There is no shortage of talented women who make up our alum network at Cambridge Common Writers. In our continued Spotlight series, we highlight several of them in honor of Women’s History Month.
LISA DESIRO — POETRY, JUNE ’10
Lisa DeSiro is both a writer and a pianist. In addition to her MFA from Lesley, she has degrees from Binghamton University, Boston Conservatory, and Longy School of Music. She has worked for both academic and non-profit organizations as an accompanist, teacher, administrator, production assistant, and editor. Lisa is founder/host of the Solidarity Salon, a performance series featuring artists of various genres; the series aims to especially amplify the voices of women, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ+ persons, and those with disabilities. Her work has been published in Ovunque Siamo, The Orchards Poetry Journal, Indolent Books, Lily Poetry Review, and Mezzo Cammin, among others.
What drew you to the Lesley MFA program and what take-aways did you have from it?
My path to Lesley was long. After completing an undergraduate degree in creative writing & literature (with a minor in music) at Binghamton University, I’d moved to Boston (in 1993) to enroll in the graduate writing & publishing program at Emerson College; but after a year there, I withdrew to pursue a career in music. Over the next 10 years, I earned two music degrees and worked multiple part-time jobs as a musician. Then in 2005 I took a full-time position with a non-profit organization. The organization’s office was near Harvard Square, so eventually I moved from Boston to Cambridge (in 2007). Around this same time I felt some regrets about not finishing the program at Emerson, and I decided to go back to school for an MFA in creative writing. I was drawn to the program at Lesley because of its low-residency configuration and its location: I could earn the degree while keeping my full-time job, and I could travel easily from my Inman Square apartment to the Lesley campus. Plus the cost was moderate. It was the only program to which I applied, so I was delighted to be accepted!
The biggest take-away for me was becoming part of a writers community. Previously, I had been a poet mostly in isolation. Being immersed in the Lesley program gave me an opportunity to connect with a broad network of other poets and writers. The faculty and fellow students I met had a lasting positive impact; several of them have remained my good friends and colleagues, and have led to further new connections. Other important take-aways: I learned more about craft and about the publishing world, and I was introduced (through reading assignments) to a wider range of contemporary poetry and literature.
What is your writing process like? Do you have a particular routine or ritual to help you get into the writing zone?
I don’t have a particular routine, although I aspire to be one of those people who writes every morning on a regular basis. I always keep small notebooks in my handbag and on my nightstand, because often I get ideas while traveling or while dreaming. I also keep a few larger notebooks in my work room for fleshing out ideas. If the poetry itch arises I will scratch it wherever and whenever, even if that means composing something in my head and memorizing it until I can write it down. My preference is to first write by hand on (unlined) paper, then type up a document on my computer. Usually I revise directly in the computer file, but sometimes I’ll print out a copy of something and mark revisions manually. Reading other people’s poetry tends to get me in the zone, as does being outdoors and walking.
What are some of your favorite books you’ve read in the past year?
Poetry: Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith; The Tradition by Jericho Brown; When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen; Like by A.E. Stallings; Letters from Spain by Spencer Reece; and a whole bunch of books by local poet-friends
Fiction: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead; The Dutch House by Ann Patchett; the Earthsea series by Ursula K. Le Guin (re-read all of them); novels by Jane Austen (re-read all of them)
Non-fiction: Wintering by Katherine May; No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin; Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Why do you write and what do you like to write about the most?
I’ve written since childhood, because of the pleasure in playing with language and because writing helps me understand myself and the world around me. I often write about personal experiences, especially things that bother or puzzle or excite me. Many of my poems come from observation. I’ll see/hear/witness things and I want to describe them and share them with others.
What is something that tends to get in the way of your writing and how do you overcome it?
What gets in the way of my writing is that I put other work ahead of it—e.g., work related to my job, or work related to submissions and other aspects of the “po biz,” or housework, or stuff on my never-ending to-do list. The same thing happens with regard to my piano practicing. I don’t have a foolproof method for overcoming it. I just keep trying to make space for my creative practices, to remind myself of how important they are to my well-being and to my identity. I plan to make a job change in the next few years that will allow more time for both writing and music-making.
If you could get coffee with any writer (dead or alive) who would it be and why?
I’d love to get coffee with Ursula Le Guin (who, alas, is no longer alive). I think her intelligence and personality would make for a lively and memorable conversation. I’d ask her questions about her books and her life.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself that doesn’t have to do with writing.
Two fun facts: I have a black belt in Taekwondo, and I love salsa dancing!
What are you working on now? Is there anything we can promote?
My chapbook Simple as a Sonnet was published in February, and I had a virtual book launch reading which you can watch on my YouTube channel (The Poet Pianist). Upcoming readings: May 2, Mom Egg Review launch of next issue; May 28, Lily Poetry Salon; September 12, New England Poetry Club (see my website for details).
Currently I’m submitting two manuscripts (another chapbook and a full-length) and putting together some poem-ideas from the pandemic. Also, I’m always seeking people to participate in my performance series (the Solidarity Salon).
Listen to Lisa read several poems from her new book, Simple as a Sonnet, here:
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