Tanka Poems led to a Book & Combatting Writer’s Block: PRIORHOUSE INTERVIEW with Elizabeth (Liz) Gauffreau

Hello Readers.

It is time for the Priorhouse Interview featuring author Elizabeth (Liz) Gauffreau (Liz’s Blog is here). She writes fiction and poetry with a strong connection to family and place.

All photos and poems in this post are from Liz Gauffreau and belong to her. 


Prior: Hello Elizabeth, or Liz, I am looking forward to our interview.

LIZ: Thank you for having me on your blog, Yvette. I greatly appreciate it!

Prior: Let’s start with a little background info.

LIZ: I grew up in New England as a child of the 1960s. I’ve lived in New Hampshire for twenty years, but my heart will always be in Vermont, where I graduated from high school.

  • I spent twenty years as a Navy wife, living mostly in Virginia. 

  • I lived in Florida for three very surreal years. Aside from experiencing some severe culture shock, I was terribly homesick for the four seasons.

  • I hold an MA in English/Fiction Writing from the University of New Hampshire and a BA in English with a concentration in creative writing from Old Dominion University.

    Early wiriting sample from Liz
  • As I was deciding career options, I was adamant that I was not about to waste a college education on career training or anything practical. I’ve never regretted it.

COMIC – Turkey as English Professor:  In your essay, you failed to consider the HUMANISTIC elements of the novel, the dynamic flux between innocence and pathos. You did not adequately deal with the work’s central themes: the tyranny of blind hypocrisy, the visionary eloquence of silence. You fell short of a full appreciation of the essential and ultimate value of compassion. You flunk.

LIZ: After a misguided attempt at teaching high school Latin and English, I spent my professional career in nontraditional higher education advising, teaching, and administering various departments and programs, including credit for prior experiential learning.

I retired last year to write full-time. I haven’t regretted that decision, either!

Prior: Oh wow, best wishes with your retirement and I hope the next phase (with more time for writing) will have many fruits.

And speaking of writing, Congratulations on having one of your short stories win an award recently. I grabbed this from your post about it (which is here) 

“I am thrilled to share that my short story “Henrietta’s Saving Grace” has won the 2022 Ben Nyberg contest sponsored by Choeofpleirn Press. The story was inspired one of my great-great aunts from Nova Scotia, who went by the nickname “Jen.” I sent the story out four times before it was accepted for publication by Coneflower Cafe, and the editor recommended that I also submit it to the Ben Nyberg Contest. The first rejection, from Carve Magazine, was an almost.”

LIZ: Thank you so much. I am very excited about that. 


Prior: I was recently reading about writer’s block in The Curious Reader.

  • In The Curious Reader, a section on writer’s block noted that Steinbeck combatted it by imagining he was writing to a single person rather than a large, imaginary audience. This gave him flow with “a sense of freedom.”

  • Pulitzer-prize winning fiction writer, Jhumpa Lahiri, suggested that writer’s block needed to be embraced as part of the process because ideas “gestate in the mind.” Lahiri noted that writer’s block is the time “when a story grows but isn’t necessarily being written in sentences on the page.”

  • So Liz, any thoughts on writer’s block? 

LIZ: Free-writing often helps me combat writer’s block. (Just write without stopping until I get something workable and delete the rest.) Other times, I’ll have a hand-wringing conversation with a writing buddy. They’ll suggest ways to address my impasse that won’t work, and the idea for what will work will then just pop into my head.  Kind of a backwards way to go about it, but it works. 

LIZ: My experience with writer’s block is more what I call “a failure of imagination” than being unable to write at all.

LIZ: The failure of imagination happens when I’ve written myself into a corner with either a character or the plot–or a combination of both–and can’t figure a way out that is true to the character involved, plausible, and not contrived. 

Prior: Sometimes I will deal with writer’s block by doodling or just drawing in a notebook.

Two strategies for dealing with writer’s block that might help some writers are to work on a different project or go and read a book or watch a movie (Psychology Today).


Prior: I am not sure if you heard about the third annual #Dickenschallenge (post is here), which invites folks to read a Dickens novella between Feb 7th and June 9th (hosts are Trent, Marsha, and Yvette).   I hope you can join us.

LIZ: Oh I do have a few thoughts about Charles Dickens: 

My two favorite Dickens novels are Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol. A Christmas Carol holds a special place in my heart because my dad read it to me when I was a kid. It’s probably the best example of a redemption story I’ve ever read.

