When do you know when your work is complete?

Varnes:

I know it's finished when it doesn't irritate me. Irritation can take many forms, of course, from a phrase that wrong or incomplete, to an assertion in a poem that's overstated, to metaphor that's badly mixed or a difficulty in the meter or rhyme. It must read well aloud. If I find myself skimming or skipping over a section, or cringing, or worrying, then I know it needs more work. As my teacher W.D. Snodgrass was fond of saying: More brilliance, please. I try not to be lulled into a false sense of accomplishment.

Vogt:

When I’ve been working on it for weeks or months straight, feel exhausted, can’t see straight, then let it sit out of view for weeks or months straight. Then, when I go back to it with the refreshed vigor of a reader with no personal investment in the piece, unlike a writer, and it feels complete on the level of sound, form, and meaning, then it’s done. Even if the poem isn’t my best, and it’s reached a point where it can’t get better, I’ve still learned alot from the process I can take into other poems that are inherently more (or less) promising.

 


Who or what has had a major influence in your writing?

Varnes:

For good or ill, I'm greatly enamored of the renaissance poets, particularly Herbert and Donne. This follows right through to Elizabeth Bishop. But also I'm a fan of Milton, Emily Dickinson, and Virginia Woolf. I admire Alice Fulton quite a bit, and Gertrude Stein. And W.D. Snodgrass. I sing, did so professionally for a while, and used to paint. I miss painting and often have ideas for paintings that never happen. Don't you think it's hard to separate out what influences writing? My parents were both therapists. I'm sure that influences me as much as anything.

Vogt:

Being someone who’s always taken failure personally—and had no one I felt was intimate enough to tell me it was fine and life is still peachy—helped me better accept rejection and made me a bit more stubborn as I draft and send out work for publication. I’m an introvert, and depend on my own mentality to get me through the day. My interaction is with language, and if it doesn’t interact with me or others the way I know it should, I go remake it. That might set up some conflicts while dealing with real people—you can’t remake them, but it’d be nice. Who? James Wright. Dickinson. Frost. Rilke. Wordsworth. Strand. Shakespeare. Merwin.

 


Where do you get your ideas for your poems?

Varnes:

All sorts of places. I sometimes react to things in the world, or readings. A poem is often a place where I work on a question that's been needling me--or perhaps a question someone put to me that stuck. For instance, I was just teaching Edward Albee's The Goat, which is about a man who falls in love with a goat, and the question there is really about the limits of love, the social and personal constraints put on love, its definition and its practice. Where do we draw the line? In a year or so I might have a poem on that. I have a long series of 44 sonnets in which two women chat over the telephone about their ex-husband in common. That came about through thinking about a social situation while reading the renaissance sonnet series.

Vogt:

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.