07. Life, Poetry & the Freak Show: A Dialogue w/ Poet Valerie Bandura


Poet Valerie Bandura

Born in the former Soviet Union, Valerie Bandura received degrees from Columbia University and the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, where she served as the Joan Beebe Teaching Fellow. She was awarded a residency from the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference and the James Merrill Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center. Her poems have appeared, among other publications, in Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Crazyhorse, Alaska QuarterlyThird Coast, and the Best New Poets anthology. She teaches writing at Arizona State University. (27:47)

Valerie’s Website: http://valeriebandura.com/

We’re giving away a free copy of Freak Show! Details at the bottom of the post…


“Even though the impetus for the poems may have originated in that real world memory past kind of context, how they’re shaped is entirely not memoir… I would never want this book to be read as a kind of truth of what actually happened.” — Valerie, on whether Freak Show, with all its autobiographical components, is really “a poet’s memoir”

“It was enormously difficult for me.” — Valerie, on finding a publisher for her poetry collection

“My ultimate goal is to have a book be selected for a prize. For my ego, I would like to have that kind of accomplishment.” — Valerie

“If I see a book, and I see it’s gotten a prize, I’m so much more likely, not knowing anything else about it, to pick it up.” — Lacy

“More than anything else, it creates and atmosphere where we don’t have to explain ourselves to each other, we don’t have to explain our choices for our careers or our bizarre daily habits.” — Valerie, on being married to a fiction writer

“Before graduate school… I stopped writing for years and it was scary. And so I quit my job and changed my life… So, graduate school wasn’t a continuation of what I had been doing; it was a kind of announcement: I’m going to commit myself to this willingly and intentionally for the rest of my life.” — Valerie, on her decision to attend Warren Wilson’s MFA program

“There are a lot of challenges for poets who are starting out… It’s a lot more painful to stop.” — Valerie, on advice to poets just starting out

Freak Show


A book of poems about her family’s emigration from the Soviet Union to the United States, her sister’s struggle with schizophrenia, and “various conjoined twins from the news”. Valerie opens our interview by reading a poem from the collection, titled Jews for Jesus. The cover art is by Valerie’s sister.

“But once you pull one bunny from the hat, all the bunnies, even the mutant, deformed ones, as if unionized, want out. So, next came the crazy sister poems. What she wrote on her walls all night in penmanship so small my father, when he had to sand them, the dust falling all over his face, could not make out what she wrote. What she said to Jesus when he spoke to her from our television… From the beginning, Freak Show, was a hard book to write. The material posed stylistic limitations. How do you write about pain in an increasing cynical and ironic literary landscape and still be relevant? It’s hard to write about someone you love hearing voices or fleeing a country with ironic detachment and not sound like an amateur or an ass.”

— Excerpt from On Narcissism and Shame

Who’s Who

Patrick Donnelly — A poet who Valerie credits with helping her to complete her collection. Coincidentally, Lacy and I have also met Patrick. We attended the seminar he taught on public speaking and public reading at Lesley University in 2010.

Black Lawrence Press — Publisher of Freak Show

Tony Hougland, Steve Orlen, Ellen Bryant Voigt — Valerie’s mentors when she attended the Warren Wilson College Low Residency MFA program

Patrick Michael Finn — Valerie’s husband, a fiction writer

Closing Quote

I find I’ve been speaking, all along, about nature, about the attempt of the imagination to inhabit nature and by that act preserve itself for as long as it possibly can against “the pressure of reality.” And by “nature” I mean any wilderness, inner or outer. The moment of writing is not an escape, however; it is only an insistence, through the imagination, upon human ecstasy, and a reminder that such ecstasy remains as much a birthright in this world as misery remains a condition of it. — Larry Levis, Some Notes on the Gazer Within

Another Postmasters Book Giveaway!

For your chance to win a copy of Valerie’s poetry collection, Freak Show, Like our Facebook page AND leave a comment below. We’ll select a winner and make an announcement February 1st. Good luck!

5 thoughts on “07. Life, Poetry & the Freak Show: A Dialogue w/ Poet Valerie Bandura

  1. Pingback: FREAK SHOW Interview on The Postmasters Podcast | Valerie Bandura

  2. The interplay between Valerie’s self-satisfaction in writing and her desire for her work to win awards is intriguing. These reasons for writing are at the one time very isolated and individualistic, and simultaneously reflect her awareness of the global, diverse around her.

    • Agreed! I admire writers for whom the craft itself is enough to fuel them, for whom recognition doesn’t come into play. These are the Emily Dickinsons of our day. But I also admit that, when I hear such sentiments, I wonder whether the writer is being disingenuous. We are all trees falling in the forests of authorship, and I don’t mind saying that publication and recognition are what keep me going on the loneliest, most difficult writing days. It gives me hope to hear that people like Valerie feel the same way!

      • Good point. Perhaps that line between pride (ie, seeking recognition to “win” or affirm one’s sense of superiority) and dialogue (ie, seeking recognition as a means of connecting, of conversing) is not so much a line as much as a continuum, to be monitored individually on a case-by-case basis.

  3. Pingback: 13. Thus Far: A Retrospective on One Year of Author Interviews | The Postmasters Podcast

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