October 04, 2013
I believe that the best poetry has an inherent music, no matter in what style it is written. My immersion in this wordless language was in the work of my stepfather Charles Rufino, a renowned classically trained violin maker. His studio, filled with the shaped wood of cello and violin backs, showed me that music had a birthing room, a visceral beginning. The scent of varnish, sawdust, and rosin taught me that this auditory pleasure can involve all of the senses.
As professional musicians visited us, there would often be impromptu concerts, and I came to see how the musician’s love for music paralleled my love for poetry. They often appreciated my poetry as much as I did their music. The intrinsic music of poetry spoke that same language apart from words, the soul’s under-song, understood by both musician and poet. From this recognition came the idea for String Poet, a journal where poetry, music, and art can be appreciated simultaneously.
It seems that music is not the only art that has influenced your poetic journey. How have the visual arts been part of that formation?
When I became Poet-in-Residence at the Stevenson Academy of Fine Arts in 2005, I studied sketching and painting under the tutelage of Atilla Hejja, the Academy’s director. He was a prominent and well-respected artist who had studied with the apprentice of Norman Rockwell, Harold Stevenson, for whom the school was named.
As Poet-in-Residence, I taught poetry workshops and organized collaborative programs between poets and visual artists. During my tenure, I learned to appreciate the selective focus of the artist’s eye, and how essential both light and shadow are to any worthwhile creation. The school closed in 2008 with Atilla’s untimely death. My chapbook, Still Life (Street Press, 2008), was dedicated to Atilla, and many of the poems, as well as the cover (a charcoal drawing — started under his direction, finished after his death,) pay homage to his teachings. This inspiration from other arts has influenced many of my collections, including Artifacts of Sound, (Street Press, 2007), A Field Guide to the Muses (Finishing Line Press, 2009) and most recently, The Divine Tour (Finishing Line Press, 2012).
You served as the first Writer-in-Residence at the Walt Whitman Birthplace in 2009-2010. What is your personal connection to Walt Whitman?
My connection to Whitman goes back to my childhood. As a child I won a poetry prize sponsored by the Birthplace Association, presented to me by William Stafford, who told me I had great promise, which of course intensified my resolve to pursue poetry. While Writer-in-Residence, I ran workshops in poetry for both adults and children, and reached out to the local poetry community as well. I love the sharing of words and experiences that comes with teaching poetry workshops, whether undergrad, graduate students, high school students, or local community adult learners.
How did the String Poet Studio Series come to be?
It was a natural outgrowth of the journal and the String Poet Prize, an annual poetry competition where the winning poem is used as the inspiration for the commission of a new piece of music from a professional composer. This led to the idea of an award ceremony where the poems and the music could be debuted. From that, it was developed into an ongoing series, where we host performances from the finest calibre poets and musicians around. Our first issue went live on-line during the award ceremony, a tradition we have continued.
Tell us about the new sonnet form you innovated.
I call it a Mirror Sonnet. It’s a form I devised in which the sonnet can be read from top to bottom, or bottom to top. The mirror examines the same subject differently when it is read in reverse. The mirror sonnet reflects the change in perspective that occurs as we move through time, space, and experience. My full-length collection, The Clock of the Long Now (David Robert Books, 2012), features many of these Mirror Sonnets.
I was delighted when the poet/critic and Master of Forms, Lewis Turco, reviewed it on his blog. I’m pleased to report that since that posting, other poets have written in this form, so it isn’t considered a nonce form any longer.
How does your YA novel, The Delaney, connect to poetry? What does it have to do with you as a poet?
The Delaney is the story of a character who writes her pain into purpose through poetry. I wanted to encourage young people to use words as a refuge during difficult times. It’s an expression of my desire to help others to recognize the power of the written word for healing — something I do as a teacher, but wanted to bring to a wider audience. It’s part of the curriculum in several schools. The Delaney – Journey to Banba 2nd edition with illustrations and additional scenes was released in 2012 as both ebook and paperback, and the sequel is forthcoming this year.