So, you’re back here at the Nervous Breakdown, this time with a heroic crown. Do you enjoy writing them? How long did that this one take you to write?
I think heroic crowns are rather rare these days. The sequence is long, for one thing. For another, the fifteenth sonnet is comprised entirely of the first lines of the preceding fourteen sonnets. When you add iambic pentameter to the mix and a set rhyme scheme, this tends to turn away many poets who haven’t worked much with sonnets.
That said, some people say that, aside from the sonnets’ interlinking nature, daisy chain, the heroic crown’s challenge is to write so many short poems in sequence with connections yet amply nuanced shifts that move forward in a logical or emotional progression. I do enjoy writing them, almost find them like weaving or knitting with words, compose them in a trance-like state, for they are gentle poems, lulling.
Although, I began with standard crowns, which are like the bite-size version, I have written several of the heroic variety. This one here at TNB, I wrote in one long evening, while taking care of my children. I remember this because I almost lost an entire sonnet from the sequence due to splashed bathwater, as I literally carried around my notebook and kept adding lines while they bathed. As an aside, I have terrible hand-writing, so when you add water-blurred ink to already inscrutable penmanship, let’s just say I was glad that this was a rhyming poem so I could later guess at what was meant by various scribbles.
Do you like the anachronism of writing by hand?
I almost never write with real ink anymore, unless on receipts or scraps of paper; you know, compulsively with a desperate need to jot some trivia down for potential later use. The exception to this is when I’m doing some kind of care-taking or outdoor activities; then I do use pens. A friend recently found a little notebook on which I had written all kinds of strange animal facts from a Zoo bus tour. He laughed at them. I felt kind of violated that he’d read this notebook actually. Like the facts therein were some sort of guideposts in a diary. Can you guess my animal? Which animals would I need to document? In fact, I’m still feeling shy about that.
This poem is very gentle. Love, laughter, and cherishing are the themes. So much of your work is more aggressive. But there is sadness here, too. Would you like to speak to that?
I think that hope and desire and love and pain are all inter-related. How can we value what we have unless we know what we have lost? How can a person feel joy without the contrast to known sorrow? This poem was actually quite optimistic for me in that it arose from a sort of inquiry I felt regarding a consideration of strengths and weaknesses in pairings. For me, it’s like the explanation of a person, who has endured a lot of pain and solitude and grief, to a potential life-partner, about why a loving pairing would be desirable. I imagine, or imagined both people in this pairing were black swans of sorts; those who knew shame and pain and loss. In the poem, there are all the standard elements of an intellectual and romantic wooing taking place–the expression of joy at the presence of the other, the admission of a troubled past, the remembrance of the feeling of alienation that proceeded the discovery of the other, the proposal or reminder that togetherness can bring joy, the rapid construction of an argument regarding why joy is necessary in general–and so on–culminating in the final sonnet, which is like a vow or a promise to a beloved, a desire to share and exchange strengths in unity.
How does your fiction differ thematically from your poetry?
My poetry is more naked. In fiction, especially when you work with surrealist themes or magical realism, you are quite aware that you are constructing characters. Carefully, you shade and veil these beings. Even in standard literary fiction, the emotional truth is still present, but fiction is a lot easier for an author to hide behind, to branch away from him or herself.
I think poetry keeps the writer very aware that people will interpret it as personal experience. There’s the I that keeps popping up. Whereas fiction has more he and she and you.
Do you have any private poetry that you never share with anyone and don’t submit?
Of course. Lots of it. Stories like this too. They may find it when I die. If I don’t burn it first. If my children don’t one day secret it away from me while I’m unaware. It’s kind of delightful, actually, to imagine being an old woman walking out to a field with a suitcase full of old work and lighting a fire to ignite and expand one page at a time. Do you think we’ll have paper then, when I am old? All the good things are vanishing into computers lately. Well, I will have paper. I will hoard it just so I can light it up. This will give me great pleasure.
Speaking of stories, your new book of magical realism stories, SUSPENDED HEART, has just been released by Aqueous Books. Congratulations! As you mentioned in your earlier self-interview, you plan to donate part of your proceeds to a charity. Can you tell us which charity and why? Have you picked the next charity yet?
I selected the San Diego Family Justice Center, which is a facility here in San Diego for battered women and children because I love what they do, which includes providing legal referrals, housing help, and any number of important services to families that they serve. I have not picked the next charity yet because I am perverse and would like to link the themes in whatever book comes out next, in my awareness, with the idea served by the charity. Let us hope the next book picked up is not THE MAN WHO WOULD NOT PUT OUT. I might then have to start researching prostate cancer facilities or other related causes. I’m kidding. That would be fine.
What are you excited about having written that has either just come out or is due out soon? What next poetically?
This month, the title story for SUSPENDED HEART, “Suspended Heart,” has just been released at the Winter 2011 issue of JMWW. Also, I recently wrote a pair piece for Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People” that appeared mid-January at Necessary Fiction’s First Footing project and have another pair piece for Updike’s “A & P” coming out with the fabulous Re:Telling anthology soon to be released by Ampersand Books. Soon to follow, a traditional literary story about a blind girl will come out in Feminist Studies and an original modern fairy tale entitled “Come, Come Blackbird” is due out in 2011 in a new anthology entitled Rapunzel’s Daughters. There are other things too, but that’s enough to mention for now.
Poetically, what next? I’m not sure. As naked as poetry is, I think that depends upon who next walks deeply into my mental and emotional life and sticks around a while. I am hoping they will be kind. Handsome would be good. Brave would be excellent. Say, The Nervous Breakdown, do you take requests? I would like to request that I be granted the grace and hope to write more poems like “The Love, Laughter, Cherish Crown”–because that will mean I will be happy at last, or again attempting that pursuit. But I have no illusions. A favorite quote from Soren Kierkegaard that I often use as a closer at the bottom of my email messages rather sums it up concisely, saying: “A poet is an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and the cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music… and then people crowd about the poet and say to him: ‘Sing for us soon again;’ that is as much as to say, ‘May new sufferings torment your soul.'”
I would like to believe he isn’t right, but the quote resonates for me. Let’s just say my jury’s still out. I’m not sure half the time whether I am singing or crying.