Sitting in my writing studio a couple of summers ago, my friend and mentor Sally Ridgway and I gave one another a challenge – that we would each put together a poetry manuscript for a first book within the year. We researched what was involved in compiling the manuscript. For years, we'd attended conferences where poets talked about this topic. So we pulled out our notes. At a recent Poetry at Round Top panel discussion, one poet had offered this piece of advice – when trying to group the poems, ask “What is the poem thinking about?” Sally and I agreed we would check in periodically on our progress and be each other's first reader. It was the impetus I needed. I've always known what I wanted the title of the book to be. Luckily, I have this wonderful studio – the one room in the house I chose to carpet so I could sit on the floor. I sorted poems over several months with the luxury of being able to leave the stacks where they were. Always in the back of my mind, was a quote from Robert Frost (that I had read in Jeffrey Levine's excellent article “On Making the Poetry Manuscript”), “ 'If there are x number of poems in a book, the book itself is the final poem.'” I enjoyed the process of putting the book together, seeing how the poems related to and played off each other. And Sally and I both finished our manuscripts within the year.
Do you write every day to a schedule or do you write in bursts and sprees?
Definitely, bursts and sprees. But if the wheels are spinning and I'm reading poetry or books about poetry, studying craft – I think that all counts.
Give us an idea of your writing method. First draft by hand or by computer? Do you outline or improvise?
I always write the first draft by hand, but I put it on the computer quickly and print it out. Then I keep the poem close to me – in a pocket perhaps, through rooms in the house as I move about, often times in the car. I always say my poems to myself, silently and out loud. Sound is crucial to poetry. So when I'm creating and especially revising, I choose words for their sounds as well as meaning. I can go through many revisions for just the right sound of the words. The way the poem looks on the page is important to me, too. I am drawn to symmetry.
What are you four or five (or ten) favorite books?
I'm going for ten because I want to name poetry books, works of fiction and an autobiography. In poetry, The Poetry of Rilke and Uncollected Poems, both translated by Edward Snow. My husband Larry gave me Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke, Vols. I and II which I treasure. Also on the list are Mary Oliver's American Primitive; The Wild God of the World – An Anthology of Robinson Jeffers, selected by Albert Gelpi, and A Book of Luminous Things – An International Anthology of Poetry, edited by Czeslaw Milosz. I could keep going but I'll move to fiction and name Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Toni Morrison's Beloved and Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex. And the autobiography is Carl Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections.
If you could be any character in a work of fiction, who would it be?
Bathsheba Everdene in Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd. She's smart, daring and independent, not intimidated or defined by the expectations society had of a woman in nineteenth century England. She's right out there in the fields with her workers and earns their respect. She's also beautiful and men fall in love with her but unfortunately, at least for awhile, she falls for the wrong one.
We're interested in your next creative endeavor – would you like to share some information about it?
I would like to spend as much time as possible in my studio writing, reading, listening to music. I have my grandmother's piano in the room and I said I was going to learn to play it again. I will continue to submit poems to literary journals and anthologies. I am fortunate to live in a beautiful, wild place and, for as long as possible, I want to enjoy it and, hopefully, in the words of Robinson Jeffers, “feel and speak the astonishing beauty of things.”