DRESSING DOWN FOR LOVE
Put on your love dress.
Take off your other garments
the ones that cost you most.
Wear your heart out.
Become a transvestite
for love. Dress as a heart.
Establish a municipality
with eyes you meet on the street.
Enter the election for Darling.
Let kindness reign. Put on
no airs. Be plain as feet
which also may carry you away
along the Love Highway.
Hello. What is your name?
I have forgotten. Remind me.
What did you take away from your experience as Santa Fe Poet Laureate?
First of all, this interview reflects today February 20, 2013 at 6 AM and at any other day and moment, you’d get that set of answers.
I called the two years my experiment with Happiness. I was ecstatic to be given the opportunity to do my work, the work I love to do and am suited for, with recognition and appreciation from the outer world. I also learned that being a poet, being called a poet, is a tricky thing. It doesn’t depend on the outer nearly as much as the inner, the private act of setting aside time, concentration, opening to inspiration, and hoping to be struck by an idea, a music of phrase that results in poetry. As for the outer, I was riding a wave of invitation and had energy to do everything asked of me. It reinforced my experience that when we are on our path, the energy is there to buoy or surf one along.
What were some of the most difficult aspects of carrying out the duties of Poet Laureate?
Having to publicize everything I did was very challenging. I didn’t want to bother my mailing list friends, the press would only have so much of the Poet Laureate activities. People would ask if I was writing, and indeed, I was taking notes on my life, on the city of Santa Fe, and I wrote one hundred pages of poetry, some occasional and some my usual writing from the domestic. So that was not a problem. It was hard to say no to people who asked impossible little jaunts for me, so mostly I said yes. I went on a few poetry goose chases. Valerie Martinez, the city’s second poet laureate told me she mostly said yes, as it was only two years. I thought I’d be different. I would say no. I m older, have grandkids to mind. But that was exactly why I kept saying yes.
Tell me how you approach putting a manuscript of poetry together for publication.
I often draw from years of work, once I have a focus, theme, topic, some organizational thrust. So, most of my manuscripts come from fifteen years of work. The only exception was Rice, where
I began keeping a sonnet journal, informal sonnets of 14 lines that surprisingly spanned a crisis. Good luck for the poem comes from seemingly bad luck. Then I spent several years organizing, editing,
and culling the over 100 poems down to 78 in the book. For that final honing down, I had input from the other two chicas in Tres Chicas Books, Miriam Sagan and Renée Gregorio. It was amusing as after they read the manuscript, I saw that they hardly ever agreed on which poems to omit. So I had to make that decision.
All the other manuscripts I organize in sections. I like sections, as I am a pretty chaotic organizer, as evidenced by my office. The books are my aesthetic opportunity to get it together and make some order in my life.
What has been the role of poetry in your development as a creative person?
Since I was a kid I was making things, gift wrapping elaborately, learning to knit, and drawing horses. In High school I fell for Emily Dickinson and then the Beats. Who could be more disparate than Allen Ginsberg plying his harmonium as the Children of Light danced in drag on stage, and Emily holed up in Amherst? I loved poetry. Friends of my parents saw that and gave me poetry books. I got to talk with Flo Levitt this year, in her 90’s and in a poetry group. She and her late husband, Irv, gave me books of poems. I have been thanking people who saw me and encouraged me.
If I hadn’t done poetry, it would have been photography. I took over 100 rolls of film, developed them in a series of funky darkrooms around America. I applied for a job in photography, got turned down, and that was that. With poetry I never applied for the job. I did what I thought were poetic things, drove a school bus, lived in San Francisco, substitute taught, and worked in a garden center seven springs. Poetry mostly was in the background, though for six or seven years when I had my first two children and we physically built this house, I stopped. I never went to graduate school, but when I came back to poetry I was fierce about it. I went to readings, took little workshops. I studied with the lesbian feminist Melanie Kaye Kantrowich who introduced me to feminist poets. My mother was a feminist who ran a beauty shop, so I didn’t know the feminist literary tradtion and missed it in college. Melanie had a partner called Michael, as I did, only hers was a woman. Birds flew around their house in Santa Fe, no cages, just little finches pooping and chirping as we critiqued. I wrote about the beauty shop.
I think staying with one art form, having a creative aim, was most helpful. I know people who do several things and very well. I looked down on that, but now find myself wanting to paint a little, sew, have some relief from having to be on call for poetry all the time.
Who are you reading right now?
Such a sensible question. This morning I read a Gerald Stern poem out loud from American Poet: the Journal of the Academy of American Poets. I love his voice and the recently deceased Jack Gilbert, my Pittsburgh guys. I keep a stack of poetry books by my bed and in the bathroom and in my car. I have stacks that a friend who designed the Penguin Poetry Series gave me. I find it hard to fall in love, but when I do I am very faithful, like this 40+ year marriage. I maybe have a dalliance, but I have a monogamy of art form, and I truly love the poets I love.
Do you have a consistent writing practice?
How embarrassing that you asked. I encourage students to do so, and I am wildly undisciplined. Yet I am true to the muse. If a phrase catches me I grab a pen. I write in the middle of the night, in a car, near and far, like eating green eggs and ham. I write at my typewriter, a manual Olivetti just like I had as a girl and through college, and San Fran and the dairy farm in Wisconsin, until it was stolen in Penasco, New Mexico, I loaned to a friend named Rhonda Velkovitch. So, I say it’s like meditation where you are asked to return to the breath. I return to the breath of poetry. So on the short term I am pathetic, but in the long run, and I am lucky enough to have lived 65 years, I have a very consistent practice.