“Probably immediately after I learned to spell,” Addy Robinson McCulloch laughs, while answering a question about her first foray into authorship. “I did write a couple of early mysteries; I wrote poetry early,” she reminisces.
A stunningly talented poet, today McCulloch’s work frequently appears in literary journals like The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Redheaded Stepchild and Wild Goose Poetry Review, to name a few. But the path to poet has been a long and winding road.
As an undergraduate at Duke, she studied with several inspiring professors, including the 1976 Guggenheim Fellow James Applewhite. What more could a young aspiring writer want? After graduating, McCulloch detoured from her penman dreams and became passionate about working with non-profits.
“That takes up a lot of time and energy,” she confides. Around the time she turned 40, an “if not now, when?” moment struck. “I always wanted to write seriously,” McCulloch relates. “I realized that if I wanted to do that, it would involve working seriously on my craft.”
A freelancing gig became available which allowed McCulloch to essentially bring home the same salary she was making at her day job. “So, I took that gig and quit [my] job in an effort to have more control over my schedule and do what I love all the time.”
Planning, hard work and dedication has paid off, as about three years ago McCulloch saw the publication of her poem “Dad Disappearing” online at Redheaded Stepchild. “It felt great—a marvelous feeling,” she confirms. Though understated in her emotion, it’s exactly that which make McColluch’s poetry so evocative. Rather than bludgeoning her reader, she finely chisels from blocks of imagery so strong, one thinks of the Colosseum.
The publishing world is notoriously competitive and difficult to break into. It can be such an uphill battle, folks often find defeat before even trying. McCulloch acknowledges the hurdles. “If you work at your craft and you submit, it is possible,” she affirms, “but there are plenty of writers out there, and competition can be steep.”
McCulloch’s advice to other writers: read everything possible and take revision seriously. Currently, she is immersed in reading the Cimarron Review, a literary journal published out of Oklahoma State University, and Cave Wall, a literary journal published in NC.
Though it can seem solitary, like any art, writing is a conversation between creator and audience. Just like live theatre requires people showing up to see the shows, literature need eyes and ears with which to interact. McCulloch would like to see more people participate in the local scene. She acknowledges how often people attend university-associated events, while others “tend to be sparse.” Like many, she understands participation is dependent on the day job and family obligations. but because of the fabulous work coming out of North Carolina—she points to EcoTone and Lookout Books, two projects of UNCW—support needs to grow.
“I think people who write poetry [do it] because they have to—whether it’s any good or not,” McCulloch philosophically explains. “Poetry comes from emotion: Something provoked the writer or artist, and the emotion provoked a creative response—and the challenge is to channel [it] so that it is accessible to others and provokes emotions in others.”
McCulloch’s work does not shrink from heavy topics, be it her poetry or prose. She has an essay titled “Three Heresies,” which will be published in the forthcoming Get Out of My Crotch, an anthology of writings related to the war on women, due in January from Cherry Bomb Books. She has a poetry series that tackles life-threatening illness, the most well-known titled “Double-Talking the Ferryman”
When reading her work, it comes as no surprise that McCulloch’s prize possession is a copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” inscribed to her by Harper Lee. “It goes with me when we evacuate for hurricanes,” she confides. Like her heroine who worked as a ticket agent for Eastern Airlines while dreaming up the famed novel, McCulloch still must earn a living outside of her creative writing. For her it takes the shape of editing work. Her clients include psychiatric mental health texts for Pearson Education and young adult literature for Houghton Mifflin.
It’s obvious that McCulloch’s camaraderie of supporting artists at all stages of development is essential to her makeup as a person and a creator. That’s a gift that, like the old Malvina Reynolds’ song, means “you end up having more.”