I studied Great Expectations in high school and again in grad school. The grad school course took a sociological approach to the novel rather than a literary one. While knowledge of historical and social context are valuable to provide depth of insight into a novel, I don’t like the sociological approach because it tends to reduce the characters to symbols of oppression.

I studied Hard Times in college, which I loved because of Dickens’s heavy-handed use of character names. (I’m talking about you, Mr. M’Choakumchild.)

I recently ran across the following Dickens quote on someone’s blog and immediately fell in love with it:

“Dombey sat in the corner of the darkened room in the great arm-chair by the bedside, and Son lay tucked up warm in a little basket bedstead, carefully disposed on a low settee immediately in front of the fire and close to it, as if his constitution were analogous to that of a muffin, and it was essential to toast him brown while he was very new.”

~ Dombey and Son

Prior: I LOVE that snippet so much. And I wonder what it would have been like to read his work in the serial installments. 

LIZ: I think I would have enjoyed reading each chapter of a novel released as a serial, but that’s about it as far as it goes for living in Dickens’s time period. Everything I’ve read about living in cities at that time sounds just dreadful, not to mention having no rights of my own as a woman.

Prior: While on the topic of reading, do you have any books that you can read again and again?

LIZ: I haven’t been rereading books lately because I have so many books on my TBR. 

Liz’s TBR pile

Prior: Do you have any books that you reread for a lift or a mood boost?

Liz: For a number of years, my go-to read to lift my mood has been “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” For a human being to use language to create something so beautiful makes me think there just might be hope for us yet.

Reading William Faulkner’s Nobel-Prize speech does the same thing for me.

Also, reading a preschool teacher’s blog post about a children’s book I loved as a child will always lift my spirits. (Winnie the Pooh, my dear, gentle friend!)


Prior: Where do you write? 

LIZ: I normally write in my study reclining in my big fancy office chair that I purchased with a work bonus years ago. The catalog called it “The Rumination Station.”  And so here is my Rumination Station:

LIZ: I write in different places. I wrote the poems for Grief Songs in a notebook in bed before going to sleep. I have to write prose on the computer because my handwriting is so bad. I also find it much easier to compose on the computer because I can type almost as fast as I can think. (With lots of typos, but that’s what editing’s for!)

Prior: One of the reasons I wanted to interview you, Liz, was to chat about your book, Grief Songs. 

LIZ: Grief Songs came about as a result of being encouraged by Colleen Chesebro to try writing tanka poems. (Prior to following her blog, I’d stayed far, far away from syllabic poetry.)

  • A month before my mother died, I wrote my first tanka. 

  • After my mother died, writing a poetry collection was the furthest thing from my mind.

  • Then, as I was going through family photograph albums, out of nowhere, certain photographs prompted lines of poetry.

  • As I wrote the lines down, I discovered that the traditional structure of English tanka (five lines with a syllable count of 5-7-5-7-7) was the appropriate form to capture and preserve what those photographs represented. 

I soon had enough poems for a short collection. I arranged them in an associative order to tell a story and that led to my book, Grief Songs. 

Prior: Thanks for sharing about how the book unfolded. It almost seems like it wrote itself – or was an outpouring of creative inspiration fueled by deep family love! In fact, after I read the book, which is a delightfully quick read with such a minimalist vibe, I realized that you lightly coverd the life-span with a photo to go with each poem. 

LIZ: I wasn’t sure about publishing this poetry collection because the poems are so personal — it felt like a risk — but a writing community I belong to encouraged me to go ahead and take the risk. I was advised that the collection could give readers an opportunity to reflect on their own experiences of losing loved ones.

Prior: I am glad you DID publish your “personal poems” because you invite us into YOUR inner world and then allow readers to extract different takeaways.  And rather than focusing on the loss of loved ones, your book really felt like a celebration of life and togetherness. 

I think the title of your book, Grief Songs, is a bit misleading. I was expecting a book with a sort of heaviness related to bereavement but it was light and airy. 

Even though your book was spawned during early grief, the content felt like “life songs” or “familial melodies” – and not really grief songs. 


 Here are three of Liz’s tanka poems (with the hand-selected images) that readers can find in Grief Songs: 

Grief Songs is available on Amazon here.


Prior: Can you share what you do for wellness and mental sanity?

LIZ: The main thing I do for physical wellness is exercise every day. (I should probably do more; I sit at the computer way too long.) For my mental sanity, I have to write fiction or poetry on a regular basis to maintain my equilibrium and keep from getting depressed.

Prior: Can you share about your approach to blogging?

