Your Daily Poem Presents the Poet Profiles
Your Daily Poem invites you to gain a greater understanding of poetry by getting to know our Featured Poet. Each month, we'll ask a working poet ten questions, then offer them a chance to share further details about themselves. YDP hopes these interviews will offer insights into the creativity, inspiration, hard work, and serendipity that go into writing a poem.
This Month's Featured Poet: Gail Goepfert
Gail Goepfert was born in southern Illinois, sandwiched in some school years in Ohio and the Chicago suburbs, went to college along the Mississippi and in Iowa City, then returned to the suburbs to teach. While teaching English in middle school in Wood Dale, Illinois, Gail developed a poetry writing program, Dreamcatchers, for eighth graders who elected to skip study hall for a chance to write poetry. For nine years, she helped those students write, publish their work in anthologies, and travel to elementary schools to spark a poetic interest in younger students. Now semi-retired, Gail says the best part of that is having more time to write, read, and workshop poetry with both students and adults. A nature photographer as well as a poet and teacher, Gail recently won first place in a photography “water-themed” contest for Chicago-based Rambunctious Review. Her poem,“just two miles down the road, will be featured on public transit buses in the Chicago area during August 2011 as part of their Poetry That Moves program. Gail's book, in gratitude for days gone by, combines her photography and poetry and is available on blurb.com.
When I write and read poetry, it fills me up. It lifts me up to witness the geometry of poetry on the page and to see how words, when they come together in a serendipitous way, can touch others.
How did you come to be a poet?
A friend mentioned to me recently that she remembered my first poem being one I wrote to read at my beloved grandfather’s funeral in 1971. Perhaps that was my first publicly-shared poem. Most of my poetry writing for years has been “occasional poetry.” In the last nine years of my teaching career, I began working with eighth graders interested in writing poetry. We wrote, read, cried, and laughed together. My students inspired me to pursue writing poetry in retirement. I also had wonderful English teachers over the years; I remember many poetry lessons, readings, and projects. I still have my poetry project from eighth grade, tattered yet treasured.
Do you have favorite poets or poems?
In school, we memorized a poem. I chose Robert Frost’s “Birches.” The words still thread through my mind today, and as a photographer and poet immersed in nature, I savor the sight of a stand of birch trees, and write about husks of birch patterning the forest floor. More recently, I have read Jane Kenyon and Mary Oliver, Ted Kooser, Billy Collins, and Richard Jones.
In the great scheme of things, where does poetry fit in?
Some years back, I wrote a poem called “Saved by Beauty.” It was written in response to my passion for all things beautiful, for the gasp of wonder I feel when struck by something I experience as beauty. Beauty, and hence the captured image, whether snapped or written, save me again and again.
Describe your writing routine and/or process.
For me, writing is more about time to settle into an idea. I write in spurts—when I observe something remarkable, when I attend a workshop and am motivated by that, when I set aside the time, when an idea won’t leave me alone. I have a folder entitled "Nuggets" that I carry around with bits and pieces of ideas I’ve jotted down. Sometimes, I’m driven and sit to write or revise for hours, but I can be a procrastinator. I get tangled up in finding the “right moment” or the “right place.” Each start is a new routine, and the process is a maze.
What's the most absurd thing you've ever written a poem about?
Once I was inspired to write about age spots and how they map my skin like constellations in a starry sky. To make the thought of each spot more palatable, I described how each might stand for some memorable life event like sitting up on a train for three days or performing in a talent show as a California raisin.
Where or when are you most inspired?
Nature and new places and familiar haunts.
Which classic poet would you most like to meet, and why?
I suppose I would have to name William Shakespeare as Most Wish to Meet. Once at some friends' for dinner, I announced, “Shakespeare changed my life.” Mostly they laughed about my proclamation (and still do) and then asked me to explain myself. At the time I studied Shakespeare as an undergrad, I felt my education come together for the first time; in Shakespeare was religion, philosophy, psychology, literature, art. So yes, Shakespeare. To thank him for changing my life.
Is there some consistent trademark or characteristic that you've discovered in your poetry?
Nature is always stitched in somehow.
Anything else you'd like to share--advice, anecdotes, forthcoming adventures, etc.?
- Recently, Robin Chapman, a Wisconsin poet and teacher, mentioned to me that passion and voice were apparently the two things most valued in poetry, a conclusion she came to after reading H.D. Fischer's Chronicle of the Pulitzer Prizes for Poetry--forty years of discussions. It’s intriguing when you think about what you read and write in that light. Despite the fact that only recently have I begun calling myself a poet, I feel that both passion and voice have found me.
- I have a bucket list of sorts; on the top of the list is a fall trip to Vermont. Frost is buried at Old Bennington in Vermont; I look forward to that pilgrimage. My camera and eyes await the color feast!
We're grateful to Gail for taking time out of her schedule to share her thoughts with us. Visit the YDP archives to read some of Gail's poetry.