You say you haven’t been sleeping much. What do you do in the middle of the night when everyone else is snoring? 

That all depends on what’s going on around me and whether or not I am really awake when I get out of bed. I once got in my car and drove down Silver Ridge Avenue. I woke up at 5am, in the parking lot of the Astro Cafe right off the 5 freeway, in my nightgown, shivering! A huge rig pulled in next to me.  I will never forget the vibration of those particular eighteen wheels. That… woke me all the way up.

More recently I woke up and painted my bathroom blue. So much of what we do in life has no end, even when it’s over, the ripples continue to pop up and surprise us. Sometimes, I just need a task that has a clear sense of completion.  When the wall is done, the wall is done.  The next morning, I realized that I had painted water base over oil. My daughter looked in the mirror and said, “Mom, I feel like I’m combing my hair in the sky!”  Then I didn’t care so much about the paint snafu.

On a more average sleepless night, I light a candle, pour a glass of water, and write.

 

What do you dream about when you are sleeping? 

I dream about dancing, leaping, flying…sometimes falling. But I never crash. It’s a blessing because I feel my dreams intensely. Often I dance with people I’d like to spend more time with.

I also have audio dreams, I wake up and I am aware of a certain song rattling around in my bones and I can’t get it out of my head. Or I’ll wake up to the sound of someone sobbing, and then realize, my face is completely drenched.

 

What makes you cry?

Starvation makes me cry, mostly, of any kind. Think of Tanzania, Biafra, Ireland, Appalachia, urban America anywhere. And we are not just starved for food but water too! And there really is no shortage of supply, only a shortage of compassion and conservation, and an abundance of greed. How precious our resources and how we waste them while so many thirst. That makes me cry.

And starvation is not limited to bodily sustenance but sustenance of the spirit. There are so many starved for acceptance, attention, love, care, simple kindnesses in passing.  And it’s so wrong because these are things we have in unlimited supply to give each other. Instead we give each other excuses, statistics, data feedback, cold shoulders. The starvation for human touch is the greatest insult of all. The way we walk side by side in judgment, instead of arm in arm, hand in hand.

 

How did you get from dance to poetry? 

Much of the dance scoring and choreography I did in the eighties and nineties included language of some sort. I did a lot of choreography for theatre. And also, right before my injury, I danced for a short time with Simone Forti, who innovated a form called Logomotion. Simone combined, modern dance, contact improvisation, and use-of-language experiments, as well as storytelling into class exploration. Some of my early poetry was edited from performance recordings and then built into poems on the page.

At that time I was also studying Sanskrit, which is a chanted language. The ancient texts are written in verses, slocas. Some of the phrasing started to creep into my writing, almost by entrainment. The ‘litany’ for example, which Jacques Crickillon and Billy Collins made famous, is actually a form that was employed in the Bhagavad Gita which is one of the most ancient and often read Vedic texts. Arjuna declares in clear litany, the glories and duties of Lord Krisna.

 

So how do you experience poetry as different from dance? And how are they the same?

O my, there is so much crossover: the sensory experience, the kinesthesia, all of the emotional content and release, that which the body experiences, the transformation that can occur in actual physiology when we ‘get it out’ authentically in any medium and shape it with some craft, making it feel good or better.  When we use art to sort through the un sortable, all of that is the same in dance and poetry.

The dominance of language of course, is the added component in poetry, which brings with it an entire cosmology of brain, concept and idea. That is quite different than our actual experience of the thing.

As a dancer, I am much, much more familiar with the actual sensation of my foot on the earth than I am with the ideas that surround it.  The writer articulates the conceptualization, the idea of the body walking on holy ground, of the miracle of the body in existence, heart beating, lungs breathing, and the gravity that holds the body in place.  The dancer feels it, doesn’t waste time needing to name it!! Instead, they are watching/experiencing how the momentum of one act…carries us to the next.

 

What would you like your poetry to tell people? 

I don’t know ‘what’ really. I’m not sure that’s any of my business. It surprises me like crazy some of the things people ‘get’ from certain poems.

I like the work best when it’s essence surprises me. I may be working from a certain conceit, a stack of words, or a first line, but where it goes from there, to what final resting place it comes, is what the writing itself seems to be seeking.

When I am asked to write something specific, like a cause, retirement celebration, wedding, or memorial services, those pieces take some time to gather facts, let them germinate, and then find a home in some metaphor or another. For a memorial service that process is accelerated but it still seems like it takes more attention than daily writing. Basic practice has the luxury of ambling around until the jewel of the piece is uncovered, if in fact it actually does succeed.

I do know that I’d like my work to be uplifting. I’d like to be a beneficial presence in the world, so it follows that I want my poetry to add beauty, humor, inquiry, understanding, some thread of wisdom if at all possible. But I don’t mean at all that it all has to be pretty flowers. Even the witnessing of heartbreak, injustice, destruction and tragedy can be beautifully terrible. And it is our calling to bring light to it all. There is so much we have to learn about each other. Poetry can help us.

 

What would you like the world to tell you?

Everything! Absolutely everything!!!

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TNB Poetry features poems and self-interviews from some of the world's finest poets. Past and future writers include Catherine Tufariello, Lewis Turco, Timothy Steele, Amber Tamblyn and Wanda Coleman. Our editorial team comprises: UCHE OGBUJI (uche.ogbuji.net, @uogbuji) is a Nigerian-American poet, editor ( Kin) & computer engineer living near Boulder, Colorado, USA. His short collection of poems Ndewo, Colorado is available from Aldrich Press. RICH FERGUSON (YouTube) has been published and anthologized by various journals and presses. He is also a featured performer in the film, What About Me?. WENDY CHIN-TANNER is a poet, an editor (Kin), interviewer (Lantern), a sociology instructor (Cambridge, UK), and co-founder of A Wave Blue World, a publishing company for graphic novels. DENA RASH GUZMAN, is author of Life Cycle—Poems, Dog On A Chain Press, 2013, Founding Editor of Unshod Quills, Poetry Editor and Managing Director at HAL Publishing (Shanghai & Hong Kong). Uche, Wendy & Dena are founding members of The Stanza Massive poetry/media collective.

One response to “Peggy Dobreer: The TNB Self-Interview”

  1. Sea Glassman says:

    This is lovely. So glad I read it. Thank you, Peggy. Beautiful thoughts.

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