Eleonora Luongo was born and raised in Elizabeth, NJ and received her MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers University-Newark, where she currently works as Communications Director for the School of Arts & Sciences-Newark. Her poetry has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Black Telephone Magazine, The Coachella Review, and others. She has poems in the following anthologies: No Tender Fences: An Anthology of Immigrant & First-Generation American Poetry, Divine Feminist: An Anthology of Poetry & Art by Womxn & Non-Binary Folx, and Hecate: Decay. She is a poetry reader for Okay Donkey literary magazine. She lives in New Jersey and can be found on Twitter and Instagram as @phigirl.
When did you first feel like a writer?
I’m not sure there was ever one moment that flipped the switch for me. I’ve always loved to read and to write. I was on both the school newspaper and the literary magazine in high school, but it was always just a thing I did and not something I planned to pursue as a career. I had a professor in undergrad who encouraged me to get a minor in Literature and she started me down that path. Enrolling in the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark was when I first decided I wanted to learn more about craft and be a “writer.” But even after a degree I didn’t necessarily think “Now I’m a writer.” It took me a long time to really warm up to the fact that if you’re writing regularly and intentionally, that’s all it takes, really. It doesn’t matter where you’re published or even if you’re published.
What’s the most interesting thing that has inspired your writing and what was the result?
If by “interesting,” you mean weird, it was an episode of My Little Pony I watched with my daughter. Pinkie Pie, who if you’re not familiar with the show, is every bit as perky and upbeat as the name sounds, can’t understand why her sister Maud is attracted to this incredibly dull and pedantic pony. One of Pinkie’s sisters tries explaining it to her by bringing her over to this ordinary looking rock. “All you see when you talk to him is this rock,” she says. But then she cracks it open, and it’s a sparkling geode. “Maud sees him as a beautiful gem.”
It made me think of how so many “ordinary” things have a hidden magic inside we can only see if we get past the dull gray exterior. The result was the poem “Synth and Bass”, which was published alongside another poem that also had an interesting start. “Alice, After Wonderland” was partly inspired by Alice in Wonderland and partly by the unused IVF medications still sitting in my closet at the time because I couldn’t bear to throw them out. Both poems can be read in Black Telephone magazine.
Paint us a picture: what does your writing process look like? Do you write in coffee shops at night or only on an old type-writer?
It’s not as poetic as an old typewriter, but I do a lot of jotting down lines or phrases on the Notes app on my phone as they come to me. It could be when I’m on a train, while watching a movie, or anywhere. I wrote a lot of the first drafts of poems in my chapbook in the middle of the night in bed when I couldn’t sleep, so the easiest thing to do was to type them into Notes. Afterwards I transcribe and edit them on my laptop.
But before my ‘writer’ badge gets revoked, I actually do own an old Underwood portable typewriter! I got her at an auction years ago and her name is Greta.
Describe your ideal reader: who would your work speak to?
Anyone who’s ever felt lonely. Anyone who has gone through something that changed them, or is still going through it. Anyone who believes or wants to believe in human connection and the interconnectedness of everything. I’m working on a collection now that is much more about the earth and the forest and trees than I would ever imagine a city girl like me writing, but at the heart of it the themes are still connection and interdependence.
Who’s an author you’ve changed your mind about and why?
I went through a big Jack Kerouac/Beat writers phase in college and in my 20s. While I still enjoy Kerouac’s works, I’m not quite as all-in on it as I was then. Partly I think it’s just that that kind of writing appeals more when you’re in a certain part of your life. There’s something fresh and wild about it, and I still think it has a place, the idea of not self-censoring and just putting out something spontaneous and unedited out on paper. “First thought, best thought,” as Allen Ginsberg said. But it’s a little disingenuous too. There’s the legend that Kerouac himself perpetuated that he wrote the book in three weeks on one long scroll with no editing, which is only half true. In reality, there was a lot of writing and reworking that came before that draft, in his head and in journals and over the course of several years.
Then there’s also all the missing women in that movement and the casual, unspoken misogyny and disregard for how your actions affect others. I started reading more of the women from that time period and even though they’re not as famous, some of their work is really compelling.
If you could interview any other writer/artist, who would it be and why?
If I can choose a dead writer, then Mary Shelley. Mostly because she wrote one of my favorite novels of all time, but she also did a lot of other things, including promoting her husband’s poetry and writing her own. Her life was incredibly full of tragedy and heartbreak but she was also surrounded by intellectuals and other artists. So much of what we know about her and her life is more about what happened to her, written by other people, and I would love to sit down and really listen to her talk about her work and life in her own words.
What motivates you to keep writing?
I’ve always written partially to understand, so I don’t anticipate that ever going away. When I was younger I was always afraid I’d run out of ideas, but the more I write the more I see that creativity begets more creativity. Now I’m just afraid I won’t ever really pin down that elusive “thing” that wants to be said. The result never quite matches what the vision was, right? But that’s probably true of most art.
How do you deal with writer’s block or being overwhelmed by the writing process?
If I’m not feeling particularly creative or full of ideas that’s my signal I should do something else. I read a lot, and a lot of very different genres. I’ll watch a movie or series. Or just go out for a walk. I recently started getting back into drawing and painting, and even though most of it is just for me and not particularly “good”, I’m trying to find pleasure in the process more and let go of that idea that I have to somehow master things to enjoy them.
Where would you like to see yourself in a decade? A creative writing teacher? As a best-seller?
I would love it if my chapbook got picked up by a press. And I’m working on another collection now, so hopefully that will be completed and published by then! I don’t need to be a best-seller, but if the work resonates with at least a few people out there I’d be happy.
I would love to make a collaborative book with a visual artist. The idea of intertwining the visual with words and the two making up more than the sum of the parts is something I’ve been thinking about for a while and even though I could do it on my own, I feel like it would be much more powerful as a partnership with someone else.
What has your work taught you about yourself?
It’s taught me a few things. First, that it’s okay to be dark. We all have shadow and light parts. I will never subscribe to the “good vibes only” mindset. It’s scary to let out our inner thoughts when they’re not pretty but that’s the only way to go past surface pleasantries and have meaningful relationships. If that also turns some people off, then that’s okay too, they’re not your people.
It’s also taught me that I’m more interested in science, religion, myth and ritual, and in finding meaning and purpose than I realized. What are we here for? And how does that inform what we do with our life, both in a larger sense but also day-to-day? How can art and stories be part of creating and sharing that meaning?