Thanks to Ann E. Michael for inviting me to go on the Blog Tour. I’ve enjoyed the poems in Ann’s book Water-Rites every since I picked up a copy at AWP in Boston in 2013. That’s also where Ann and I met and began our correspondence. So here is the magical mystery tour of my writing life, the tour of my de force. Up next week on the Blog Tour are essayist and story-teller Rebecca Lawton and poet and critic Athena Kildegaard.
What am I working on?
In the past year, I’ve led a monthly poetry discussion group at a private house in Berkeley, and for that discussion I’m in the habit of preparing a text, often on a neglected mid-century poet. In this manner, I recently scrutinized some of the less well-known poems of A.R.Ammons. Eventually, I’ll post these critiques as blogs. I recently published two books, Fracas & Asylum (poems) and Rumpelstiltskin, or What’s in a Name? (a play of sorts) and I’m going around town reading from them and hawking copies in street corners. Meanwhile, I tap my unconscious every morning the way the New England farmer taps his maple trees, and I expect to collect the sap in a new volume new year if I’m lucky. I am always working on poems. And I’m always reading other poets’ books with an eye to writing a review or essay. I have a stack of books on my nightstand waiting to be reviewed and another stack of creative nonfiction books for the committee I chair at the Northern California Book Awards.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My poems differ mostly in formal qualities. I actually rhyme the end words of my lines. How can this be, you may ask, if I draw work from the unconscious? My mind is a field of echoing rhymes. There aren’t many contemporary poets with the nerve to do this: A.E. Stallings, and of course Richard Wilbur. I try—without always succeeding—not to mope and whine in my work, and not to go simply for comic effect, all to easy for formal poets. Occasionally, I hope to achieve an aphoristic level of abstraction. Here, for example, are a few lines from my poem “Ideal or real?”
I was noble once, and cherished respect.
Now, like Freud, I bracket the “id”,
and mend only where I don’t deflect,
and connect where I don’t forbid.
Why do I write what I do?
I write to unravel the trials and puzzles I bring upon myself and have to confront in my life: parenting, mortality, illness or moral failing. Whatever I’m thinking about, whatever comes into my mind or presses on me in the middle of the night—I jot it down. That’s my material. And I read, read, read, often stirred by essays and poems in the literary press. I participate in the rich literary life of my community by going to readings by other poets and that feeds my work.
How does my writing process work?
I write in the early mornings before practical concerns can distract me, before the demands of the world press in. For poems, I always begin writing in a notebook, first draft in one notebook, second draft in a second notebook (so I can look at the first draft while revising), and so on, through as many as four or five drafts. Then I transfer the most recent draft to my laptop and continue revising. I almost always have a few sentences in mind of what I want to say. In order to remove myself and my personality, from the writing, and to insert elements beyond the mere feeling of what I wanted to say from the work, and, yes, perhaps also to ally myself with the poetry of the past, I often use a rhyming dictionary and a thesaurus. This means that sound echoes of the poems determine its direction and meaning as much or more than my initial desire to say something specific. So: experimental? Yes, I think so, but not in a way contemporary poets would notice. For reviews of books of poems, I keep a file and read through each poem of a collection, making notes poem by poem. Only later do I begin to see patterns and correspondences and to tease out the threads in the poets’ work. From these notes, I draw my review or essay.
Next up on the Blog Tour, Athena K and Rebecca Lawton: Find their blogs in the coming week through the links provided.
Rebecca Lawton: Rebecca Lawton writes about nature as she finds it in humans and the wild. As a scientist, she studies watershed processes; as a former whitewater guide, she worked all over the West rafting and kayaking. Her work appears in Orion, THEMA, the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, Shenandoah, Sierra, and many more magazines. Her book Reading Water: Lessons from the River was a San Francisco Chronicle Bay Area Bestseller and ForeWord Nature Book of the Year finalist. Rebecca recently published a debut novel, Junction, Utah. Her collaboration with photographer Geoff Fricker, Sacrament: Homage to a River (Heyday), and her first short story collection, Steelies and Other Endangered Species (Little Curlew), are due out in 2014.
Athena Kildegaard: Athena Kildegaard lives in western Minnesota where she teaches and enjoys long walks across the prairie and around wetlands. She’s the author of three books of poetry, one of which was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award in poetry.