LIZ: My main strategy for blogging is to post something new every other week (with a few exceptions if the spirit moves me). This schedule allows me time to visit and engage with the folks I follow. I read new posts and comment twice a day: in the morning and in the evening.

I have learned so much from the bloggers I follow, it’s like being back in college—with no tuition and no grades! I’ve also been inspired (and encouraged!) to try new avenues of creative expression I otherwise never would have tried.

The only times I start feeling burned out are when I have to deal with WordPress bugs, which seem to be the bane of our existence these days.


Elizabeth (Liz) Gauffreau online: 

Thanks for joining us today!

Questions for readers:

  • Do you have any comments or questions for Liz?

  • Have you written any Tanka poems? If you want to try it with others, go here to Tanka Tuesday

  • We briefly taked about writer’s block in this interview. Do you have tips for dealing with writer’s block?










86 thoughts on “Tanka Poems led to a Book & Combatting Writer’s Block: PRIORHOUSE INTERVIEW with Elizabeth (Liz) Gauffreau

    1. Dan, thanks for the comment and for joining us today. I have two more interviews this month and two in March… then I am not sure- and by the way – I really enjoy your blog and was thinking abut asking you for an interview. hmmm

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Donna, I WISH I was reading Great Expectations right now because
      I would love to get caught up in that awesome book. I look forward to your review.
      And I was really glad Liz shared that Dombey and Son quote too. This interview with her also reminded
      me how writers vary greatly – in output but also in what “speaks” to us….

      Liked by 2 people

  1. What a wonderful interview Yvette!

    I really enjoyed hearing how Liz developed her poetry and “wrote itself as she says”.
    It’s truly inspiring to see how all of us influence and support each other in our writing endeavors unfold in the exact way it should. Although I too love to write free hand, my writing just isn’t good enough anymore either. Thanks for sharing Liz’s journey with us. She is a great writer and so talented! ❣️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Cindy, my handwriting can be sloppy. I write in a paper journal with Sharpie markers and I had
      to work on making it more legible. And Cindy, I had wondered how you write your many poems and so thanks for sharing.
      I think the Tanka poetry form really clicked for Liz and worked well in her book.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Thank you for your thoughtful response, Cindy! Freewriting is a composition teacher’s trick that we pull out when a student says “I don’t know what to write,” and a conversation doesn’t help. You just write without stopping for whatever period of time you need. I’ve never seen it fail to clear a writer’s block for students or a failure of imagination for me. It can be done by hand or on the computer. I always do it on the computer.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this interview with Liz! She is a great writer and a wonderful blogger. You have opened the door to learning more about Liz (I do wish her brother George had kept that time machine), and I smiled a gigantic smile at her love of Winnie the Pooh. I especially enjoyed your take on her tanka poems in Grief Songs. Lovely!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jennie, thank you for your comment. I with George would have kept the time machine too.
      And I was pleasantly surprised at how Liz’s boook seemed to express grief by sharing
      family reflections and snapshots of significant moments related to key photos; rather than feeling
      heavy we hd light glimpses of her story.
      hope your weekend is going well

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Thank you, Jennie! I’m so glad you enjoyed the interview. Yvette asked some fantastic questions. I also appreciated her take on Grief Songs. I hadn’t thought about the book in quite that way before.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Jennie (and Liz) just wanted to chime in on this because i truly was REALLY surprised when the book was not
          all heavy with bereavement – in fact, I delayed reading it because I had to wait until I was in the mood for a “grief book” – but then it was more a “celebration of life’s memories” book – so it shows us that we truly cannot judge a book by its cover

          Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, I did! I like your “Rumination Station,” which is great for a writer to have their own space to write. I feel like pictures tell so much about our lives, and your approach to sharing pictures with your poems is delightful. Nice to meet you!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It’s good to meet you, too! I’m very fortunate to have my own writing space. I know many writers don’t. (Nor did I when I was just starting out.)


        2. Same here! It’s great how Yvette does these interviews and gives us readers an introduction to interesting and talented writers. She’s really good at it!
          As a homeschooling mama to young kids, I have attempted to find my own writing space. I really tried!! But every time I set up a space, it got taken over by toys, games, cards, food, etc. For a while I used an ironing board as a computer stand. lol. We have an office with a desk that I used when I was in graduate school. Well now, it’s become a Pokemon display table. But I still search out for my nooks wherever I can.

