by Emily Graham ’22 (CLAS)
Veronica Schorr ’19 (CLAS) is publishing her first poetry chapbook, Conscious Blue, on October 1, 2021. In anticipation of this release, the Department of English interviewed her to ask what this chapbook means to her, how it came to fruition, and how college helped her get there.
EG: Have you always wanted to study English?
VS: I’ve always been a writer, and I’ve always had an interest and aptitude for it. I’ve always been an English person.
EG: How did you get into writing, and how did you find your home in poetry?
VS: Art is my survival. I turned to poetry at a very young age — around 8 or 9 — and it was a way for me to express myself, to understand my world and how I was moving through that world, to escape that world… I turned to poetry as a way to deal with my own issues.
I don’t remember why I chose poetry; it just kind of happened. I think that I gravitated towards poetry because I am a little impatient; I found that I never had the patience or talent for the worldbuilding, character development, or story arcs one needs when writing prose, novels, and nonfiction.
EG: You said that you were also a psychology major; is there any reason that you chose that subject to be in conjunction with your English major?
VS: I declared a double major because I thought that psychology would be the grounded career that I would have while English would be my hobby, but I soon found out that was not the case. I’m very much a starving artist, and I would rather be doing what I love than otherwise.
But I gained an interest in psychology because it’s an academic discipline where empathy is at the heart of everything you do, and that appealed to me. My studies certainly overlapped and helped me greatly.
VS: Since graduating from 2019, what have you been up to?
EG: My journey began when I graduated with all of the student debt and immediately went to work in Manhattan that July; I am grateful to have found work that quickly, but it was doing administrative work, which was not my passion… Then, COVID happened, and I lost my job. And I recognize my privilege when I say that it was a blessing to have lost it, as it made me realize how much I hated my time working there. I came to the conclusion that if I wasn’t doing something that feels authentic to me every single day, I’d be miserable.
So I lost my job in March 2020 and was out of work for a while, but that’s how Conscious Blue, my chapbook, happened. April is World Poetry Month, so I had myself write a poem every day of April that year; after that period, I realized that I had unintentionally made a chapbook. I sent it around and finally got word that someone wanted to publish it!
EG: Tell me about your chapbook, Conscious Blue.
VS: Conscious Blue is a lifelong dream, and I am really lucky to have a publication so soon in my career. It doesn’t have a theme that is unifying other than identity, which is very broad. But identity forms everything that I write because I’ve always found myself at an intersection with various versions of myself as a Jewish person, as a gay woman, and as someone who came from a lower-income family. All of those things came together in this book.
It’s being published by Finishing Line Press; they are a small, independent, women-owned press out of Kentucky. The fact that it is both women-owned and independent really stood out to me.
EG: What do you like to write about?
VS: The human experience and being elevated to a more metaphorical level. I like to experiment with form, and I found that I came away from my use of free verse; I used sonnet and lyric poetry a lot in Conscious Blue. I like to write about love; you could say that my whole chapbook is one big love song. You could say that a lot of poems can become love poems if you look at them close enough.
EG: Who are some of your favorite poets, and did they influence your chapbook in any way?
VS: Yes, definitely. I’ve always been attracted to Confessionalism, Surrealism, some of the New York School Poets, and Claudia Rankine (who I met!). Rankine, specifically, influenced a whole section of Conscious Blue in the way that it was journalistic poetry like hers, if that makes sense.
EG: What inspired you to write Conscious Blue?
VS: As I said, poetry is born out of survival for me. It is something that I needed to do after the whole world was shut down by COVID. I was in a terrible state of panic, so I told myself that I would put my blinders on and get really involved in making my art. That definitely saved my sanity.
EG: Do you have a favorite poem that you have written?
VS: I’ll pick from Conscious Blue just because that is at the front of my mind right now. I’d have to say “Grapefruit” is a favorite of mine, which I wrote in American sonnet form. It feels really tight and like it was a combination of all the best things that I see in writers that I like; I took all those things, digested them, and put my own spin on it. I’m definitely proud of that one.
EG: What’s been the most exciting thing about your upcoming publication? What has been the most stressful?
VS: I think the most exciting thing has been the wonderful level of support that I have received. It’s amazing to receive support from people you “expect it from,” but when it comes to people you haven’t talked to in years, it’s so surprising and humbling. It made me feel so loved and like my life is filled with wonderful people, which it is.
The most stressful part has been the self-promotion. I am totally anti social media; if I could throw my phone into Mirror Lake and never look at it again, I would. I don’t like to talk about myself, which I know is ironic, given that I am being interviewed right now. But to put it plainly, I am an introvert, like a lot of writers. But since my book is being published by a small press, they don’t have the means to spread the word about my work, and that’s understandable. So all of the marketing has been my doing, and it’s stressful. I feel obnoxious when I continue to shove my work in everyone’s face, but I guess that writers have to play the game too!
EG: Is there anything you would like people to know before they read Conscious Blue?
VS: I’m going to say no. I am against explaining art, and I don’t want to explain art; I want it to speak for itself!
EG: Besides your upcoming poetry collection, do you have any upcoming projects?
VS: I do, actually. Isabella Saraceni, my friend and fellow University of Connecticut graduate, and I are going to have an art show together! Isabella is an incredible artist who happened to make the art on my chapbook’s cover.
While I don’t believe that I deserve the title of visual artist yet, I’ve seen that the work I’ve done with visual art has coincidentally reflected a lot of my writing in Conscious Blue. It is a way for me to see how poetry is reflected in my life and how my life is reflected in my poetry.
EG: What is one piece of advice that has stuck by you the most as a poet?
VS: A really good piece of advice came from Professor Penelope Pelizzon; she told me that my work would eventually find the right home. At that time, I brushed the advice off because of my own frustrations, but in hindsight, she’s absolutely correct. I think of those words daily.
Another piece of advice came from Instructor in Residence Bruce Cohen; he said, “Don’t be a poet unless you have to.” And he’s right — it’s not easy, and it won’t make you a millionaire or anything like that. But that’s not important. Remember that you don’t need validation from anyone to create your art; in fact, if that’s why you are creating art, then I don’t think you’re an artist. An artist creates because they have no choice.
That brings me back to Penelope’s original advice when I say that your work doesn’t necessarily have to find a physical home; it can be a home within yourself. Art is a reflection of you. If you feel at home with what you’re making, then that’s all that matters.
EG: Why should someone study English, and why should it be at the University of Connecticut?
VS: Someone should study English because you’re studying life; English and the arts are so vital to our existence, and studying literature and writing gives you portals to different worlds — not just your world and your own little bubble, but the little bubbles of everyone else. Everyone’s experience of the world is different, right? Therefore, everyone’s beliefs create their own separate realities, so when you study English, I think that you are studying how other people have dealt with being human — the pain, the beauty, the whatever. I think it’s of the utmost importance.
And when it comes to why you should study English at the University of Connecticut, what made my time great was just the people; they were the most supportive, down-to-earth, welcoming, incredible group of people, no matter if I knew them well or not. Everyone was always so kind, intelligent, and friendly. The English department is the best.