Last spring, 2014, a friend suggested that it was time for me to put forward a “collected poems” issue, since I have been writing poetry for over thirty years and had four books plus a lengthy chapbook. I decided to try it, but name it “Selected Poems,” not “Collected Poems,” which connotes all.
Do you write every day to a schedule, or do you write in bursts and sprees.
Bursts and sprees. I wish that it were the other way.
Give us an idea of your writing method. First draft by hand or by computer. Do you outline or improvise?
I almost always write a hand-written draft. And I have a peculiar method: I HAVE TO WRITE ON UNLINED PAPER, plain white typing paper. I write anything at all that I write this way. I discovered in the last of my graduate school for my Ph.D. that lines get in the way of my thinking. I convinced all my professors but one to allow me to write my Ph.D. exams either by typing them (one took me all day) or on unlined paper. Once I learned that, it was literally like I had glasses on my thinking. I could see, and think—and the line blinders were removed. If I am writing a short essay, or review, the same is true: I have to write the first draft on white, only white, unlined typing paper. Nothing else. Only rarely, if a “burst” poem has hit me, I have written the first draft on the computer. (Then I print that out and work on it by hand, and begin again.”) I do not outline poems. I never have. I outline even the shortest essays or reviews, which I also consider essays.
What are your four or five (or ten) favorite books?
Willa Cather’s DEATH COMES TO THE ARCHBISHOP; Elizabeth Bishop’s THE COLLECTED POEMS; Wallace Stevens’ THE COLLECTED POEMS; Flannery O’Connor’s COLLECTED STORIES; Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Any memoir about surviving the Nazis in any way. (I have read about four new ones lately.) KITE RUNNER. Any book by Jane Hirshfield or by Edward Hirsch.
If you could be any character in a world of literature, who would you be?
Scout’s father, Atticus, in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, or the chauffer in DRIVING MISS DAISY.
We’re interested in your next creative endeavor—would you like to share information about it?
YES. I have been asked to submit another 80-100 page book by the board of another small press. But my real passion is to finish my 300 memoir of growing up in Mississippi in the 1940s and 1950s. That era has passed It was unique in American history, for some good reasons. Very few persons are alive to remember it now. I want to set down my memories from early childhood until age 17, when I left for university and Texas. That’s my real passion next. (Although I do have the drafts of more than 80 poems to work on for the other project).