          Liked by 2 people

        3. Esther (aka singlikewildflowers) thanks so much for joining us on the interviews and it makes me smile to read your feedback!
          Also, we all need a rumination station and it sounds like you are flexible to move around to find a perch or nook – such a sweet momma with priorities in the right place! because one day – the college years will come and you will have all the desks of your choice – not sure if you heard the song Watercolor Ponies – here is a link to the version I used to like in the 1990s –


        4. Yvette, the lyrics are beautiful to “Watercolor Ponies!” Thanks for sharing that with me. It’s so true that time flies and the little people will soon become big people and leave the nest. In the midst of the chaos of parenting and homeschooling, I try to remind myself that this is precious time. I pray everyday that God will help me to see it as precious and to grow together. Thanks Yvette for the encouragement and thank you for introducing me to awesome writers ang bloggers. It’s nice to know that there is a real person behind the blogs.


        5. I am so glad you like that song. I heard it a lot in 1995 (I bought the various artists CD and then overplayed it because
          it was comforting) anyhow, little did I know that God was getting me ready to meet my spouse that year and one day, we would have our own “watercolor ponies ride away” –
          anyhow, your comment about how the house is such a shared space and how you find that “writing nook” reminded me of the different seasons we are all in. You are in full-time mom mode, Liz retired to write full-time, and I am somewhere in between both of those.

          and so glad that we all have a diverse blogging community yet share so much in common !

          Liked by 1 person

        6. Yvette, isn’t God amazing to prepare our hearts and to take us through different life seasons?! Thank you for sharing your story of how God prepared your heart for meeting your spouse and for your family.
          I needed that reminder that I am in that hands-on phase of motherhood and that writing is not something I can do full time. I don’t even know how that would look for me. Maybe God is preparing me for something in writing in future years. It’s exciting to wonder but frustrating too that maybe nothing will come out of it in the end. Trusting God!


  3. Such a good interview with a blogger I have enjoyed following for some years now. Her perspicacious comments, as with some of her answers to your questions confirm a welcome like-mindedness. When is retirement retirement?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Derek. I’m glad you hear you see some like-mindedness! I’ve been asking myself the same question about retirement lately. I may have retired from higher ed, but I’m far from retirement. My answer today would be retirement is postponed indefinitely.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Hi Derrick – thanks for your comment and I know that Liz is a regular over at your place
      also, cheers to staying active with a full life while defining retirement on our own terms… it is a new world

      Liked by 2 people

  4. A wonderful interview, Liz and Yvette. I got a chuckle from “The Rumination Station.” And it was fun learning about Liz’s journey into writing and her thoughts on Dickens. I was particularly interested in how Grief Songs came about. I loved that collection; it felt personal and touching. Thanks for the interview, ladies. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  5. What a wonderful interview, Yvette and Liz. I love learning about the process of other writers and enjoyed reading about Liz. Her TBR made me laugh. And I am intrigued with her book, Grief Songs, that I look forward to reading. Thanks for sharing! 💗

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Lauren – thanks for joining us with this interview – and I also hope you enjoy Liz’s grief songs book. I must admit that at first I wished it was longer – but then I realized that each book has a unique flavor and essence – and so the exact number of poems that Liz chose was carefully considered and so I then found that I savored more.
      It was interesting for me to think bout book length and the very individual approach to sharing our work. I think it is an important example for other writers that books can be short and still have substance.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. It really does and not sure if you read Lady by the River, the anthology, but that book came to mind this week
          (Partly because someone reviewed it – mainly ana’s chapter – but it was a good review and I am going to share it soon)
          anyhow, that book has many extras – in fact – so many extras that someone gave it a four-star review (goodreads) and said it would have been a five without the extras
          and so Liz, I thought about on and off – and always came back to feeling certain that the extras were needed – – it aligned with the goal of the book and with what I wanted as the editor. Even though I will likely never “pack” a book with so many extras after that (well maybe – but only if it needs it) and so in a way –
          it was like that book (lady by the River) was akin to meal that had five kinds of meat, a dozen side dishes and
          and multiple desserts.
          And so with yours – I found it light and airy (as noted) and it was kind of the opposite of lady by the river – rather than
          the buffet – your Grief Songs was like a nice juicy steak and a single side dish.
          How is that for an analogy?

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for this interview with its insightful questions and answers. I’m glad you included the photos with Liz’s poems as they could have been taken in my own childhood in the 50s. Her brother reminded me very much of my older brother. There is so much love in her words.

    I don’t have writer’s block but I definitely have editor’s block. When I get stuck with a poem I just leave it for awhile. It looks brand new when I go back to it, so I’m able to see other approaches.

