Interview with Sidney Wade by Serena Agusto-Cox

May 11, 2009

Sidney Wade is the author, most recently, of Stroke (2008) and Celestial Bodies (2002). Wade edits poetry for Subtropics, a magazine published by the University of Florida. From 2006-2007, she served as President of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP).

Sidney Wade1. Not only are you a contributor to 32 Poems, you have authored five collections of poetry, edit Subtropics, and teach a variety of poetry courses. Which of these “hats” do you find most challenging or rewarding and why?

It’s nervewracking work, writing poems, but when the work gets good and gets going, there’s nothing better in the world. So that’s probably the most challenging and rewarding at once. Editing Subtropics is easily the most simply rewarding, as I get to see, every week, every month, what very fine poems are being written around this country these days. And being able to tell people you’d like to publish their work elicits marvellously joyful responses. Who couldn’t love a regular influx of extremely happy emails? And teaching has its own pleasures and difficulties, the former fantastically outweighing the latter, thank goodness.

2. How active do you think individual poets must be in the community and do you think how they interact with the community will improve the “popularity” of contemporary poetry?

I’m afraid the popularity of contemporary poetry isn’t up to us. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that simply doesn’t value poetry and that reads less and less, or lesser and lesser “literature”–blogs, videogame instructions, etc. I do know, however, that in times of great stress, people turn in great numbers to poetry. For example, just after 9/11, people began calling and emailing me, asking for poems that might help them cope. It would be inhumane, however, to wish more disasters upon us than we already have, in hopes of improving our ratings….
Stroke by Sidney Wade

3. Do you have any obsessions that you would like to share?

Hunting for mushrooms. Cooking mushrooms. Pasta. Cheese. Practicing and improving, slowly, on the viola.

4. Most writers will read inspirational/how-to manuals, take workshops, or belong to writing groups. Did you subscribe to any of these aids and if so which did you find most helpful? Please feel free to name any “writing” books you enjoyed most.

I have never been inspired by a how-to manual for my own work. I rely on my own poetry group, whose most regular members include Lola Haskins, Brandy Kershner, and Joe Haldeman, for guidance and good fellowship.

However, when I volunteered to teach poetry to students in my daughters’ school, grades 2-8, I relied on Kenneth Koch’s WONDERFUL manuals “Wishes, Lies, and Dreams,” and “Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?”

5. Poetry is often considered elitist or inaccessible by mainstream readers. Do poets have an obligation to dispel that myth and how do you think it could be accomplished?

I enjoy the fact that some poetry is more “accessible” than others–Billy Collins is much maligned, but he can write a damn fine and funny poem. I don’t think it’s our job to court mainstream readers. That’s a marketing approach that doesn’t work at all with poetry. Some of my own poetry, though not all, is indeed rather inaccessible even to sophisticated readers of poetry. But that’s how it came out, how the Muse directed me at the time of its writing. Whenever I write something that has an ulterior motive at heart (ease of reading! publication! money! –haha) it’s DOA.

6. When writing poetry, prose, essays, and other works do you listen to music, do you have a particular playlist for each genre you work in or does the playlist stay the same? What are the top 5 songs on that playlist? If you don’t listen to music while writing, do you have any other routines or habits?

I can’t listen to music when writing poetry. Poetry has its own music that must be heard. In fact, I think that’s why pairing poetry and music is hardly ever successful–the music drowns out the more subtle song of the poem and it ends up in a terrible mess. Even a great pairing of composer and poet, like Ned Rorem and WH Auden, was doomed to failure, for the reason that poetry fiercely objects to being shouted down and makes everyone uncomfortable as a result.

7. In terms of friendships, have your friendships changed since you began focusing on writing? Are there more writers among your friends or have your relationships remained the same?

Not really. Since I’ve been writing and teaching, my daily life tends to revolve around other writers, students, colleagues, etc., so by default those are the folks I get to know. My non-writer friends, however, are still with me, and always will be. Segregation is never a good idea . . .

8. How do you stay fit and healthy as a writer?

By reading, reading, reading.

9. Do you have any favorite foods or foods that you find keep you inspired? What are the ways in which you pump yourself up to keep writing and overcome writer’s block?

I can’t keep writing when faced with writer’s block. I just have to let it wear off. Sometimes it’s circumstantial–for instance, since I started writing, I’ve lived three years abroad, in Rome and Istanbul. I’m not able to write at all in a foreign country, as my language center is over-occupied with learning the language of the place. I have to wait until I return home to start up again. It’s always scary, though, not writing for a year or so at a time. One always wonders if it will ever come back . . . I also don’t think it’s productive for poets to insist on writing every day. Poetry is so intense an involvement that I can’t even write more than three days or so per week, even when the going’s good.

Unrelated — my favorite foods: Pasta, cheese, wine.

10. Please describe your writing space and how it would differ from your ideal writing space.

Just recently I was fortunate enough to have been able to create the perfect writing space in my new home. It’s an alcove off my bedroom, third floor. My recliner, the most comfortable chair in the world, is situated so that it leans against the wall and doesn’t recline fully, goes only to a comfortable but upright-ish angle, with the foot rest extended. The view out the large window is treetops, roofs of houses, sky. There is a great deal of light. In front of me is a floor-to-ceiling bookcase. My laptop is currently on the floor, but I may try to find a little table for it. I have a very soft blanket, in case my feet get cold. My legal pad and pencils are ready to hand. Books, light, paper, pencil, comfort. It’s heavenly. And productive!

11. What current projects are you working on and would you like to share some details with the readers?

I’m trying to find time to finish translating a book-length selection of the poems of Melih Cevdet Anday, an important Turkish poet. I also have completed about half or two-thirds of a book, tentatively entitled “run-on” which, if I can do it, will end up an entrancing and very long, skinny poem that just goes and goes and goes….

Two Poems by Sidney Wade

Sexual Blossoms and Their Fierce Addictions

Yesterday’s tulips in the crystal bowl
have begun to open and already they’ve
partially exposed their pistils and stamens.
In the coming days
these petals will open in a brazen
yawn, their private parts thrust
into the shocked and fascinated 
room. Very soon the whole
apartment will start to misbehave--
the fainting couch and ottoman will shed their raiment,
weirdness will graze the ceiling and raise
eyebrows in the carpet lice. With sex emblazoned
on the air, the afflicted chamber will swell with lust.
A hystericalectomy is clearly indicated.

Grand Disastery

moored by fine
tethers to certain death

a hornet fizzes
on the windowsill

a spider flies
to its side 

to securely bind
this abundant harvest

the hornet in shrill
thrall to agony drills

a hole in God’s
provident breast

in the sublime

cold light
of this tiny 

the bald pulp

of the hornet’s diminishing 
hum feeds growing eyes

and hungry sockets
the figure is clean

a small
black aster

hung among
the stars

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