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Nellie Bridge: Make Trying Your Goal

Our HS English Teacher, Ms. Nellie Bridge is also a poet. She recently got some of her poems translated in Bulgarian and published in the reputed Bulgarian literary newspaper ‘Literaturen Vestnik’. We asked her a few questions about her interest in writing and her creative process.

What initially sparked your interest in literature? How did your passion evolve over time?

When I was young, my mom would play guitar and sing songs to me and my siblings. She would also sing me lullabies before bed and read us nursery rhymes. These are probably my first experiences with the beauty of language. I also remember memorizing some psalms in Sunday school as a child and feeling a little hypnotized by the rhythm and the repetition in those. Later in elementary school, my teacher had a poster on the wall with a Langston Hughes poem that I loved, and that same teacher also encouraged my writing.

Can you recall the first poem you ever wrote? How old were you back then and what inspired you to start writing?

Beyond exercises such as cinquains and acrostics in early elementary school, I wrote my first poem at age 11. I was feeling depressed. It was literally about a deflated balloon. It was a bad poem, but it still meant something to me.

What themes or subjects do you explore in your poetry today?

Porousness, limits, anti-suicide, machines, absurdity, longing.

Could you share a bit about your creative process? Do you have any rituals or habits that help you get into the right mindset for writing poetry?

Most Saturdays I participate in a weekly online workshop with seven poets from around the world. We each bring a fresh poem to share and analyze. It’s really fun, and it’s been going since 2020. Some of my closest friends are also poets, and we provide feedback to each other as needed on longer manuscripts. In daily life, I try to stay alert in case something interesting passes through my head, usually attached to some piece of language that catches, and then I write it either on a scrap of paper or on a Note on my phone. I also miss a lot of these because I am busy or not alert enough. In my Creative Writing class, I’m able to freewrite for 10 minutes at the start of class with students, which is also really fun. Then from time to time I go through recently filled notebooks and look for interesting things.

Some of your poems have been translated and recently published in a local newspaper. Can you, please, share more about this experience?

It was incredible to work with such a clever, careful, and caring translator–Violeta! She loves literature and is highly adept (totally fluent) in English as well, so I was extremely lucky that these poems were in her hands. It especially meant a lot to me because I was a bit timid writing about my Sofia neighborhood as a newcomer–did I have the right to do that? Would I get it wrong or say something dumb? We met several times to discuss meaning and word choice, and it was fascinating. Her questions led me to make several changes in the English versions, where I realized the words could be clearer. I also learned about a word in Bulgarian for “emptinesses,” which I love!

How does the relationship with your students influence your poetry? Do you ever share your work with them as part of your teaching?

My students inspire me because they are always coming up with something surprising and original–especially during freewriting in Creative Writing. It’s fun to be surprised. It is awe inspiring to hear them read aloud something surprising, funny, or powerful that they just wrote in that very room right then.
I don’t share my poems with students. I don’t feel it’s appropriate or relevant to what we’re working on learning together. They’re really the center of the class. That said, I love to share my appreciation of language and literature. And I do share tips that have worked for me as far as the writing process and learning how to persist, such as how to make feasible goals, different types of practices, self-talk lines, and tactics for lowering standards.

What advice would you give to students who aspire to get their poetry or prose published one day?

Keep trying. Make trying your goal. For example, after finding some suitable places to send your work, make a goal of sending out a certain number of submissions within a certain amount of time. Then try your best to do it. Important: give yourself credit for trying, because that’s the whole thing. Not everyone is going to love your work. You don’t have to agree with others’ opinions of your work, but be open to hearing it. If you want to get really good at something, you need to want it enough to be willing to be bad at it for an indefinite amount of time. At some point, the doing becomes the goal, and then you’re free.

Next year we will continue with the interview with Ms. Violeta Vasileva, our EAL teacher, who translated Nellie’s poems in ulgarian. Stay tuned!

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