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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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Poet Charles Jensen

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?

Along with writing poetry, I am an off-and-on arts administrator, an editor for a small press, a writing teacher, managing editor for a sporadic online literary journal, an arts advocate on the local and national level, and a consultant to small arts organizations. I wear a lot of hats, but I don’t necessarily consider them mutually exclusive from being a poet. Being a poet makes me a more meaningful arts advocate in some ways–I can speak to the power of writers in the schools, for example.

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 don’t like the limiting writing into discrete genres that are then put into opposition to each other. I think writing is most effective, most meaningful, when it cribs from many genres and traditions at once. To touch on the next part of your question, one book that had a profound effect on me and my writing was Claudia Rankine‘s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, which explores toxic culture, grief, and racism in America–but from a very personal, subjective perspective. If you’ve ever seen her read/perform from that work, you know it’s a multimedia experience with video, with her voice adding a significant layer of meaning to the work. How we can divide those impulses into camps? I prefer to look at the tools available to me and then choose which ones are essential to whatever project I’m completing.

I have written a lot of work about the American experience of gay people, partly in an effort to establish some understanding of difference. Is it effective? I don’t know. But it was work I felt called to do. On the flipside, not all writers need to take on this kind of burden–there are many stories to be told, many ways to tell them.

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

I’m pretty sure none of them are secrets. I love some aspects of “low” culture like trash pop music. I aspire to find ways to sew that into my work as a poet somehow. I am also really connected to film, both as a narrative art and as a form. Physical aspects of film are closely related to the work of poetry for me. I give extensive thought to sequencing, montage, collage, and narrative. Any two things placed in juxtaposition create a narrative. There’s a great story of the Kuleshov Effect, wherein an audience’s construction of narrative changes when the same photo of a person (mostly expressionless) is interspersed with a shot of soup or a shot of a baby, for instance. In the soup narrative, the audience describes the man as looking hungry. In the baby narrative, he looks happy. That effect of context is something I carry with me–how do individual poems, individual lines, individual images speak to each other?

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 think it’s hard to find good poetry manuals because so many of them use floofy platitudes to describe the work: “The poet is the person who hears the elephants coming and makes the graves!” “The poet must plug in the lamp and make it sing!” Etc. That’s why I think it’s more effective to look further, at other art forms. The language of design–line, color, etc.–were very instructive to me in thinking about the physical presence of a poem on the page. Film theory, as I alluded to above, was important too–ideas of subjectivity, the lens/the eye/the I, “suture” (editing theory)…

I think everyone should read “Ron Carlson Writes a Story” by Ron Carlson. He is brilliant and his enthusiasm for writing is entirely palpable in this how-to “manual” that deconstructs his writing of his story “The Governor’s Ball.”

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?

Poetry itself is none of those things. It is the attitude of the reader that determines what poetry is. The only way to dispel the myth is for people to encounter poetry on their own. I always liken it to television. If you had never seen television in your entire life and then one day turned it on, only to see Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, you might say, “Gosh, I hate television.” But most of us realize that television is a multi-dimensional form with various strategies aimed at different audiences. If you watch television long enough, you will find something that speaks to you. This is true, too, of poetry. But because the poetry world has a reputation of being closed, or because it is taught in high school as a “symbolic” art practiced by dead white people, it loses a lot of its contemporary allure. I think now, more than ever, poetry strives to be egalitarian in a lot of ways–people just need to look.

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 almost never listen to music when I write. I have basically no routines or rituals, either. There is a great TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert in which she describes how the poet Ruth Stone explained her inspiration to write, that she could hear it coming through the fields like a train rushing at her, and she would run into the house and grab paper and a pen to get it down before it passed. That is similar to my experience of writing. It’s not as loud or as obvious as a train, but I am sensitive to a change in the way my interior monologue sounds, and that moment is the beginning of a poem. If I write it down, I am generally rewarded with a complete poem. If the moment passes, it can’t be recaptured (not always a bad thing, in my mind, as many of those I do catch end up in the “circular file” anyway). I do tend to revise poems for a very long time, though–often for years, and I often work best on revision once the work has been placed in the greater context of a full manuscript.

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

I find teaching is an essential way to stay engaged with writing on a level that is very enriching for me. For example, I confessed to a student recently, “I just don’t understand why people write in syllabics.” Four days later, I was experimenting with syllabics in a new poem. I said the same thing in a workshop but about iambic meter, and for three months wrote nearly every poem with an iambic meter–and really enjoyed it! In a lot of ways, teaching forces me to embrace and/or interrogate my own assumptions about poetry as I strive to encourage my students to make their own decisions and determinations. And oftentimes, our discussions help me see work in new ways, and for that I’m very grateful.

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 don’t get writer’s block. If I seem less inspired to write poetry, it is my creative brain telling me it is either time to revise old work or read books. Reading generally prompts me to write, and so does going to art museums (the Portrait Gallery is one of my favorites).

I cook dinner almost every night, which I suppose might be one of my few rituals. I have really come to enjoy it after years of feeling at sea or underprepared to complete new recipes. It has become a meditative time for me, and also a time when I become aware of the “physical making” of something, the hands-on work of bringing together various ingredients to develop flavors. I try to connect this to the practice of writing.

I also work out five days a week–a combination of yoga, cardio, and weightlifting. It’s a gift to myself, about an hour a day when my brain gets to check out while my body does the–forgive the pun–heavy lifting. That, too, is part of my writing practice. While my body exercises, I train my brain to associate and go off on its own to wherever it lands.

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

It is always a total disaster–I would change that! My apartment is very small and my desk is very big–about 30% of my living room. The window is behind me. The room gets almost no natural light. It is absolutely not my ideal writing space. In Phoenix, I had a loft apartment with 20′ ceilings, 17 feet of which were windows. My desk sat up in the loft area, overlooking the living room, facing all the windows and light. That was an amazing place to write. I miss it every day.

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

I have a lot going on! I’m putting the finishing touches on a new manuscript of poems and have been writing a few kinds of fiction–a novel for adults, a YA novel, and I recently finished a YA short story that will appear in an anthology for GLBT teenagers. I’m also very slowly writing new poems, but I feel like now would be a better time for me to read, so I have a big pile of books all ready to go!

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

IT WAS OCTOBER
–for Matthew Shepard

I was love when I entered the bar
shivering in my thin t-shirt and ripped jeans
and I was love when I left that place, tugged along at the wrist
as though tied, with a man I did not know.

I was love there in the morning
when our sour kisses bore the peat of rotten leaves,
fallen October leaves. And it was love that we kissed anyway, not knowing each other’s names.

I was love in that bed
and I was love in the hall and down the stairs and into the freezing rain.

I was love with hands punched deep
into the pockets of a coat.
I was love coated in frozen rain.

Back home, I was love stripped of the cigarette-stung shirt, love pulling the stiff jeans from my legs.
I dried my hair and I was love.

It was October. What did I know of love that year,
shuddering in my nervous skin. Miles away, the boy was lashed to a fence and shivering.

Where that place turned red and the ground soaked through
with what he was, I was love.

What did I know of love then
but that it wasn’t enough.

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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 love living in the country, being outdoors. After growing up in Texas, I shipped out to Massachusetts after college, then to California and lately to […]

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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 have been in love with computing for almost 45 years, back to a time when I could go to a large social gathering of 1000 […]

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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 prefer not to say anything “about” myself in such instances, especially if people really are hanging there (which is very kind of them). I’m deeply […]

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