sheida Mohamadi: When our discussion ended up focused on her experiences with writing under censorship, I broke form a bit from other interviews to include an editorial introduction and some of Sheida’s poems.

Paul Harding: It was awesome to meet the author whose debut book, Tinkers, made me adjust my all-time top five reads list. Paul did an interview with me for my blog, and an additional interview with me for the literary journal Eleven Eleven. That was the first time I published more than one interview with the same writer.

What would you say was the most valuable advice you’ve been given as an author?

To be patient–with the words, with myself, with seeing the work published. Take time away from the writing before doing revisions. Don’t write what you think others want to read; write what needs to be written.

What do you like most about editing?

Revision is essential to good writing. As an editor, I look forward to being part of making the writing the best it can be. It’s also connected to being able to think things through and make sure you’ve got the words conveying exactly what you want them to say. I enjoy working with someone throughout the creative process to make a book, a story, a poem, an essay, or even copy for a website, come together in just the right way.

You have an MFA in Writing. If you were going to grad school now, do you think you would still have gone this same route?

Definitely. It was an important experience for me. I made a lot of great friends and found some readers who I trust so much for feedback on my work. What I would do differently is that instead of working about 30 hours a week while in graduate school, I would have only done that for maybe the first year. Instead, I wish I had explored other job experiences more, like looking for an internship in publishing or gaining more teaching experience—jobs that were more available to students and harder to get involved in after graduating.

Are you working on a novel?

I mainly write poetry when I work on my own creative writing. So, no, but perhaps someday. I haven’t had any ideas for stories yet that feel like they would be right for a novel.

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