When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
Anytime I’m asked, “How did you get interested in poetry?” I credit Emily Dickinson with saving my sanity after I suffered a severe head injury in 1986 and couldn’t read, drive or work for six months. Ever since that trauma, I have turned to poetry to help me understand my own experience and to connect with others. My first poem, “seizure” was written during that time.
Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
I read and write every morning for about an hour, first thing, with a cup of tea. I start with reading a few poems by other poets, as a meditation. In a state of un-caffeinated reverie, I pick up my pen and notebook and just write without my “editor” being awake. For example, I read Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem, “Kindness,” which begins, “Before you know what kindness really is/ you must lose things.” I wrote to that prompt for about a month, and several of the poems in Bourne Bridge were inspired from reading her poem. One of those poems, “Death of Teaticket Hardware,” is an elegy to a small, local hardware store that went under after Walmart came to town. When I was building my house in Falmouth, the owner was so kind to me. I am pretty clueless about anything mechanical, but he always treated me with such respect, no matter how dumb my question was. If I am remembered for one poem only, I hope it will be for this one.
Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
Most of my poems come from my dreams. They are filled with images and then the craft takes over with finding a narrative thread. When they are still in process, I take a new poem to an open mic and try it out on an audience. You can hear a tiny “thud” when the line doesn’t work and people fall out of your poem. So flow, both sound and story is what I want the way I want the listener to relate to the meaning.
Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?
Choosing which writers have influenced me is like choosing a favorite dessert or a favorite place to watch a sunset…every writer speaks to me and no single writer says it all. I turn to a writer who is more gifted with language and form than I am to emulate. Currently, I am enthralled by W.S. Merwin’s latest book, Garden Time. Seamus Heaney, Wistawa Szymborska, Charles Wright, Elizabeth Bishop, Jane Hirschfield, Mark Doty are a few poets who leap to mind.
As part of Calliope, I facilitate a monthly poetry discussion group at the Falmouth Public Library. Even if I am not as interested in a poet’s work when I read it on my own, I always leave the group with a deeper appreciation of the poet’s contribution to both craft and meaning. Since September 2007, we have read and discussed a poet a month (alternating with male and female poets). http://www.calliopepoetryseries.com/page12.php.
Tell us a little bit about your new collection: what's the significance of the title? Are there over-arching themes? What was the process of assembling it? Was is a project book? etc.
My first full-length poetry collection is called Bourne Bridge (Turning Point, 2016). The title is, of course, the name of one of the two bridges that connect Cape Cod to the mainland. It is also a play on words about crossing over, being born, or re-born. For many people who visit or live here, seeing the bridge after a long, arduous journey is an instinctive ahhh…you start to relax just upon seeing it!
The book is organized into three parts marrow, stone and marsh. The first section collects poems of family, early loss and the struggle to make it out of a “hardscrabble Catholic” neighborhood in Boston. The middle section of the book, stone, is about resilience. These poems are both dark and lightened by humor. And in marsh, I have finally arrived or made peace with the concept of home. The process of creating a cohesive book out of poems, which were not written, with a book in mind was, to say the least, exhausting, invigorating, and a bit ruthless. I had the help of poet colleagues, Dorothy Derifield and Susan Donnelly. Rich Youmans polished the manuscript with attentive editing. Martha’s Vineyard artist, Genevieve Jacobs, created the cover art especially for the book. So all the left-brain work paid off. It reads like a book, as though I wrote the poems in a certain sequence.
"Bourne Bridge," a poem from Bourne Bridge:
Not the hard rain
the rivers crave,
not the downpour
to quench the forest floor,
just a light mist,
on almost empty roads,
as I’m entombed in gray,
the only sound
an intermittent shush—
wipers clearing windshield;
this quiet is pleasing,
a monochromatic alone,
when suddenly the overcast
lightens from charcoal to dove,
then splits into strands
of mauve, salmon, rose,
and the bridge ahead, luminous,
wrapped in a pale blue shawl,
each raindrop clings,
glistening in pure light
that’s always there
even when hidden—
I’ve come home.