Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Traveling Through Time and Space - This Just In!

Really, I shouldn't admit this, but perhaps you can relate. I almost look forward to the year of The Alchemist's Kitchen book publication year being done so that I can focus more on my writing than interviews and reading. Maybe it's just that I struggle not to repeat myself or send myself to sleep.

I mention this because the poet Rachel Dacus recently interviewed me and I didn't feel bored or repetitive. She interviewed me for Fringe Magazine and you can read the whole interview right here.

Thank you Rachel Dacus, thank you Fringe Magazine. Thank you, dear reader of this blog (if you are still reading) for caring enough to visit here from time to time. Here is a small excerpt.

What is the use of poetry? What place does it serve in our culture, and how do you think it needs to be brought into a more central position?
Oh that’s a big question. I could answer that after September 11th, newspapers across the country were publishing poems, and that poems of Naomi Shihab Nye and W. H. Auden went viral, traveling from email box to email box and back again. I received both their poems upwards of a dozen times. So yes, in times of national crisis, poems can respond to an emotional tsunami.
But what about in our everyday lives?
Right now my Maine Coon, Otis, best pet ever of eleven years, is dying and there is not a damn thing I can do about it. I am not turning to poetry; I am turning to a glass of prosecco. In a few weeks or months, or even tomorrow, I may find something in a poem to take me away momentarily from the horrors of death—but not tonight. It always hits me afresh that even as a poet, there are times when words seem paltry, pathetic, and fully unsatisfying. Yet, during the first year of my MFA degree, when my father was dying—and then by spring, had died—there was nothing I could do but write poems of struggling with his death—and my mother’s death the year before. One poem, “Muted Gold,” which I wrote because I was in a program and had to hand in something every week, now seems to me a gift of remembering. And yet, when I finished that poem, I knew it was nothing but the diapositive—the negative of the negative—of the event. In other words, words are sometimes not enough.
How often, or over what period, do you typically revise a poem?
I’m not sure there is much that is “typical” about my revision process. What I can say, with certainty, is that I am a chronic reviser. It isn’t unusual for me to work on a poem for a year or more. I have some poems with over thirty versions on the computer—and that doesn’t count the drafts done off the computer.
In my essay “Reclamation: A Poem on Revision” in the recent anthology, Poem Revised, I traced the life cycle of one poem from inception to publication. Here is what I ended up saying:
The point is this: revision is the difference between the adequate poem and the excellent one. It is the magic of a word positioned just right in a harmonious line of sound, it is the title changed and re-changed again. It is believing in your own poem. Get to work.


  1. My book just came out and I am already feeling this! I think because you also lose a lot of writing in the proofing/preparing to publish part of the book process.

    And yes, Rachel Dacus is wonderful!

  2. I enjoyed very much the entire interview. Thank you for highlighting it.