Friday, April 20, 2012

Poetry Temptations, an interview with Diane Lockward

As part of the Couplets National Poetry Month  blogtour hosted by
Check their website for other interviews and guest blogs. 

I met Diane Lockward via the internet, a list serve of women poets called WOM-PO. Her voice as a poet is intimate as she captures our daily world in gestures that are passionate, humorous, and courageous.  “Something like grief washes through me, something like joy.” from Eve’s Red Dress echoes my life’s journey exactly. It’s a small world after all!

Diane Lockward is the author of three poetry books, most recently, Temptation by Water. In 2006 What Feeds Us received the Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize. She is also the author of Eve's Red Dress and two chapbooks, Against Perfection and Greatest Hits: 1997-2010. Her poems have been included in such anthologies as Poetry Daily: 360 Poems from the World's Most Popular Poetry Website and Garrison Keillor's Good Poems for Hard Times, and have been published in such journals as Harvard Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner. Her work has also been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer's Almanac.  Diane has entered the ereader age: Twelve for the Record is now available as an ebook and can be downloaded.

Diane sends out a monthly newsletter with reviews and tips, prompts and suggestions which you can sign up for via her website. The website is packed with reviews, videos and other places to read her work.  She lives in northern New Jersey.

1. Do you have a warm-up writing practice?
I make myself a cup of ginger tea. Then I show up at the kitchen table and read poems from a book or journal. That gets me in the mood and thinking like a poet. Often while I’m reading someone else’s work, I’ll be struck by a line, a word, an image—something that speaks to me and asks for a response. When that something presents itself, I begin freewriting. I just try to keep writing without worrying about whether it’s good or bad. Later I go back and pull out the weeds.

2. I admire the use of humor in poetry and find it hard to achieve. How do you write with humor? Any tricks you can share?
I know what doesn’t work—trying to be humorous. There’s something spontaneous about humor. If I’m writing a line and it makes me laugh, that makes me happy. But is it really funny?
If I go back repeatedly to that poem and the line continues to make me laugh, I can be pretty sure it will get a laugh from readers. On the other hand, I have several times had the experience of getting a laugh from something I hadn’t realized was funny—there’s the not trying principle at work. But I don’t consider myself a particularly humorous poet. It’s not what I aim for though I’m happy to hit it occasionally.

3. What feeds you as a poet? What other arts do you enjoy doing?
I read a lot of novels and memoirs. When I was teaching full-time, I watched almost no TV. Now I do have shows I like and sometimes they prompt a poem or provide a line or image. Daydreaming is good. Walking is good. Cooking is good.

4. What was different between the first, second and third books in the process of getting them published, out to the public and reading from them?
The first book took about six years of submitting before it found a home. Then oddly, the publisher found me instead of the other way around. My publisher, Charlie Hughes, used to be the editor of Wind Magazine where I’d once had two poems as finalists in the journal’s yearly contest. Apparently, Charlie continued to look for my work elsewhere. Then when he went into book publishing and wanted to branch out beyond Kentucky where his press is located, he contacted me and asked if I had a manuscript for a first book. I was just about to revise the manuscript one more time. Once I did, I sent it to him and he accepted it. The next two books he also accepted. I feel very fortunate to have a publisher who takes subsequent books. Not all publishers do. I’ve done the same kind of work getting all three out to the public. I keep a mailing list and an email list. I have a website and a blog and I send out a monthly poetry newsletter. I work hard to line up readings and am willing to travel for them.

5. The trailers: They look like fun but also a lot of work. What tips or advice can you give about how to use your time wisely in creating trailers?
They are fun. You’re right, though—they are a lot of work. But it’s the fun kind of work. I begin with an idea of what I want the finished product to look like—that’s quite different from my approach when writing a poem. Then I gather photos from Photoxpress. I have a folder on my computer for video clips. I get these from sites that offer them for free. I won’t pay for them.
Considering what a poet earns, I just don’t think it makes sense to pay $75 or more for a 5-second clip. But my folder is pretty big now. I put the photos into iMovie, do the timing and transitions. Then I look for a music track—again, it has to be a freebie. My one big tip is don’t let your trailer go much over two minutes in length. Most viewers will bail out if you go longer than that. Another tip is to make sure that any text you use is shown long enough and big enough for the viewer to read it.

