Hope Snyder: An Interview with Serena M. Agusto-Cox

June 7, 2011

Poet Hope Snyder

1. How would you introduce yourself to a crowded room eager to hang on your every word? Are you just a poet, what else should people know about you?

I would say I’m a poet, a translator, and the founder and director of the Sotto Voce Poetry Festival.

2. Do you see spoken word, performance, or written poetry as more powerful or powerful in different ways and why? Also, do you believe that writing can be an equalizer to help humanity become more tolerant or collaborative? Why or why not?

I believe that the power of a poem begins with the poem on the page. The poem has to work on the page before it works on the stage. That said, I also think that reading a poem in front of an audience is a crucial experience for both poet and public. It is important for the poet, if she chooses to read her own work, to read as well as possible. I believe poetry and theater go well together. In my opinion, writing can create a dialogue between writer and reader, a dialogue that could lead to understanding, and, eventually, to tolerance. Think of all the novels and poems that have helped us appreciate different cultures, while at the same time capturing a universal experience.

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

I am obsessed with my desire to have people recognize the importance of poetry in our lives and to value its power. This is what led me to found the Sotto Voce Poetry Festival and what motivated me to organize it for the past seven years.

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.e. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott).

I do not belong to any writing groups, but I have attended workshops at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, The Gettysburg Review’s Conference for Writers, and the Latino Writers’ Conference in New Mexico. Workshops at Gettysburg and Bread Loaf were helpful. I’ve also taken a couple of workshops with Stanley Plumly at The Writers’ Center in Bethesda. These were very beneficial.

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 believe that poetry has something to offer everyone. Poetry is about language and about the human experience. Just as there are many different languages and unique human beings, there also are different styles of poetry that appeal to different readers. A reader can choose the poetry that he or she prefers. In my opinion, poets have an obligation to speak the truth as they see it. The reader may or may not understand the poet’s message, but that is true of all other forms of art. In my opinion, the purpose of poetry, like the purpose of all art, is to express through word or image what matters to the artist. The reader/viewer, brings his or her own experience to the work of art and a dialogue is created. If, as a poet, you want to write poems that only you will understand and if you do not feel the need to be read or understood by others, that is your choice.

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?

Even though I think I should listen to music while I’m writing, I don’t always do it. That is something I would like to change. I think music can be very helpful while writing. In the past, I’ve listened to classical, Latin American, Spanish, and Italian music. Among my favorites, Beethoven’s 7th symphony, a Spanish singer named Rosana, the sound track for the film “Frida.”

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?

Yes, my friendships have definitely changed since I began focusing on my writing. Most of my current friends are poets, fiction writers, and editors. It is comforting to know that there is a community of writers out there that understands and appreciates what I’m trying to do.

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

I try to walk or engage in some sort of exercise every day. Most days I walk 30 to 40 minutes. This year I joined a gym. I’m seriously considering hiring a personal trainer.

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 love pasta, most Italian food, good salads, Thai food, and red wine. Coffee in the mornings is very helpful.

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

At present I have two writing spaces, one at home, and a tiny office in town. My study at home is very pleasant, but it’s overcrowded with papers and books. That’s a distraction. Also, I have a hard time detaching from my home environment when I write there. The telephone rings, people stop by, and I find it difficult to get back to my work. I don’t know how other writers feel about this, but it has been my experience that friends and family who are not writers do not understand or respect the fact that writers need time and freedom in order to write. My office is quite small and does not have a bathroom, but when I do make it there, I can work for a couple of hours without interruptions. I’m still trying to find the perfect writing space, though I realize that I’m fortunate as it is.

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

At present, I’m working on a poetry manuscript titled OLD LIES AND NEW PREDICTIONS. I have also started translating the poetry of a Cuban writer named Wendy Guerra. I’m taking a sabbatical from the poetry festival in order to assess it and to decide what direction I would like to take it in the future.

Thanks to Hope for answering my questions. Please do check out a sample of her work below:

In The Changing Light

At first he believed she would be back, and that he would open the door.

In the meantime, he kept his job, adopted a dog without a tail,

soaked in the hot tub, and lounged on the couch they had bought

on sale. “Custom made,” the sales woman had explained

stroking the velvet. In the afternoon light, it shimmered

like silver.  After four years, the other woman

has learned to cook rosemary chicken and threatens

to fill his days and his bed.  She goes through the house,

gathers sweaters, pictures, and paintings. Now there will be

room for her pills and her make-up. With a drink and Barry White

on the stereo, he rests on the couch in the changing light. In his hand,

the pearl earring he found while re-arranging the cushions last night.

–Published in The Gettysburg Review (Summer, 2009)

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