Rooted in Truth: An Interview with Rachel Mallalieu

An Interview with Rachel Mallalieu

Welcome! Today we have the pleasure of chatting with Haunted Waters Press Contributor Rachel Mallalieu. Rachel's poem A Conspiracy of Loss is featured in the 2020 issue of From the Depths. A History of Resurrection and The Taste of Grief can be found online in the pages of SPLASH! Enjoy!

Do you recall the first poem that really spoke to you or sparked your interest in writing your own?
When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with Edgar Allen Poe and The Raven. I remember being invited to do a dramatic reading of it for another English class in high school. I loved the way Poe could use words and make me feel despair and darkness.

How long did it take you to find your voice in your poetry? Do you look back on your early writing and see the ways in which you have grown as a writer?
As an English major in college, I wrote often. But a lack of life experience is evident in my early poetry. Most of it centers around a boy I thought I loved. When I went to medical school, I was so busy that I didn't write very much. Residency and then motherhood continued that trend. When my youngest son suffered a near-fatal drowning in 2014, I needed a way to recover from the PTSD. I began writing again. The joys and pains of motherhood, combined with many years of witnessing tragedies in the emergency department, finally gave me my voice.

First and foremost, you're writing for you! Don't be held back by other's expectations.

—Rachel Mallalieu

We’d love to know more about your process for writing poetry. Do you sit down to write on a schedule, or rush for a pen and paper when an idea strikes?
I wish I could keep a schedule. Raising five kids and working overnights in an emergency department doesn't leave me with much time. When I see or hear something that resonates with me, I write a note about it on my iPhone. Eventually, these notes will coalesce around a theme, which I'll work out in my mind, often when I'm falling asleep. Eventually, I'll sit down with my computer and hammer out the poem. I often have the broad strokes written in my mind. By the time I get to a computer, it's a matter of making the best word choices, etc.

Do you find your poetry driven more by truth or fiction? How much personal experience makes its way into your writing?
My writing is deeply personal and almost completely rooted in truth. My direct patient experiences and inspiration from motherhood are intensely personal.

What advice do you have for the self-conscious aspiring poet?
Just start writing. It doesn't have to be perfect; in fact, it won't be. But if it doesn't find its way to paper, the poem will never exist. Write it down, and then the real fun begins. I love to edit! Consider and weigh each word. Strive for the fresh image. Excise the extraneous words. First and foremost, you're writing for you! Don't be held back by other's expectations.

Writing is already a fairly solitary endeavor. How would you say the pandemic has affected you as a writer?
I have a large family and a frontline job as an emergency physician, so I don't know what solitary means .... The pandemic has found its way into my writing, however, because for the first time in over 15 years, I've felt persistent fear and uncertainty at work. As an emergency physician, I've seen and often done it all. Nothing feels surprising. But this past year has definitely thrown me some professional curveballs.

When you’re not writing poetry, what might we find you doing?
Probably laundry or grocery shopping. I may be editing my high schooler's English paper or helping the kindergartner learn to read. When I'm not working, I stay up far too late reading fiction. I also love to hike and work out.

What are you reading right now?
I just finished Leave the World Behind, God Shot, and The Cove. I'm currently reading Death in Her Hands.

What words do you live by? Do you have a personal motto?
I don't have a personal motto, but when I feel overwhelmed by life or work, I just put my head down and work through it.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Write during medical school and residency! You're seeing things that most people never see. Compose while it's all new and surprising to you.

Lightning Round with


Rachel Mallalieu is an emergency physician and mother of five. She writes poetry in her spare time. Her work has been published in Blood and Thunder, Pulse, Ricochet Review, Love's Executive Order, Nelle and Rattle.

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