I asked a friend if I could interview her, and then had to say, ‘breathe, Pat, just breathe’. Even though this thoroughly terrifies her, she answered my questions with the grace and joy she shows to all around her. A poet, and much more, Pat is known as the soul of the writer’s group I attend. While this is long for a blog post, I am not dividing it up as Pat’s words flow together. Please take the time to read the responses of a gentle soul, and please encourage her in her writing by posting a comment. Don’t let her tell you otherwise; she writes amazing poetry. I am honoring her terror by not using her full name until she can draw in a breath that is not panicked.
Lisa: I know you are tentative about doing this interview. Would it be too invasive to ask you what it is that scares you?
Pat: This is an easy question, though probably not an anticipated confession! I would shy from your interview because I am IGNORANT about poetry. I just write it! What do I know? I could not even pass a grade school exam, or readily or accurately even define “iambic pentameter”!! There were a few little issues of anonymity which I have since worked out – mainly by remembering not only YOUR good will, but that this is the twenty FIRST century, where there is not a House Unamerican Activities hatemongering Senator’s group, or Birchers quick to condemn first and never question or learn after.
Lisa: How have your poems changed since you began writing poetry?
Pat: I don’t seem to feel any change in my own poetry from when I began nearly 40 years ago. I still like some of my first pieces best! I’m no good at analysis; could never be good with critique, just too much into my own experience I guess. I think that how I approach any subject of a poem might change, but I’m not sure how, and it feels no different in the process or end result, even with consistent format. I just finished finalizing a year of work, ending 1999. I hadn’t finalized in some 13 years. Neglect!
Lisa: Has the meaning of poetry changed for you over the years?
Pat: I have no concept of poetry per se, as I grew up with such condemnations of it. I could put in some examples, but – Yuk. Ugly. I didn’t start out TO write poetry, that’s just how it came out, and I needed feedback to figure that one out. Once I accepted what might be true, then I worked it through, studied poetry, and found wonderful affirmation of the process itself. Best source was Shelley’s IN DEFENSE OF POETRY.
Lisa: Are there certain emotions or environments that inspire poetry for you? For example, music, walks, anger, joy, etc.
Pat: Intense emotions and the entire realm of Nature are first inspirations, which are also the first senses I have that a piece could come if I welcome it. I learned with intense relief in after-study, that poems just cannot be WILLED. (I think of Rollo May’s wonderful Love and Will). I remember that first fall, clearing all my decks to be ready for work with NO distractions, and I SAT there, on my empty facilities throne. That was a GREAT lesson to me. I can prepare, but there’s no real planning that works for me.
Lisa: Are there poets that have inspired you?
Pat: I was writing awhile before I thought back to what might have set the stage of this emergence for me, so utterly unintended were poems; it was more a back alley accidental exploration after everything else I’d thought to do had failed. There wasn’t much; just vague memories, then I wrote out “favorite poems” I could remember with pleasure, of Robert Service, Robert Frost, EMILY DICKINSON, and then others that came later, after I began writing: Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou. What really moved me in youth and life, addressing huge issues, were the Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, beginning with “South Pacific”. Music, as much as the words themselves, worked on me to set the stage for poems later on, and utterly unforeseen then, when I was some 30 years of age.
Lisa: What makes you choose a poem as the medium for your words?
Pat: Journaling just didn’t cut it for me as actual creating, more like “reporting”!! After I realized what I was doing, then a journal has often been interactive, with pieces leading to them, and sometimes I need journaling to come out of them! Poems take up little space (mine anyway) so that was a wonderful logistic when riding in a car; I could scrawl on any little piece and capture the moment, like a photo might, or a wonderful painting, or an exquisite piece of music. These assets of the process sure were encouraging of pieces themselves. Plus, like I heard so perfectly put in your writing group, I just don’t have the staying power of a book, or play, or even an article. My poems are like a jigsaw puzzle, with hopefully some solitary experience of each piece’s own, then of a whole mosaic of human experience.
Lisa: What do you find easiest and hardest about writing a poem?
Pat: Initially, the hardest part of writing a poem was just accepting that that’s what I was doing. Then, working out logistics and ordering it so it wasn’t all scattered bits driving me crazy. It was satisfying to get that worked out. The easy part after I realize I CAN, making that welcome, setting the stage, securing safety, is just exploring with the words, to see where they lead; I often don’t know where I’m going, but with a sense of “it’s OK” then the joy comes, even if I’m NOT sure I like what I end up with! But, more often, even surprised, I am enchanted that this vaguest sense in the beginning arrives, even after words pin it down, that it still conveys this initial amorphous inkling.
Lisa: Do you see the meaning, or intent, of your poem change when it is read aloud by someone else? How could you avoid that happening?
Pat: I’ve almost never heard my pieces read by anyone else. My first reader has such a lovely voice (she was a trained musical vocalist in her youth) that I am enthralled to HEAR it! I never think how it might change anything, as I always presume that the beauty of poems, like songs, or pictures, can mean different things at different times to different people. Even from the beginning, I felt that it’s the reader or hearer that ultimately determines the worth of what is received, that as creator, that reception is something I would never even want to control or determine (except of course to avoid giving offense or inciting violence!). That old saw about sticks and stones, but words can never hurt…well, they can, and Do. That would be an outcome I would work to prevent or avoid being held accountable for… thus posthumous publishing has ALWAYS appealed to me! The ultimate escape!
Lisa: What would you like to tell me about poetry?
Pat: I might actually say to you, Lisa, to not “Worry” about poetry. At all! It will survive, or NOT. I don’t see it as any more worthy than ANY other form of creativity, including comics, or movies, or even inoffensive graffiti! I could only hope it ever competes with philosophy, or a symphony, or suspense and intrigue, or really engaging beauty at any level, even models, sculpture, photography, not to mention the stunning awesome compelling experience of Nature all around us, especially where you live!! Where I was privileged to be a guest while you visited the sere enchantment of eastern Montana in winter, and near where you read a Christmas entry of my journal a few years ago, and I think I never heard anything so lovely! What a joy to be So received. “If the poet has a dream, it is not of becoming famous, but of being believed.” Jean Cocteau