Getting to know leslea newman and her new book i carry my mother

Available now from Amazon.com

Lesléa Newman is the author of 65 books for readers of all ages including the poetry collections, Still Life with Buddy, Signs of Love, Nobody's Mother, October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard (novel-in-verse) and I Remember: Hachiko Speaks (chapbook). Her literary awards include poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation. From 2008-2010 she served as the poet laureate of Northampton, MA. Currently she is a faculty member of Spalding University’s low-residency MFA in Writing program.

Lesléa Newman is the author of 65 books for readers of all ages including the poetry collections, Still Life with Buddy, Signs of Love, Nobody's Mother, October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard (novel-in-verse) and I Remember: Hachiko Speaks (chapbook). Her literary awards include poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation. From 2008-2010 she served as the poet laureate of Northampton, MA. Currently she is a faculty member of Spalding University’s low-residency MFA in Writing program.

When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
My first encounter with poetry was Dr. Seuss whose work I still find very inspiring, particularly when I write children’s books in verse. I started writing poetry when I was very young, about 10 years old, to stave off my loneliness. I still have my black-and-white composition notebooks full of my sad little poems.

Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
I try to write every day, though I am not always able to do so because I travel so much to give readings and presentations. Though I have become very adept at writing on trains, planes, buses, and in hotel rooms! Early morning is my favorite time of day to write, and my study at home is my favorite place. If my cat is perched on my lap, so much the better.

Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea? 
The poems come from everywhere. Sometimes I dream in words without images and will write down what I have “heard” in my sleep. Sometimes I am inspired by memories. Many times I find inspiration by reading other people’s poetry. And often I am inspired by historical events. For example, my novel-in-verse, October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard, was inspired by the hate crime that claimed the life of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student who was killed right before Gay Awareness Week was to begin at his school. I was the keynote speaker and arrived on campus the day he died. Writing a book of poems was the only way to process this tragedy and its profound effect on myself and the world.

Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?
I had the good fortune to work with both Allen Ginsberg and Grace Paley and they have been my biggest influences not only because of the quality of their work, but the quality of their lives. Both of them used their writing to make the world a more humane place and that is something I strive to do. I also worked with Anne Waldman who taught me to be  fearless. 

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 newest book, I Carry My Mother, is a themed collection that explores a daughter’s journey through her mother’s illness and death and her own grief. The book has a narrative arc and all the poems are written in form. I find the challenge of writing a book-length series of poems that tell a story stretches me in a certain way. I started writing the book when my mother was ill and I was taking care of her. Every night I would go upstairs when she was asleep and write a triolet (an 8-line French form with a rhyme scheme and repetition pattern). Writing a poem every night both brought me closer to my emotions as I dove deeply into them and gave me some distance from my emotions as I focused on rhyme scheme, rhythm, meter, etc. After my mother died, I continued to write about the experience of witnessing her courage and strength, and my own enormous grief. During my mother’s last hospital stay, she called me to her bedside, waved her hand around the room and said, “I’m giving you permission to write about all this.” So the book is a tribute to my mother, who also wanted to be a writer. The title poem, “I Carry My Mother” is the last poem in the book. It is a rhymed pantoum that explores the way I carry my mother with me wherever I go.

A sample poem from I Carry My Mother:

I Carry My Mother

I carry my mother wherever I go
Her belly, her thighs, her plentiful hips
Her milky white skin she called this side of snow
The crease of her brow and the plump of her lips

Her belly, her thighs, her plentiful hips
The curl of her hair and her sharp widow’s peak
The crease of her brow and the plump of her lips
The hook of her nose and the curve of her cheek

The curl of her hair and her sharp widow’s peak
The dark beauty mark to the left of her chin
The hook of her nose and the curve of her cheek
Her delicate wrist so impossibly thin

The dark beauty mark to the left of her chin
Her deep set brown eyes that at times appeared black
Her delicate wrist so impossibly thin
I stare at the mirror, my mother stares back

Her deep set brown eyes that at times appeared black
Her milky white skin she called this side of snow
I stare at the mirror, my mother stares back
I carry my mother wherever I go