Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed poet Shontay Luna about her career, her creative process, and what inspired her latest poetry book, To James And Sarah With Love.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
Shontay Luna from Chicago, IL USA. I’m 52 years old, African-American, married to a Latino male. Mother of three grown daughters and recently became a Grandmother to one grandson. My birthday is in the cusp between Leo and Virgo, though lately I definitely feel more like a Leo. Hobbies include couponing, dispensing sass on Twitter and dreaming of my fictional love.
When did you first WANT to write poetry?
In college, before finishing with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration, I went to another college for two years majoring in Poetry. Though I’d always written journal entries, etc. It was there that I knew I wanted to write poetry.
When did you take a step to start writing poetry?
In high school, I wrote a poem called “Behind Closed Doors” about a guy who cheated. That was around my Junior year of High School, 1985-86.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
For my first book ‘Reflections of a Project Girl’ I actually already had the poems when the publisher agreed to create a book out of it. From acceptance to publication was about five months.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
From initial conception to completion took about six months. Unlike my first two books, I didn’t have the material ready for this book. I had to create it as well as format it and work on the layout to get it the way I wanted. Had it not been for lockdown, it might’ve taken longer.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write To James And Sarah With Love?
I wanted, then needed something tangible to remind me of the love I had of my Grandparents and the love they had for me. It was especially important because it’d been a number of years since both passed away (Grandmother in 2006 and Grandfather in 2015) and I felt if I didn’t do it then, the end product would’ve been altered. I also wanted my daughters to have something to remember their Great-Grandparents by.
What were your biggest challenges with writing To James And Sarah With Love?
The slang, as it was something I was utterly unfamiliar with. In research, I recalled bits and pieces from old movies and Three Stooges reels. But there was a lot I didn’t know. Another challenge was edit and posting two longer poems (in regular language dealing with their deaths and the aftermath. I had to revisit those feelings of sadness and grief.
Do you keep to a theme with your poems, or just go where the mood strikes?
In my latest book, ‘To James & Sarah with Love – Poetry based on slang of 1920s through 1940s’ I created that theme, after checking if it was done before. As a lover of old expressions I found it fascinating. Of my three titles, that’s the only one with a theme, I usually go where the pen takes me.
What is your favourite poem in To James And Sarah With Love about and what inspired it?
After some thought (and glancing) I have to say “At Sunrise” because it’s bright, confident and literally the very first poem I wrote for the book. I wrote it the night my friend and I had a conversation about the old language of slang from decades before. Because I love a writing challenge, I immediately looked at a few sights, grabbed some words and wrote it on the spot.
Does music help you write or is it a distraction?
It’s a distraction. I’ve tried instrumentals, meditative, etc. That doesn’t work for me.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did To James And Sarah With Love need?
I did the editing myself, I considered getting outside help but I didn’t want anyone stealing my idea (laughing). I went through the poems over and over because I knew I’d be upset if I didn’t and saw a typo in print. As far as I can see, the book is as good as I could possibly make it.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write poetry?
Use the pen (or keyboard) to open their soul, facing their fears and demons. Because that’s what it will take.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I have a vague theme in mind, but it won’t be more slang. Though I considered it. But I’m not in a hurry. I feel this one’s so special, it deserves more time in the spotlight.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Yes, I put all heart and love into this one. Though all my poetry is personal, I consider this the most personal book to date. I look at it and still can’t believe I created it and finished it. Yes, it was worth the effort. Many, many nights were spent with the slang dictionary, which I made into a reverse dictionary so I could find terms by the modern word first. Along with printouts sitting in front of the computer.
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