Your chapbook All Those Lilting Tongues, was just released earlier last month. How's it been going since then?
It’s going great! I’ve been putting the feelers out to set up readings, interviews and classroom visits locally and in the surrounding counties. Part of me is still trying to actually believe that I have a published book. It’s all quite surreal.
Your bio says your first love was poetry, how did you come to find it? What makes you stay?
I fell in love with poetry, or verse, when I was young child reading Dr. Seuss. The sing-song cadence of Green Eggs and Ham literally made me giddy and I remember going around chanting “I will not eat them in a boat, I will not eat them with a goat…” etc. for hours on end. Later, as I became more exposed to poetry and began reading different poets from different places, time periods and movements, I grew to not only love its musicality, but also how it often bends or molds language to create sound, or image, or mood…how it makes a statement or evokes emotion…how it becomes a “unique verbal object” as W.H. Auden so eloquently described it. There is something empowering and euphoric about creating these objects, these pieces of word art…that’s why I stay.
Your bio also says you enjoy writing in all forms—are there any lessons you've learned as a poet that help you when working in other genres?
The most significant lesson I’ve learned is how in poetry every word is vital, each one occupies a precise place, serves a unique purpose and must propel the poem forward. No word in poetry is wasted. That is how I approach writing non-fiction or fiction. I respect words and language and try to do both justice in whatever I am writing. I choose strong verbs and nouns, try to limit my use of modifiers, especially adverbs (any one who knows me will laugh as they read that because they know I detest adverbs), and I always strive to propel my prose forward as well as my poetry. Oftentimes, I get it wrong, but there are those moments when I do manage to arrange the words right, and it is a wonderful feeling.
How does a poem begin for you? With an idea, image, or rhythm?
Oh! All of the above and more! Sometimes its something I see, like when the robins eat the cherries off our tree every spring, that image found its way into “It’s a Waste of Magic to Wish Someone Dead.” Sometimes, it’s a line of dialogue such as “what is ‘I’m sorry’ to me now?” I heard that in a movie or tv show, I can’t even remember what it was, but that utterance turned into “Winter People.” Sometimes, its just an opening riff of a song looping in my head at 2 AM, “Driving the Desert with Zep” happened because “Kashmir” and the line, “tongues of lilting grace” was showing me no mercy and played itself over and over while I was trying to sleep. I ended up writing that poem at 2 AM to make the loop stop. Sometimes, an event or news story will trigger something in me and I feel the need to write a poem about it. “Rebirth” happened that way as I was watching news footage of how pollutants had turned a river into orange sledge. I think the best answer to this question is that, for me, poems just begin, they happen on their own, and I always try to pin them down, channel them, when they come to me.
How do you choose form in your poems?
This may sound strange, but I don’t. They choose their own form. The words usually come to me in spurts, or in waves, and I jot them down as they present themselves. It’s like a dam bursting. And when I’m done spilling and they are all on the page, I begin shaping them into lines and stanzas and cadence. I move them around, I change some, I discard some, I add some, and during that process the form begins to take shape. But it’s the words themselves that dictate the form by way of their sounds and their syllables and their impact. If the poem’s voice wants to be fluent and flow as though it were a gentle river, or even a raging one, then the lines are longer to enhance that sense of mildness or fury. If the poem’s voice wants to be stark, or broken, or even wispy, the lines are shorter to allow pauses for breath, or a disjointed cadence. I often read the poem aloud as I’m writing it, to hear how the words present themselves individually and holistically. It’s an organic, symbiotic process, one where I allow the poem agency to create itself.
Your lines “My callings / go unanswered / and the sunset / has lost your name” (from “Without”) have stuck with me for days after I first read it. Are there any lines you've read that have always stayed with you?
First, let me say that I am humbled and happy to hear that my words touched you and “stayed with you for days.” That is something I always strive to do with my writing, evoke a response that lingers with the reader.
In answer to your question…There are so many lines from so many poems that have touched me and stayed with me over the years that it would be quite impossible to list them all. So, rather than even attempt to do that, I think I will share the one that starting me on my poetic journey:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
That, of course, is the last stanza of “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. I first read that poem when I was 12, I’m 55 now, and those five lines still resonate with me today. Out of all the poems, stanzas, lines, and words I’ve read and treasured since then, “The Road Not Taken” is the one that immediately pops into my head when I’m asked, “What made you want to be a poet?” It’s as though those last five lines gave me permission, or at least validation, to take that road “less travelled by.” However, it took me a long time to arrive at that proverbial fork in the road. Most of my adult life was spent floundering around, trying to find where I fit in the world, trying to stay on the main highways with everyone else. But, I came to it at last, and when I saw it there big and bold in front of me, Mr. Frost’s words just rang like a thousand bells in my head.
Being an editor on top of being a writer, are there any challenges you face in the editing process? Is it harder for you to edit your own work or someone else's?
Editing is always hard. When I was the editor for Oregon East I found it unsettling to place my hands on someone else’s piece. I felt like I was violating the sanctity of another writer’s creation. Of course, editing is a necessary process, and I never changed anything without the author’s permission. However, I think it is more difficult to edit my own work, primarily because I have a hard time “killing my darlings.” I actually have a file folder on my computer labeled “darlings” where I save lines or phrases deleted from poems. Most of those will never see the light of day again, but at least they have a comfortable place to live out their days, or until I find a new home for them.
What's the best experience you've gained through writing?
In all honesty, what is happening right now, or rather what has been ongoing over the past year. All Those Lilting Tongues is my first book publication and it has been such a humbling and amazing experience to go through all those stages. From first writing the poems, to re-writing the poems, to re-writing the poems again, to arranging them with some semblance of cohesion, to creating a manuscript, to submitting that manuscript, and then waiting…waiting…waiting…and waiting…to hear whether or not it has been accepted, to hearing it was accepted and freaking out, to going through the presale process, the editing process, to finally seeing it print and holding it my hands. It has all been exhilarating and surreal. I keep pinching myself. And I’m still freaking out.
Where do you see yourself going next?
Right now, along with promoting my chapbook, I am actually in the middle of earning my second Master of Arts degree, this one is in Literature. Not only am I writer, but I am an avid reader, and one of my goals (other than being a published poet) is to be a university professor and teach both literature and writing courses. I already teach college level courses in composition, but I would also like to spread my wings and explore ways of sharing my love for reading with students. I’m still writing, of course, because when the poems come, I must, naturally, put them to paper. I’ve also been kicking around a few ideas for my next book. So, all in all, my future looks to be one of words, both already written and those yet to be.