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An Interview with James Aaron Snow, author of pigs blood & blackberries

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James Aaron Snow is a poet birthed from the womb of the Deep South. He brings an honest historical vantage point of view and writing framed by a educational background in Social Work to create poems unwilling to dismiss the sins of America.

What inspired you to start writing this book?

A prerequisite course (for an undergrad Social Work Program) required introspection into personal bias. One I have carried for many years is that of looking down on white individuals from rural areas. Acknowledging and seeking a way to better myself as a person (and future Social Worker) I immediately thought of poetry. Hence the concept for this collection.

Tell us the story of your book’s current title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

pigs blood & blackberries – The title came from the fifth or sixth revision of the original. “Pigs blood” was always in there. My experience seeing a pig go from running around a pen to its hair being boiled off is borderline traumatic. And the cuisine of the South is inundated with all things pork. “Blackberries” came months later, after I wrote one of the poems that focuses on my grandmother’s garden. Nearby was a blackberry bush. We would go out, pick berries, bring them inside to wash then put in the refrigerator. An hour or two later I would enjoy a bowlful, sprinkled with sugar.

Describe your dream book cover.

I am not sure what the cover would look like or even what aspects it would contain, but I do know the emotions I desire it to provoke. Feelings of nostalgia for family, a sense of familiarity for individuals from the South and a spark of curiosity for those who are not, and a sudden realization of hunger.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

Anything by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Definitely “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Song of the South,” (Alabama), “Mississippi Goddam” (Nina Simone), “Hold On” (Alabama Shakes).

What books are you reading (for research or comfort) as you continue the writing process?

Raising Lazarus (Beth Macy), an old collection of Southern recipes I found at a book sale, The Upcycled Self (Tariq Trotter).

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I have worked multiple times (summer, winter breaks) in a factory doing everything from assembly line to the paint booth to sweeping a floor. I was a barista for the Masters (Augusta, GA) for three years. I have plenty of experience in retail and zero experience in the food & beverage industry (aside from the aforementioned coffee role). I spent almost a decade working as a youth minister (primarily focused on middle school aged students).

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

My desire to write came from a moment of spontaneity. I was studying poetry in my English class at the time. I returned to the class, from our break time, and found the door was locked. I looked at the door and out of nowhere words began to connect in my mind. I wrote a very unoriginal poem titled, The Door is Locked. And then I kept writing. I wrote about anything that popped into my head. At the time my primary influence was music, as I had strayed away from my love for reading at some point during middle school. Dave Matthews Band, Switchfoot, Smalltown Poets, Jars of Clay, Goo Goo Dolls, and Smalltown Poets. I would even plagiarize by using songs titles and writing a poem based on my interpretation.

Where is your favorite place to write?

In my home office. It is quiet (most of time—I have three small dogs), my desk faces a window looking out onto two weathered silos, and I am surrounded by multiple sources of inspiration (i.e. books, typewriters, quotes).

Do you have any writing rituals?

I free-write three times a week, for thirty minutes. It can be any subject, structure, length. But I have to write. It is my adaption of Morning Pages from The Artist’s Way. Though more related to when I do poetry readings, I also read from a collection of speeches (spanning from ancient history to the Civil Rights Movement) twice a week, for an hour. This serves two purposes: to keep my vocal cords and breathing control strong and expose me to various styles of writing.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I believe this collection is one where the reader will be the determinant in what is they take away. Their views of Alabama, the South, the U.S. will shape how they read each poem and the emotions evoked. For some, this will be a reminder of what they already know as truth. For others, it will be interpreted as “liberal propaganda” or an attempt to make White people feel guilty. No matter the approach, the reader will be stirred.

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