When did you first start writing?
There are so many phases of writing that have been a part of my life, it’s difficult to say when I first started. I’ve kept a journal since I was nine years old. I used to hand write stories on paper during the summer when I wasn’t in school to keep from being bored (this was pre-internet), and I wrote fan fiction when I was a teenager. I was introduced to poetry by a high school friend when I was 15, and I completely fell in love with it. I haven’t stopped writing since.
There’s so much vulnerability in your pieces. Do you ever get over feeling vulnerable, or does the feeling just exist and you write anyway?
The thing about living with Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly Multiple Personality Disorder) and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), is that I always feel vulnerable. The level of intensity changes throughout the day, but it is always there. I write it out when I’m able. If I can build a poem from that openness and take advantage of it—I am doing a hugely positive thing, which makes me feel at peace.
Who do you write for?
I do a great deal of writing for myself, but I gift it reverse-vicariously. I try to think and feel outside myself when I’m writing, incorporating thoughts, feelings, and experiences of others, to try to connect to the widest possible audience. I’m always thinking, “what words can I use to convey this as honestly as I can?” So, if someone reads my poem and “gets it,” they can share the poem with someone they love as a mouthpiece for what they feel. I think of it as communication—by stepping into the poem completely, maybe I can give someone else the power they need.
Is there an intended impact when you create your pieces and if so, what is it?
Sometimes I deliberately shock, to provoke awareness and sensitivity. I’ve spent so much of my life dissociating and minimizing, that a poem is a safe place to let all the ugly and the beautiful out, because everyone has those, and in poem form it is more easily digestible. I always intend clear and pure communication of my ideas and feelings.
You’re an illustrator as well. What triggers an illustration versus a poem?
If I’m trying to figure out what I’m feeling, I’ll write a poem. If I know what I’m feeling or I like the idea of something and I need it to emerge constructively, I’ll draw. They feed into each other.
What is your process?
I don’t really have one, and I need to work on being more structured. I drink coffee. I go on walks. I kayak. I journal. I go to therapy. I write poems on my phone, or write in a small notebook I always carry in my purse. I work best in the morning if I’m working intentionally, and the rest of the time I catch the line or image as they flit by, and develop it further later.
Who has been most influential in regards to your writing?
My family has been so amazingly influential and supportive. There are days when it’s overwhelming to live, and they tell me to write. They tell me that I matter, and that what I write is worthwhile.
Who are your favorite authors?
Mark Helprin—he will make you forget to breathe; his writing is so pure and beautiful. I am infatuated with the work of too many poets to count, but some are: Anne Sexton, Matthew Dickman, Heather Derr-Smith, Alex Lemon, and Meghann Plunkett.
What was the first book you remember reading?
Misery by Stephen King was my first real book experience.
Why do you think literature is so important?
Literature makes connections in the brain, and increases awareness and insight. Being in different times and places, and in the minds of other people via a story is so expanding and rewarding. It helps to generate compassion in every day real-life interactions, and we need that more than ever.
Do you have a definite chief aim in regards to your writing?
My short term aim is to pin down an emotion or an experience, encapsulate it. My larger term goal is to grow bigger and be able to speak for others unselfishly and honestly.
Do you have a line drawn when it comes to pulling content from your own life or the lives of those around you?
No, because why not use every piece of sensory information I have? I am a private person, so I may not use my name or someone else’s, but the narrative is going to be as righteous as I can convey it. It is an experience or an emotion, and we all have them—why not put it all out there?
Fiction or non-fiction, and why?
Fiction—because it has the Truth of non-fiction in it, with the added power of the possibility of anything.
How does writing inform the way you live your life?
Writing is my life, and my life is writing. The two are so interconnected as to be inseparable. I wouldn’t have any identity or an ability to cope without writing.
What’s your take on physical copies versus digital books?
Physical copies are magic and visceral, and can be an extension of the body. This is what is enchanting about them. I live on a sailboat and have little room for physical books, so I read digital books—they are magical in a different way, alive with light and touch. The accessibility of digital wins it for me, and in terms of practicality in the modern age, digital is my choice. In terms of being immersed and in love? Physical books, every time.
How has your education informed your writing, if it has at all?
The educational system gave me some tools, and some starting points with literature. I received a lot of encouragement and affection from teachers throughout the years, which was invaluable. But the institution itself taught me that spending my time as my own time was the real answer, and I learned that education was everywhere. I didn’t have to pay thousands of dollars or go into debt. I could teach myself anything I really wanted, seeking help and instruction along the way, as needed.
Have you found that you can inspire yourself by going to a place, seeing a person, or creating a situation?
Yes. Everything inspires me. Going for walks, reading, going to a museum, movies, having a good conversation with a friend, or even a bad situation is inspiring. There is energy in everything, and it can almost always be shaped into some kind of creative output.
Where can our readers find you on social media?
I’m on social media, and I’m always happy to hear from people! I can be found on Facebook: Penney Knightly, Twitter: @penneyknightly, Tumblr: imagetherapy, Pinterest: Penney Knightly, Instagram: pknightly, and my personal blog: http://penneyknightly.com. My visual work is also available at Fine Art America and Redbubble.
(Credit: These questions were taken from an interview by Madison Flanders, in connection with Twelve Point Collective.)