Written by: Abbey Campbell
Globe-trotting, tree-climbing, eccentric and upcoming Long River Review author Anna Scoppetone has done so many diverse things in her life, it’s hard to imagine she’s still a University student. Anna grew up in rural Vermont and has been writing for as long as she can remember. Her poem “My Father’s Lemon Tree” will be published in the 2021 print edition of the Long River Review. I had a chance to sit down and speak with her on her writing, travels, and relationship with poetry and the earth.
[This interview was conducted over WebEx]
ABBEY CAMPBELL: Where and when did writing come into your life as a creative outlet?
ANNA SCOPPETONE: Yeah, I mean, it’s kind of funny where, like, writing came into my life. I wrote, you know, when I was a little kid, like, in my diary and stuff, but it came into my life when I was in the 4th grade. My teacher—well, I talk a lot. I talked a lot then, I talk a lot now. I’m a talkative person. It makes the best writers. My fourth-grade teacher, Wendy Kelly, during parent-teacher conferences or something in the fall, [would be] like, “So Anna talks a lot and answers a lot of questions, but I kind of want to give some of the other kids a chance to talk. So, Anna, how about when you have something you want to say, you write it down in a notebook, and then you can show it to me at the end of the day.” And so she gave me a little spiral-bound notebook and I started writing in it everything I wanted to say but couldn’t because other kids had to talk and I had to just sit and raise my hand. But if I ever had a story I wanted to share, I would just write it down in this notebook. And then I could show it to her at the end of the day, or at the end of the week. I started writing my first introduction to poetry in a little notebook. At first, I would just write little things. I wanted to talk all the time as a kid so writing became a really useful and resourceful outlet for me at that time. In a lot of ways, it was an oppression of my spoken voice, so writing became this place where I could express myself and be exactly who I am.
AC: What a great introduction to writing. So you grew up in rural Vermont, but where exactly in Vermont did you grow up?
AS: Yeah, so I mean, all of Vermont is pretty rural, like there are no cities in Vermont that are cities. [When] people think of the city, they think of cities with a population that is like, 50,000 people or something. But the biggest city in Vermont, Burlington, probably has less than that. I grew up, actually, in the capital city, which is kind of like the biggest city in the area. Montpelier has 8,000 people and that was the biggest city. So growing up in the Capitol was kind of this really unique experience for me, because I had the statehouse building downtown, there was a cute main street and state street and the DMV was there, and there were all the state government buildings; but then you could walk just behind the statehouse [into] the woods, wildwoods. Like, there [are] woods everywhere on the outside of town. So [I grew] up in that kind of crazy environment where there are woods absolutely everywhere, and deer everywhere, but then, at the same time, the state buildings are there and you see, like, the state senators and Bernie Sanders walking downtown, very important people of Vermont sentence. I grew up in Vermont, but then my parents moved away to Connecticut. At one point, I actually spent time living in London. But I returned to my hometown and I still live there and I just love it. It’s so beautiful.
AC: It sounds like you grew up in an incredibly diverse ecosystem. When did nature first start to impact your writing, if at all?
AS: I think the first piece on nature that I wrote was about winter. Vermont winters are famous in the sense that when people think of Vermont, they think of being cold [and] also the fall and the colors. Everyone thinks [of] the colors. I probably wrote a lot of poems about fall leaves, but I don’t really remember them as much as I remember that I wrote a lot about winter storms, Nor’easters. When I think about Vermont, I think about them experiencing four different seasons, obviously like most of New England. But really, most of Vermont is coated in snow all the time, especially in a town called Middlesex which is just a snow-belt because of [its] higher elevation. Oftentimes growing up, snow would start falling in October so come Halloween, the kids would be wearing big puffy snowsuits under their costumes. From October all the way through mid-April, everything is just covered in snow all the time, so I found my early nature writing heavily influenced by those intense weather patterns in Vermont, but I often find myself writing about being out in nature and especially climbing trees in Vermont.
AC: That sounds like a really nice start to nature writing. Can you tell me about the time that you spent working in Italy in the last few years and how spending time abroad impacted your writing?
AS: I spent collectively around eight months in Italy. I’ve been to Italy twice; the first time, I was visiting with my family in 2014 for about a month and the second time I took a leave of absence from UConn and worked as an au pair in Italy. It was incredible for me. I spent time there teaching the children of a family I worked for how to speak and read English, and after I lived there for a few months, I went on a solo European trip for an additional month. I went to London and Edinburgh, Glasgow and Paris, and some other places in Italy — Pisa, Siena… like different cities around Europe. It was just this incredible journey where I went there to help with my mental health and to help with [my] growth and it just taught me unbelievable confidence. I wound up getting kicked out of the country due to Coronavirus, but around that time I was just starting my thesis and reading a lot of Italian poets, so it definitely influenced my writing in that capacity.