    I too always find Pooh and friends to be comforting. (K)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dan, thanks for joining us. And it reminds me how different styles of writing can inspire us at different times – like your dialogue with having a beer – and for Liz, the tanka was the word play for her 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Yvette, it’s been a joy and inspiration to join you and Liz in your cosy chat / interview – thank you for letting us sit in! 😀 As always your questions are fun, searching, and insightful! Liz, it’s been great to get to know you even more! Thank goodness Colleen encouraged you to try writing in Tankas – Grief Songs was a book that was meant to be written and you excel in these – of course you know how much the book touched me and I still come back to it! I enjoyed learning a bit about your life, and thoughts on other writers and ahhh … I love the Winnie Pooh quotes! Happy Writing, my friend! hugs to you both xx ❤️

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Annika – thanks so much for joining us for Liz’s interview. Your comment reminded me of how we are often better together – because the nudge and suggestions from Colleen was so impactful.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Thank you very much, Annika! I’m so glad you enjoyed the interview. I owe Colleen a very big debt of gratitude for giving me the means honor my family and keep their memories alive when I so badly needed it.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. A little late to the party, Yvette, yet I like to devote dedicated time to reading certain posts.💕

    I have been a fan of Liz’s writing since I first ‘met’ her. Especially, her book, “Grief Songs.” I read it awhile ago and I still recall how Liz shared relatable, cherished, personal moments. I recall how the book made me feel and how a loved one’s life is much more than the end of their days. Her great photos truly helped share her experiences. A life-affirming book.

    I greatly enjoy reading these interviews and learning more about the writer behind the scenes. Yvette, you come up with wonderful questions/framework. You remind me how the recent hype about ChatGPT (an entirely different conversation) does not share the unique voice of a writer and the personal, individual experiences and wisdom of Liz. “…YOUR inner world…”

    Congratulations to Liz on her published stories, poems and awards!

    Thank you, Yvette, for another inspirational and thoughtful interview. 💕


  9. My apologies for being two weeks behind in reading and commenting on this interview Yvette. I was behind, then had three days without internet from the ice storm. Sigh. I enjoyed the interview very much. I like the idea of Liz’s Rumination Station – if that does not shake any kind of writer’s block or spur you into your fingers flying over the keyboard, I don’t know what will.

    Liz, I like your TBR stack – looks like mine and this year I am forcing myself to read by signing up for the Goodreads Challenge. I love to read, but with walking, blogging and oh yes, work … I never get time to read. The only good thing about last week’s internet outage was the chance to read. I had never heard of a Tanka before – I liked the one with the vaccinations best.


    1. Hi Linda,
      thanks for joining us for Liz’s interview. We appreciate you including it in your “catching up” time and also, I hope your good reads challenge is going well.
      And! Love your wording once aaain…. “…spur you into your fingers flying over the keyboard

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I enjoyed that interview and learning about Liz and Tankas too. Glad you liked my wording Yvette. 🙂 I have not done as well in March in the Goodreads challenge after my three-day-no-internet-reading-my-heart-out event, as I scrambled to catch up with social media and here too. I tried picking up the book I started about 10 days ago and almost needed a primer to remember all the characters … I should have made a cheat sheet!


        1. Well that book you are reading just be really layers with characters and it sounds great! And how there was no cheat sheet made because how can predict storms and loss of the Internet??

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I couldn’t believe I forgot everyone’s name in that short time. Five women writers meet regularly – so it’s about them, their families, then the author was weaving in the childhood/background of each. Whew!


        3. I’ll persevere through it … I rarely give up on a book, although “A Walk in the Woods” about two older guys hiking the Appalachian Trail, got bogged down with too many statistics about the AT. I mention that as I remember you and your hubby hiked the AT and you wrote a post about it.


        4. Hi Linda – that does sound like it could get dry after a while – reading
          stats about the AT
          — and maybe a few readers will really lap it up – I am not sure I would even though we have hiked parts of the
          and I tried reading a book about hikers on Everest and it was not for me – but I could see
          that others would enjoy it
          I guess we really do each have our own tastes and seasons for what we enjoy

          Liked by 1 person

        5. Yes, that is true. Some books flow and you can’t put them down. So far I’m ahead on my Goodreads Challenge as I read a lot the three days I had no internet. I started and finished a book one day (“The Art of Racing in the Rain”). I like a book like that. I made this is a goal, like walking, so I hope I don’t disappoint myself.


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