How I Write:
A Round Robin Blog Tour
April 3, 2014
I want to thank my friend, Catherine Staples, for inviting me to participate in this year’s poetry Round Robin. Catherine is not only a gifted and award-winning poet, but she is also one of the most generous-minded connector-of-poets I have ever known.
Here’s the way this blog tour works: Writers are asked to respond to four questions about their writing process and what they are working on now. This is my response to those questions...
What are you working on?
I like how the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz answered this question in an interview once. In response to the question, “What are you working on right now?” he said something like, “I am trying to get out of the way of my own voice.” It seems to me that this is what we are always trying to do as writers: trying to grow technically by taking on new work thematically.
My debut collection of poems, The Lame God, which won the 2013 May Swenson Poetry Award, allowed me to assume the voice of a grieving parent when a child has been abducted and murdered. This work of putting on another individual’s skin was extremely difficult – and yet, I am now discovering, perhaps not as difficult as it is to craft poems wearing one’s own skin. My new collection of poems, tentatively titled Natural Law, explores the intersection of our natural lives and our regulated lives – the unexpected collision between 21st century codes that we label as taboo and that only two generations previously were labeled as liberation. I am also buttoning up for submission an educational memoir called Beginner’s Mind that celebrates a remarkable educator and recommends a philosophy of teaching that, in turn, recommends a philosophy of life. Excerpts from Beginner’s Mind can be found on my webpage.
How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Ezra Pound often advised T.S. Eliot to leave questions of difference and likeness to the literary historians. Busy yourself with the writing, Pound advised his poet friend, and let the literary historians busy themselves with where — or if — you fit in. I think I’ll listen to Pound and leave it at that.
Why do you write what you do?
I agree with poets such as Paul Valery and Yevgeny Yevtushenko: I don’t believe that, as poets, we get to choose our subjects. I think, more often than not, our subjects choose us. Poets, like artists of all kinds, are observers of the world; what we bear witness to is not necessarily what we would have selected – and not necessarily what we already know how to relate back to the world. With regard to this latter point, the poet is always challenged to find new techniques and forms for “mastering” — which is, of course, really “serving” — her subject.
How does your writing process work?
E.B. White wrote his most human and profound essays at his kitchen table, while his children romped about below. Socrates taught some of the most universal and permanent lessons about how to live a decent life, while walking with his students through the over-populated and bustling city of Athens. Regarding poetic process, I would have to say that mine is a combination of kitchen table and daily walks. I drum out lines in daily walks of trochees and iambics and tend to actually craft them at a tiled kitchen table in the most central of all rooms in my home.