AC: That’s a long list of places! Where would you say was the place you went that you felt you identified with most?
AS: So there are actually two different places. I’d say one of them is actually not from when I was living in Europe; I went on a trip to Ireland when I was a junior in high school with the most incredible English teacher of all time. Sarah Esquire, my high school Irishman, took us all to Ireland. And we got to see the Book of Kells in Dublin, which is just the most incredible illuminated manuscript book. It was a big literary moment for me because seeing it in the library, I could instantly see myself sitting there, reading poetry by this amazing manuscript full of so much history.. [For] the second, I actually had the opportunity to be a tour guide in a fourteenth-century plot in Florence in the city hall, the Old Palace. It was the seat of power for the most famous family in Italy during the 1300s. They have this room called the “map room” which is covered in all of these old ancient maps and it’s just incredible [to see] all these original maps. It’s so beautiful and there’s a secret passageway that leads out of the map [room] to the private garden—it’s actually like a rooftop terrace. And if I could sit anywhere and write, I would go and sit [there].
AC: That sounds incredible. I want to return back to your piece that is going to be published in the Long River Review 2021 publication, “My Father’s Lemon Tree.” Can you tell me a little bit about the story behind it?
AS: Definitely. So my dad rides on a plane a lot for a living and this last Fall there was a lot of hesitation surrounding getting on a plane. And so he and my mom decided to drive all over the country to different football games where he normally would just fly. So [for] pretty much the whole fall they were gone, from September 2nd until January, 7th, and including Christmas, we were all apart. But because they were gone, they asked me and my boyfriend to house sit for them. So we were staying in their house watching the dogs and watering the plants, including the lemon tree. And that’s kind of where this poem came from. My dad has this lemon tree that he bought, and everyone told him it’s not going to grow in Vermont. Like, “this is crazy…why did you buy this tree?” And when he went away, he had very strict instructions for caring for the lemon tree so I was very nervous I was going to kill it. The poem really revolves around this notion of being nervous about taking care of my parents’ home and these things they really care about, and then on top of that, it also touches on a conversation our family had surrounding police brutality. Right now, there is so much going on in society and so many hard conversations, so I think these nerves surrounding caring for something on a small scale connecting to a larger scale problem really drove this poem.
AC: Tell me a little bit about your process when writing this poem. Did it just pour out of you, or did it come out in smaller bits over a long course of time?
AS: I wrote the entire poem in one big swoop sometime in November. I put it aside for a few weeks and then returned to it in December to make some changes. I wanted it to stay mainly true to the original theme and story, so I didn’t make too many adjustments, but I did make some small adjustments.
AC: Were there any parts of the poem that you felt stuck on?
AS: I’d say the first stanza was the most challenging. Most of the poem is so emotional and driven from raw experience, so the first stanza being sort of introductory was challenging for me. I debated the portion about my sister and her engagement to a man called atmosphere because it’s actually based on reality. My sister is engaged to a guy named Sky, so I thought it was just a fun personal inside joke to throw in that she was engaged to a man named atmosphere. It gives the poem a little mystery or a secret that I can kind of hold onto while other people maybe interpret it in a different way.
AC: Can you tell me who some of the influential authors were for you growing up?
AS: It changes so often that I really just focus on who I’m into now. I want to be all about growth, so recently in the last six months or so, I have been into a lot of newer poets. Of course, there’s Ilya Kaminsky who came to speak at UConn this semester, but then there’s Claudia Rankine and Sylvia Plath [too]. I try to read many marginalized groups, so a lot of female and non-binary authors as well as BIPOC authors. But a fun fact about me is that I am actually a speed reader. I can read incredibly fast, so I rip through a lot of different types of authors and content at a very fast rate.
AC: Tell me about your identity as a writer.
AS: Because I was reading so much growing up, I was exposed to such a diverse collection of writing styles and identities. I think my writing is influenced by whoever I’m reading at the time, but like I said, I am all about growth. I think a writing identity is a very personal thing but I try to be authentic to my own voice and just write exactly how I want to.
AC: Can you tell me about what’s in store for you in the future, whether it’s as a writer or otherwise?
AS: You know, I think in a lot of ways the best kinds of people are the ones who stay a kid forever. I want to go through life helping as many people as I can and continue to write poetry, have pets, and right now I’m even trying to convince my boyfriend to [get] a cat.
AC: Well, thank you for coming by to answer some questions about your poem and tell me a little about the experiences that influence your writing. I look forward to reading your work in the future.
AS: Thank you for having me!