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Poet Profile: Diane Lockward

Diane Lockward is the author of three poetry books, including her most recent, Temptation by Water; What Feeds Us, which received the 2006 Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize; and Eve's Red Dress. Her poems have been published in such journals as Harvard Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner, and her work has been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer's Almanac, as well as here on Your Daily Poem. Diane lives in northern New Jersey, works part time as a poet in the schools, and runs an annual poetry festival for literary journals.

Why poetry?
Years ago I wanted to be a novelist, but found that I didn't have the patience or the endurance to sit still long enough to write a novel. I wrote some short stories, but I don't really like to read short stories, so it occurred to me that it was rather ridiculous to write in a genre I didn't enjoy. Then maybe 20 years ago I saw a call in the English Journal for teachers to test poetry-writing activities for a textbook that William Stafford was writing. I volunteered and for the next six months received one or two prompts every few weeks. From the very first week, the very first poem, I was hooked. I'd found my genre. I think of that discovery as metaphorical gold. It changed my life. I'd go so far as to say that it changed me. I have found nothing else that is as intensely exciting as a promising poem in the works.

How did you come to be a professional poet?
I don't consider myself a "professional" poet. I'm not licensed or certified. And I don't make enough money as a poet to in any way improve my life style. But I was a professional high school English teacher for a number of years. Putting in those years, good ones, made it possible for me to now live the life of a poet. While I was still teaching, I attained my poetry education and training by taking workshops, going to poetry conferences and festivals, and reading tons of books by contemporary poets. I did not want to go for an MFA, so I created my own education in poetry. That education is still in progress. I think and hope that it always will be.

Do you have favorite poets or poems?
I'm very fond of Dorianne Laux, Kim Addonizio, and Cecilia Woloch--just to name a few contemporary poets. Among the long gone poets, I adore John Donne, Yeats, and Hopkins. It's hard to pin down a handful of favorite poems as I'm always discovering new ones. Some that come quickly to mind: Jane Kenyon's "Let Evening Come," Yeats' "Adam's Curse," Auden's "Funeral Blues," and Stephen Dobyns' "Tomatoes."

What's the most interesting "poetry pilgrimage" you've ever made?
As I mentioned before, I learned the craft of poetry largely by attending workshops and conferences. The first conference I attended was at The Frost Place in Franconia, New Hampshire. I went there more or less quivering, afraid to show my work, afraid to find out I didn't belong there. But it turned out that I did belong there. I went back each summer for seven years, my vacation from teaching. My husband took care of the three kids for the week so that I could do that. Then I graduated to the Advanced Seminar run by Baron Wormser and also held at The Frost Place. In 2005 Baron invited me to be one of four featured poets at the Conference on Poetry and Teaching. Going back as a featured poet to the ground of my making was thrilling and felt like closing a circle, completing part of a journey. I have to say "part of" because the journey never ends. I'm still a pilgrim.

In the great scheme of things, where does poetry fit in?
I'd say that in the great scheme, poetry is pretty significant, though I've often heard poetry described as a marginalized art. In earlier days, before tv and movies, poetry was both art and entertainment. Today, with so many distractions, poetry might seem less significant, but when people find it, they are very drawn to it. Weddings and other special occasions are often celebrated with poetry. Our presidential inauguration is accompanied by poetry. Consider, too, all the national crises in recent years, e.g., the bombing of the Twin Towers, the war in Iraq, Katrina, and the current oil spill in the Gulf. During such times, people turn to poetry for solace and as a place to express a variety of emotions. Poetry improves our lives and our character. Certainly, I'd like to see it become more significant, especially in the classroom, but it continues to matter.

Describe your writing routine and/or process.
I am not an every day kind of writer. I can go weeks without writing a new poem, unfortunately. I've usually got something going in draft form and under revision, but the generating of new work won't conform to a schedule for me. I'm a morning writer, though not every morning. That seems to be when I'm at my most creative. Revision I can usually do any time of the day or night. But if I get stumped, then I say, "Oh, that's a morning problem," and I put the draft aside until morning. I spend weeks on revisions, but my generating-new-work sessions are short, usually about 30 minutes. I like the crunch of time. It prohibits me from thinking, and that's a good thing. Thinking too hard is the enemy; it kills creativity.

What's the most absurd thing you've ever written a poem about?
I'm always looking for new topics, especially weird ones. One of my writing mantras is "Weird is good." I don't think I can pick out the single most absurd thing, so here's a short list from my new book: pigs on the loose, dead birds, centipedes, massages, naughty potatoes, socially unpopular filberts, and imploding buildings.

When/where are you most inspired?
Morning, with some ginger tea, at my kitchen table, looking outside at the trees and the birds.

Which classic poet would you most like to meet, and why?
John Donne because he's been hugely influential to me. I studied his work when I was getting my master's degree, and I did my thesis on the metaphors in his two Anniversary poems: "An Anatomy of the World" and "Of the Progress of the Soul." That was before I'd begun to write poetry, but I'm sure that my attraction to metaphors owes a big debt to Donne. I am also fascinated by his life, the contrast between Donne the Rake and Donne the Anglican Minister. I admire his intellect and his passion, as well as his range.

Is there some consistent trademark or characteristic that you've discovered in your poetry?
I think you'd have to ask my critics for an answer to that question as I don't analyze my own work for that sort of thing. I also think that if I became aware of a consistent trademark or characteristic I would immediately set about working against it. Too much of anything becomes a mannerism. Too much consistency in poetry results in poems that are predictable.

Anything else you'd like to share--advice, anecdotes, forthcoming adventure, etc?
A good friend and fellow poet recently held a poetry salon for me at her home. The purpose of the salon was to celebrate the publication of my new book, Temptation by Water. My friend sent out invitations, put together a lovely table of snacks, and poured champagne and wine. I did a brief reading and had an opportunity to talk about the book, e.g., the cover design, the book's organization, and the motifs. Everyone went home with a signed book in hand. I went home happy and deeply grateful to have such good friends. This was a wonderful example of poets supporting each other. I'd like to suggest that if you have a friend with a new book coming out you consider hosting such an event. Wouldn't it be great to resurrect the salon of long ago? Poets need to support each others' work. This is a beautiful way to do just that.

Many thanks to Diane for her time and reflection on these questions. Read her poems on Your Daily Poem here and here, and visit her website or blog to learn more.

 

 

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