5 QUESTIONS with dorianne laux

by Robby Auld | April 2018

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Why write poetry?

Everyone sees, feels, responds to the poetry of the world every day.  In a sunrise over rooftops, a dogwood in bloom, a child’s bike leaning against a fence, a pair of tennis shoes hanging by their laces from a telephone wire, a moth’s wings spread on the screen door, the sound of a train in the distance, the smell of fresh bread.  Everyone falls in love with the world daily and we have no words for what spellbinds us.  Poems need to be made to recognize that sense of wordless awe. Or, as Leonard Cohen said, “Poetry is just the evidence of life.”

How does teaching affect your writing practice, and vice versa?

My students teach me about the endlessness of possibility, they refresh my sense of connectivity, they open doors and invite me in.  It would be ungrateful not to respond in kind.  When they are writing well, it urges me on.  When I’m not, they remind me to keep at it, to keep trying. 

Only As the Day is Long: New and Selected is forthcoming from W.W. Norton. What was your process putting together the collection? And what was your experience returning to older work?

I simply chose the poems that seemed to have the most longevity for readers along with personal favorites.  The new poems are about my mother who died in 2010.  I have other new poems, but those seemed to be of a piece and so I decided to publish them as a group. It was fun in some instances, cringeworthy in others. Mostly though, it was amazing to realize that I had actually written and published 5 whole books of poetry!  I felt proud to have accomplished that in my lifetime.  I began late but feel now as if I’ve finally caught up.

Who, or what, inspires you?

My husband inspires me daily, my daughter, my friends and students. Dead poets inspire me, those who speak to me in whispers through the dark curtains of the past, and living poets who travel long distances to read their poems to a room full of quiet listeners, those grateful and needful of what they have to say. And trees and whales and foggy nights and broken fences and the loyalty of dogs and horses and the Pacific Ocean and corrido music coming from someone’s far off backyard.  

What is the most beautiful thing you saw today?

A man stop with his child to read the poem in our front yard poetry box by Leila Chatti called “Spring Thaw”.

Spring Thaw

March, month of her
birth, unfurls like a fist
of petals, cold
receding a sheet dragged
back from the earth
which took her
like a seed and now offers
green bristles, leaves,
magnolias like ghosts
waking in the branches.