6. The reviews: I am amazed at the number of reviews you have been able to get. What is your secret?
I don’t have a secret, but I think that part of it has to do with being visible and doing readings, keeping the website and a blog, responding to emails, and doing some service for other poets. That last actually might be the secret. I don’t think poets have a right to expect to get reviews if they’re not willing to do some themselves. I do write some reviews for journals and at my blog.
So perhaps the universe is paying me back.

7. Have you ever felt that someone misinterpreted a poem in their review?
A few times the reviewer has talked about me when he or she should have been talking about the speaker. It makes me uncomfortable when a reviewer talks about my work as if it’s autobiographical. There is some autobiographical detail in my poetry, but there’s also some invention. For example, a few reviewers have talked about my poem, “My Husband Discovers Poetry,” by saying something like “Lockward experienced the breakdown of her marriage.” I did?? In fact, I’m still married to my first and only husband.

8. I am impressed by your generosity in promoting other poets and sharing information about writing tips through your newsletter. What has been the best part of doing the newsletter?
It keeps me on my toes throughout the month as I’m now always on the lookout for material to include. Beginning the Craft Tip feature has been the most exciting part of the newsletter. Each month I invite a different poet to contribute a tip. This has put me in touch with a number of different poets from far and wide. Almost all of the poets I’ve invited have accepted. The poem with prompt is also fun and that too has put me in touch with most of the poets whose poems I’ve used. Then it’s nice to hear from my subscribers that the prompt resulted in a poem they didn’t know they had inside them.

9. The discussion continues about the future of poetry, the debate about ebooks, language being influenced by texting and sound bites, and page poetry and/or stage poetry (slams etc). Where do you think poetry is headed, what do you envision in say, 10 years?
I’m not interested in poetry that’s been influenced by texting and sound bites. But I do think that we are headed towards more and more ebooks whether we like it or not. The invention of the ereader has made a new way of buying and reading poetry viable. I still want my own books in print and I still prefer to read from print books, but I can see lots of benefits to the ereaders. They are a boon to someone who travels a lot or someone who has limited storage space in the home. While we poets seem to be resisting ebooks, they may very likely help us to reach more readers and new readers. I imagine that someone will soon compile some statistics on this. Many publishers of print poetry books now also make those books available in ebook format. My publisher recently did that for my third book, Temptation by Water. I am sure, too, that we’ll be seeing more publishers who do ebooks exclusively.

10. What is your next project?
I’m working on individual poems, hoping to get a fourth book together in a year or so. I’m also working on a craft book.

11. On a personal note, when you write about your family, what is their reaction? Do they come to your readings?
My family generally doesn’t read my poetry so their reaction is not much of a problem. I would never knowingly write a poem that hurt any of them. But I also don’t ask for permission about what I can write. My husband and kids have come to a few readings and much to my surprise and delight have enjoyed them. I think they are very proud that I’m a poet., but they don’t feel compelled to read everything I write.

Pastiche for a Daughter’s Absence

It all comes down to what’s physical,
this missing her – her face, voice, and skin.
I imagine my daughter dancing in Madrid, Barcelona,
and Seville, climbing the mountains of Andulasia.
I had not imagined how far away faraway would be.

Happiness, unhappiness – the same,
my sweet Zen master says,
and I wonder if the top of my head
supports heaven, or is this a migraine
coming on?

I circle back to the place where precision
and ecstasy meet, remember how I carried the tadpole
of her body, long before the first flutter, holding her
like a secret inside me.

I wake in the night missing
a body part, my arm stretched across the ocean,
hooked to the past, and I wonder,
as Achilles’ mother must have,
which part of you did I not dip in the water?

Heavy with absence, I hang curtains in her windows,
yards and yards of delicate Irish lace.
I hide behind the door, ear pressed to the wood,
and watching my daughters life – her evening paseo,
late dinners in Saragossa’s village square.
The room fills with the smell of gazpacho, paella, sangria.

Something like grief washes through me, something like joy.
I slip into the waves, feel the ebb and flow of her,
my water sprite, my sea nymph, remember the way
she glides through a room, the low-tide
of her voice, how she leaves us,
breathless, all fish at her feet.

                                    —from Eve's Red Dress (Wind Publications, 2003)

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