In what ways does the subject effect the form of your poetry or form effect the subject?
The structure is secondary. The structure might be something like scaffolding, which doesn’t really hold up a building, but it’s a sort of exoskeleton. Form is never the defining element, but it becomes important as the poem comes into being. I think of poems as landscapes, and I believe that our landscape says a lot about who we are, and who we can be, but it never says everything, and it shouldn’t. Just because you live in a canyon governed by shade doesn’t mean you can’t see the sun.
I write free verse and rarely turn to form (because mostly it intimidates me!). So subject matter comes first for me, and any considerations of form later, in revision. And usually, form still comes in second, even there. On the other hand, if I've a mind to try a specific form (an ode, say), then I literally map out the form first, having the subject matter in my head, but being entirely conscious of the form.
Subject always affects
form. It DOES NOT work the other way around. Never try to fit a subject
into a terza rima or sonnet—the poem will always fail no matter
how hard you work at it. In order for form to be organic, and poetry to
succeed, you must experiment with every major form that’s out there.
Even if you hate it—and how foolish of you to do so—you can
take away subtle techniques that will make free verse or other loose forms
more successful. Good free verse is tight, lyrical, rhythmic, and efficient.
Hey, so is good blank verse, and especially sonnets. If you want to write
good poetry, learn to write halfway decent sonnets.
Inspiration comes from everything. It comes from newspaper headlines, from things I see on walks in the mountains. It comes from things people say. I spend a lot of time listening to how we construct our various realities.
Ha, inspiration finds me! I just do what it tells me.
A lot of my poems are projects for a book—verse forms that mimic the visual techniques of black and white photography, specifically family photos from the last two centuries. But ideas come as I feel the need to write. I’ll come up with a line or image while sitting at the computer, and go from there. I write when I feel the need to—sometimes that need is my regret for not having worked harder the last few days. Sometimes I edit, which is more about writing than writing the first draft, and new ideas come that way—for that poem or for another. Sometimes I take lines from an article or poem and begin that way, inspired by the ideas or language I’ve come across.
Of course, I use past experiences and observations (also, I use current observations and hopes – and aren’t hopes about the future?) – but no, certainly all of these experiences aren’t solely a release. This is not to say that there isn’t an element of release in the poems. I think that there’s an element of release in everything we write, if release can be called an attempt to understand things around us. There is always an element of fiction in my poems too. So it’s both fiction and the “real”, all mixed together.
Personal experiences in my writing are like benevolent phantoms. They loiter, move objects around, whisper themselves into my consciousness, perform acts of ventriloquism. It is their fault that my office is always a mess! I like to believe they have nothing to do with what I write, it is all fictive, after all. I like to blame them when I fail, but the truth is, without them, there would be no writing.
The older I get, the less direct the role becomes. I no longer write about my feelings or what I observe unless they can be grounded in specific objects, places, scenes, or narratives. My personal experience comes from the study of outward things—those objects or people that influence me. This gives the poetry a greater resonance and a greater audience vs. simple journaling to which not many people can fully connect.
Why did you choose the genre of poetry to express yourself?
It was the only way. Fiction seemed too much, too many words and sentences. Maybe, sometimes, broken sentences are more like speech, are more reflective of how I can best see the world: in small pieces, in a sort of chaos. But chaos theory claims that chaos has its own beautiful order, and I believe this.
I choose poetry for
my more personal work, sometimes never intending for anyone else to see
it. I also choose poetry for crystalline moments. When it starts taking
on the arc of a story, I consider prose poetry first, then flash fiction
second, and then the longer prose forms if there's enough meat to it.
Sometimes it's these little things that turn into big things. I'm working
on a novel right now, "Leafminers," which started out as 500
words of prose poetry. Go figure. I also have poems that became short
stories, and short stories that became poems.
Poetry gets at the heart of the matter efficiently, all the while with grace and poise. Prose loses the impact of efficiency the majority of the time. I think on the first years of my writing, and suppose I used poetry simply as a tickling stab at what was really churning on the inside of me. As I’ve gotten older and no longer misunderstand poetry as simply a solipsistic vomiting of emotion, I’ve learned to use the tools of poetry, its efficiency, to better root out the themes I want exposed and that other people probably want / need rooted out. Poetry, and especially verse—as in form—gets to the point by careful study of craft and technique, that right word in the right place, and through editing brings me closer to knowing the life in and around me.