getting to know Richard Waring and his new book What Love Tells Me
When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
Poetry has been a balm for me, gradually taking on a more dangerous aspect. Home sick from school, I’d go through Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses,” and later poems like Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish” and Walt Whitman’s poems. (I lived in Whitman’s home town of Huntington, N.Y., by then.) Then in 8th grade we read haiku and those by Issa particularly resonated. For instance, “Icicle”: “Water and ice / old differences dissolved / drip down together.” My first published poem was called “Winter” and sounded like one uttered by Henry Gibson on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In: “Winter, that time of year / when all signs of life seem to disappear.” This was before I learned the true potency of words, when poets could be thrown out of town or even murdered for their truths.
Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
No. I don’t believe in forcing it. Some poems have gestated for years, decades, only to be written down in an instant. Others require research and gathered details. Some emerge from dreams. I generally write in the bedroom for this reason. It is true that the angel of writing only sits on your shoulder and the pencil is in your hand. And I do write the first draft with a pencil on paper because it is smaller than my head.
Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
I might read a phrase like “wombats have babies” or “chicory was thought to open locked doors” or take an idea I’ve cherished for a long time and start playing with it. Most good writing could from a place of praise and love, or fierce resistance. I am enamored of the poet-naturalists, Emerson and Thoreau, Burroughs and Darwin, who made a practice of naming things and learning about the world from observation.
Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?
The beats opened me to new ways of seeing — Ginsberg, Corso, Ferlinghetti, Kerouac — but their view of women was less enlightened. Levertov, Rich, and Rukeyser brought me light. Bly was a source for many years, along with his translations of Neruda, Rilke, and others. More recently Sharon Olds, Galway Kinnell, and Wendell Berry have revealed new sources of inspiration. Mary Oliver and Barbara Helfgott Hyett. Above all, Robert Frost.
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.
What Love Tells Me explores the varied terrain of love, family, solitude, the natural world, the condition of loss, the spirit of place. What it means to love and lose and love again, how divorce both wounds and clarifies, and the complex range of emotions, from loss to renewal, anger to the unexpected blessings of being husband, father, divorcé, son, lover, and brother. As letters from the front lines, where the latest changes are taking place, these poems are a frank and immediate communiqué of those struggles. The poems in this collection evolved over 20 years and matured into a book in 2 years.
Watch Richard Waring interviewed by Doug Holder on his Poet to Poet, Writer to Writer cable TV show