Meet Dorsey Craft
Q&A with Dorsey Craft
Q: Did you learn anything while writing Plunder that surprised you?
A: The lack of concrete info about Anne Bonny’s life. When I began the series, I wanted all the poems to be based in historical incidents—I was interested in the pirate’s world and the complexities of her gender expression. At a certain point, though, I realized that the information we have on Anne Bonny (as far as I know) can be traced to a few pages of Charles Johnson’s A History of the Pyrates, which is itself based on myth and legend. Anne Bonny was born out of wedlock in Ireland, moved to South Carolina, married one pirate and ran away with another. She was imprisoned back in Charleston for piracy and sentenced to hang, but the hanging itself is not recorded. There is plenty of information about pirates and this time period in general, but these are all the “facts” I can find about Anne Bonny herself. This surprise was a good surprise—I decided I liked her mythic-ness, her unknowability, because it allowed me to tell my own tales, imagine my own endings and beginnings for her. Those poems exist now alongside the more historical ones, and I like how this creates different levels the collection.
Q: How does the physical place where you write influence your work? What did setting contribute to Plunder as you wrote?
A: The physical place where I wrote the book was Lake City, FL, but I don’t have a firm handle on how it affected the work because I don’t have quite enough distance from it. The fact that I had a clean, quiet house with enough space to go off by myself was an enormous privilege that I could not have written the book without. But as far as the setting of the poems, most of them are more influenced (I think) by my time growing up near the beach in South Carolina. That’s where I started looking at the ocean, its colors and textures. That’s where I first put my face underwater and opened my eyes. The images in the Anne Bonny poems, especially, come from that place. I did go to the pirate museum in St. Augustine while I was writing, though, and I loved being physically amongst the aging metals and skeleton-looking ship parts, so maybe Florida has more to do with the book than I thought.
Q: What was the most difficult part of writing Plunder?
A: Writing enough poems on a single subject. I tend to flit around. I got to a place where I had fifty good poems, but they did not make for a cohesive manuscript. I had to push myself to delve into the series beyond what I thought were its limits, and I had to select the poems from my contemporary speaker that best complemented Anne Bonny. She is the star.
Q: Finding success as a poet while you’re still a student is so impressive! Have you always known you wanted to study writing and poetry?
A: Yes and no. I started writing from a very young age, but I moved away from it because I began to sense that the adults around me considered it a frivolous interest that wouldn’t lead to a career. I started telling people I wanted to be a sports reporter and major in communications. I did that for one semester and I was so unsuited to it—I was not perky at all. Starting classes as an English major felt much more “right,” and when I took my first poetry workshop I was hooked. I haven’t really questioned it much.
Q: How did you discover your deep connection with Anne Bonny?
A: My cousin’s and my favorite game to play when we were little was “pirates.” We had pirate themed birthdays, loved the pirates in Peter Pan and Treasure Island and Swiss Family Robinson. We went to the Provost Dungeon in Charleston and shivered looking at where pirates were held. We made up stories about how we were actually just pirate children that washed up on shore one day. But he was a boy, and I was a girl. It was not very important to him, but incredibly important to me—belonging and not belonging. My cousin looked at all pirates and saw himself, and I had only this one example of female lawlessness. When I remembered Anne as an adult, it was like an “inspiration finds you working” kind of moment where I sat down not knowing what I was going to write that day and all of a sudden got a blast of this woman pirate who grew up in the same physical place as me, probably cut her shins on the same beaches or kissed boys in the same dark alleys. The series expanded in ways that I never could have anticipated, but the connection was forged right then and there.
Q: What is your personal favorite poem in Plunder?
A: I love them all too differently to choose just one! My favorite poem to read aloud is “Ode to Sex and the City.” The poem I most enjoyed writing was “The Pirate Anne Bonny Wishes Walt Whitman a Happy Birthday.” The poem that makes me cry most is “Memos for My Mother.” “Love Poem with Grease and Silver” is my saucy favorite. “The Pirate Anne Bonny Goes Through Her Lover’s Pockets” would win the language beauty contest.
Dorsey Craft is the winner of the 2019 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Colorado Review, Crab Orchard Review, Greensboro Review, Massachusetts Review, Ninth Letter, Passages North, Poetry Daily, Southern Indiana Review, Thrush Poetry Journal and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in poetry from McNeese State University and a BA in English from Clemson University, and is currently a PhD candidate in poetry at Florida State University. She is also a Poetry Editor for The Southeast Review.