Judy Prince: The TNB Self-InterviewBy Judy Prince
January 28, 2010
Briefly, how would you characterise yourself?
Could you expand that a bit?
Intransigent, bloody-minded, immovable—
Any positive spin to it?
—unswayable, willful, unmanageably selfish—
Let’s try another tack. Could you list other qualities that characterise you?
I’d rather not just now.
Have it your way, then.
Wait—I want to talk about how stubbornness is a trait of poems.
Be my guest.
You’ve got an attitude now.
What else could you possibly expect?
Here it is, then: Each poem’s like a little stubborn person.
Would you like to expand that thought?
Why don’t you expand it?
Because it’s your interview, darling.
I hardly think your thoughts would be hugely different from mine.
Look, why don’t you just take over the interview? You’re not the least bit serious.
Quite the contrary. I’m into seriousness and plan to stay there for an hour or so.
Well, I don’t plan to stay here for an hour or so! Quite frankly, we’ve gotten off to a bad start, not to mention your rudeness. Quite off-putting, that.
Each poem is a little willful being. Like a person, a poem is conceived as a bristly, bursting whole. It wants flesh and daylight. The poem may not be understood or welcomed by the poet. Nevertheless, poet and poem find themselves searching one another…..immersing themselves in themselves…..plotting, bucking, wiggling, debating.
I don’t quite get this.
I mean—like us—poem and poet feel that they are two beings, but in their best wrestling times they work together as one. They adjust to being one, midwifing the poem, getting it to breathe on its own. The poet has lost an ego in those glorious moments.
Why do you write poems?
Among other reasons, to winningly distill wisdom.
Is poetry your first writing love?
It may be becoming that, though I love the publicness, the sociableness, of plays, and I yearn to write wise plays.
You’ve previously said that you came to writing poems in order to write better plays.
Yes. And it has been thrilling as well as sometimes frustrating. Fortunately for me, research for a play set in Elizabethan England has freed me somewhat from the constraints of present-day word use. That is, several Elizabethan poets and playwrights stretched and flexed the use of words. They imagined words playing wildly with one another in order to fix a point in hearers’ heads. An example from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Act V, scene ii:
Shall be brought drunken forth, and I shall see
Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness
I’ th’ posture of a whore.
From Merchant of Venice, Act V, scene i, Lorenzo to Jessica:
Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.
Other writers or poems that have thrilled you?
Oh yes. Michael Alexander translating Beowulf [Alexander’s The First Poems in English, Penguin Classics, 2008]. Here, lines 208-217, page 77, of Beowulf:
The prince had already picked his men
from the folk’s flower, the fiercest among them
that might be found. With fourteen men,
sought sound-wood: sea-wise Beowulf
led them right down to the land’s edge.
Time running on, she rode the waves now
hard in by headland. Harnessed warriors
stepped on her stem; setting tide churned
sea with sand, soldiers carried
bright mail-coats to the mast’s foot,
war-gear well wrought; willingly they shoved her out,
thorough-braced craft, on the craved voyage.
Other poems, poets?
Definitely. Yeats. For the lift, passion, lilt, music and messages.
And Dylan Thomas’s Fern Hill—leaping with joy and sharp regret, looking back and into his life. Excerpts from Fern Hill:
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away
. . .
And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder
. . .
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
. . .
Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days . . .
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
Beautiful! Thank you very much, indeed.
No, thank you!
Wonderful interview. Welcome to TNB.
Thank you so much, Rich. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the ride on TNB. The variety of talented writers— as well as their humour and humanity—is keeping me on my toes (and keeping them warm).
I’ve always found “Antony and Cleopatra” the most quotable Shakespeare (OK, next to Hamlet, which is a tad obvious in its quotability quotient, anyways). A few weeks ago I was musing on the famous passage:
The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold;
Purple the sails, and so perfumèd, that
The winds were lovesick with them; the oars were silver,
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made
The water which they beat to follow faster,
As amorous of their strokes. For her own person,
It beggared all description: she did lie
In her pavilion, cloth-of-gold of tissue,
O’erpicturing that Venus where we see
The fancy outwork nature. On each side her
Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids,
With divers-coloured fans, whose wind did seem
To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool,
And what they undid did.
“I marvel at Shakespeare’s sport of mounting the peak of aestheticism, and thence blasting his ribald swiss horn over the valleys. Eliot’s is a neat imitation in “The Fire Sermon”, but he doesn’t dare, as Shakespeare, to mix sacred (Athena, Aphrodite and Erato) and profane.”
Regardless of motive, it’s, as you say, the art of fixing words in the head of the listener. Who else but Yeats?
“How can those terrified vague fingers push the feathered glory from her loosening thighs?”
“And I am dumb to tell the lovers’ tomb how at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.”
There’s no drink to match the initiation draught of the fanatical order of syllable.
“Ha Ha, Give me to drink Mandragora” indeedy!
Ouch, Uche! You kill me with word-beauty! Our finest faves! Makes me drowsy-drunk! Oh to make one instant of the broiling joy those poets give! Can I write one sentence that doesn’t end in an exclamation point?! Apparently not!
Keep me tutored, oh wordsmithy!
Judy flying orf to L.A., that land of TNB, of treasures and hidden mysteries, of tales and morphing creativities…….[!!!]
My, but you really ARE stubborn, aren’t you? I find that the best poets and writers are. Nice interview!
Compliment much appreciated, Erika. Me, stubborn? Nah! Though my best friend says I’m one of “nature’s aristocrats”. [He’s a Very Kind friend and gifted euphemiser]
I’ve been obsessed about your working on the Growing Up Christian book [ok, can’t remember the title; mea culpa]. Keep wanting to write you about it. Now you’ve given me the opp, right here in public.
I loved what you wrote about it so far, hope you’re screeching thru the keyboard with it even as we speak. P’raps bcuz Christianity’s a near-taboo subject now in the USA, I wonder how the subject’s met by the book-reading public. Your piece spotlighted the youth groups….the creative ways to Not Have Sex. Loved i!
I stumbled into teaching a girls’ high school little group at my then Quaker Meeting some years ago, and out of sheer laziness pretty much just gossiped with the girls for the hour, only varying our fare when a Quaker woman appeared, and I’d say: “Jesus said….” so I wouldn’t be busted out of the position. Eventually decided that the girls would write a little play to be performed at Meeting. I totally did not help them write it, and only briefly advised them on delivering the lines. After their Firstday performance, the Meeting tore up completely with applause—-only time I’ve ever heard applause at a “silent” Meeting! Such unique, brilliant, creative power in those young women. Please let me know how your book’s coming, and/or how you’re moving along with ideas, “angles”, threads, subjects, frustrations.
[…] JUDY PRINCE on Judy Prince […]
“Each poem is a little willful being.” Gorgeous, Judy! And Brits are so enviably adept w/ “quite” and “darling”.
Thank you, Litsa, for your kind compliment.
You say, as well: “Brits are so enviably adept w/ “quite” and “darling”.”
I must’ve adopted Britspeak, then. Wow—-now I’m truly chuffed! 😉
[…] them to TNB through Judy’s feature (the poem ‘Werner von Braun as a St. Kildan Bird’ and her self-interview) almost exactly a year ago, and I’m delighted they’ve been so, ahem, engaged in our discussions. […]
Enjoyed reading your interview as well as your poetry. Hope all is well with you. Let me hear from you.