Interview: Atoosa Grey



“Writing poetry has made me more aware of rhythm, repetition, & alliteration in my lyrics. Just writing more, and playing with language, makes lyric writing more approachable and accessible. It becomes more fluid.”


Sometimes I wrap my arms
around you tight, and know
there will come a day
when you no longer
sneak into my bed at night
and curl your sleepy bones
against my sorrow
and make it small again.

(Mom Egg Journal, Vol. 13)

3 a.m. analog:  Atoosa, how did you get started as a musician?

Atoosa Grey:  I studied piano from the age of five. I was totally enamored by the piano from the beginning, almost obsessed. I began writing music around twelve or thirteen years old. I knew from a very young age that I was intensely drawn to music. I was in college when I wrote the songs for my first EP, Out of the Jar. I met a woman who became a close friend, who was studying music engineering there. She produced my first EP, and that’s how my journey as a singer-songwriter began.

Do you think of yourself more as a songwriter or a performer?

I think of myself more as a singer/songwriter than a performer. This is something I’ve learned about myself over the years. I enjoy performing, and that moment where I get to connect with an audience and share my music, but mostly, I’m a pretty shy person. I have mixed feelings about getting on stage sometimes. But I never have any doubts about writing music or recording it, which feels very natural to me.

Have you been writing poetry all along?

Yes! I have been writing poetry all along, since I was in my teens. The act of writing has given me back to myself many times, but in the beginning it was not very good. I had to work on it. There was so much for me to learn about the craft. I went back to school. I workshopped my poems with insightful writers, was introduced to work by poets I was not familiar with, read widely, and studied with poets I greatly admire. It’s not imperative one go to school, of course, but it’s important to read everything you can, to soak in the work of other poets, and have other writers look at your work. I have a friend who is very gifted and often edits my drafts and vice versa.

Does your being a musician affect your approach as a poet? Has writing poetry affected your songwriting?

The sonic element of language is central to my poems. I pay great attention to the sound of words. Sound on a more literal level plays a large role in my poems. What do we hear around us? And metaphorically – what do we hear inside of us? These are questions that I am often exploring. Writing poetry has made me more aware of rhythm, repetition, & alliteration in my lyrics. Just writing more, and playing with language, makes lyric writing more approachable and accessible. It becomes more fluid.

How are the two disciplines different?

In poetry and lyrics, language is the medium. But they are not the same. Even the way one uses repetition in lyrics can be totally different than the use of it in poetry. The music and the rhythm of words in poetry is central to the way it’s felt by the reader, but there is no music behind the words, and that silence is necessary. Because there is no music, there is a heightened awareness of the music in the words.

Lyrics are paired with music and they are not meant to be abstracted from it. Some lyrics read well as poems, but some do not. The musical elements that surround the lyrics are an essential part of what makes them work well. There are of course poems that are put to music that work beautifully – and perhaps that music is structured to complement the poem. There are so many possibilities and places where they blur. But I don’t think it makes a song better because the lyrics are poetic as opposed to any other approach. I do sometimes begin writing lyrics using a poem I’ve written. It morphs at some point because of where it sits in the music.

Does each form give you something the other lacks? Do music and writing complement each other?

I feel music & writing do complement one another. For me, it felt very natural to shift focus to poetry. There was a desire and creative impulse to follow it. Being a musician taught me a lot and it’s evident in my poetry. And as a parent, writing poems allows me to access my thoughts quickly when I need to write. I’ve always felt that I needed to write – whether it be a song or a poem. And there’s something so immediate about poetry. It’s a conversation. I think it’s very pure. That being said, music (with the absence of lyrics) can affect us on a level that can’t be easily articulated. And that is what makes it holy in a way.

I love your poem “Daughter.” As a parent, is hard to find time to write? 

I write in the mornings, mostly, either when the kids are sleeping or at school. I love writing in the early morning when everyone is asleep.

Do you have a favorite writing spot?

I write everywhere! No particular place.

 Any plans? What’s next for you?

My first chapbook, Black Hollyhock, is being released on Finishing Line Press this fall. I’m so grateful for this. And then, I hope to publish one more chapbook that I finished and a full-length book of poems.


Black Hollyhock

More than half
the canvas is
sedated by the plump
expression of
the hollyhock,
its black paws gesturing
to the larkspur,
whose wisps of pink and green
signal from open-
mouthed clusters



Atoosa Grey is a poet and singer-songwriter living in Brooklyn, NY. She has released one EP and three CD’s: Out of the Jar, Sound Travels Up, Night of the Deep Bloom, and most recently When the Cardinals Come. She has performed nationally and contributed music to several independent films.

Her poems have appeared in print and online journals including Right Hand Pointing, The Best American Poetry Blog, Eunoia Review, and Mom Egg Review. Her first chapbook, Black Hollyhock, will be released this fall on Finishing Line Press.

Categories: First Issue

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