The Sacred in the Quotidian
What are the major themes in your work?
I think the themes of love and loss are those which have always engaged me, but the subjects for approaching these themes has changed. Early on, I wrote a lot about family— the birth of my children, those short precious days of babies and toddlers, early childhood, etc. I was home with young children so that seemed a natural progression, but I was and still am also interested in how we are all connected, the extended family of friends and neighbors. I also wrote about home—where do we feel at home in the world? and garden—what's outside the walls, nature and the outdoors. And I wrote a some political poems using themes from the women's movement, the anti-war/anti-nuke movement, and the rising awareness of ecology. With what's going on in the world today, these things still engage me and need to be written about more than ever. I’ve done a series on time (In the Late Summer Garden, H&H Press) and one on losing a friend to breast cancer (The White Poems, Barnwood Press). Currently, I'm still writing about love and loss via these subjects: love in a long-term relationship (there are many poems about falling in love, but not so many about staying there), maternal grief (I lost my first child, and have written other poems and series of poems on/for friends who have lost children), and living with a family member with a disability: our youngest child, 21, who has autism (Ordinary Life, ByLine Publishers is one series of poems about him, but I've written many other autism poems as well). I've also been writing about another aspect of time, the transience of our short lives. And I've written a fair number of poems on women and sports (canoeing, playing baseball, ice hockey, running) and another group of poems about paintings (I minored in Art History) (Impressionism, Grayson Books, which won their chapbook competition in 2004). It's now out of print, but many of these poems appear in Radiance, which won the Word Press First Book Award. So in some ways, I've continued to be engaged in themes similar to those that moved me 30 years ago—“still just writing,” to quote Anne Tyler.
Which writers have influenced your work?
Here, in no particular order, are contemporary poets whose work I love. All of them have had some influence on my work, I'm sure, and I look for their work in magazines, and buy their new books when they come out: Mary Oliver, Sharon Olds, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Charles Wright, Christopher Buckley, Dorianne Laux, Linda Pastan, Maxine Kumin, Billy Collins, Stephen Dunn, Stephen Dobyns, Marilyn Hacker, Jonathan Holden, Jeanne Murray Walker, Mark Doty, Alicia Ostriker, Philip Levine, David Citino, Ted Kooser, Ron Wallace. I'm sure this list isn't complete, and I've left some out. inadvertently. When I was looking through my books to compile this list, it saddened me to see those who are gone, like Jane Kenyon, Raymond Carver, William Matthews, and so they aren't on this list (and there will be no new volumes).
Writers from the past who I love include Li Po, Rumi, Hafiz.
What motivates you to write?
Stephen King has written, "What makes you think I have a choice?" I'm a writer, so that's what I do. . . . When I have not enough time, or nothing's currently engaging me, I read-- I really think that's half the writer's job, to also be a reader.
How would you describe your process?
Most of my work starts with something small, an image, a line, an emotion. I write pages and pages of really bad prose until something good starts happening and I see something that starts to resemble poetry emerge. Mary Oliver says that writing a poem is an act of "slow and deep listening," and I couldn't agree with her more. My "method," if I even have one, is to write large, and then hone down. When I feel something start to happen in this mess of bad writing, then I start working on it as a poem, paying attention to line length and music, looking for the bits of gold in the pan, which is mostly sand and debris.
Part of this process is to not know where the poem is going. I try to find images to work with, and let them lead me on. Also, I'm a saver--I have folders full of recipes, for example, and I save my cut lines--often, new poems come out of lines that didn't work in old poems. The next step is reductive: how much can I take out, to strengthen what is there?
Most of my poems go through 25-30 drafts, and I'm a very slow writer compared to some of my peers, with maybe 10-12 "keepers" a year. But who's counting? I'd rather write one good poem than twenty-five mediocre ones.