Wombwell Rainbow Interviews
I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.
is an Oregon poet who grew up in a suburb of Chicago and earned degrees in literature from Stanford University and Yale University. This collection of poems records how her ancestry, education, early childhood and work experiences changed her understanding over many decades of the impact of white privilege on her understanding of race relations. Her poetry appears in dozens of journals and anthologies. This book joins her other published poetry collections Urban Wild, Ocean’s Laughter, and Broadfork Farm which explore ecological relationships in Oregon and Washington
Poetry collections –
• How I Learned to Be White is now available from Antrim House — and on Amazon.
• Broadfork Farm collects poems about a small organic farm in Trout Lake, Washington to highlights its people and creatures.
• Ocean’s Laughter, a book of lyric and eco-poetry about Manzanita, Oregon. Look at Amazon.com or for .Reviews.
• Urban Wild, a poetry chapbook now available from Finishing Line Press.
Amazon author page
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
I read a lot of poetry in high school. Mostly from an anthology of British poets, no doubt mostly white and male. Early on I had thing for George Herbert. I wrote little rhyming poems at an early age for my mother. I think poetry was “in” me.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
I’m sure we studied the obligatory poetry in English classes starting in middle school. I remember having to memorize a poem and I chose “A Red, Red Rose” by Robert Burns which turns out to not be a particularly helpful poem burned into my brain.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
For women poets my age, I think the dominating presence of older poets were white male older poets – the likes of Keats and Shelley. I came around to the American poets a bit later.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I write something – or edit several poems – every day. I generally write a haiku every day to focus my awareness of what’s going on around me. I often suspect that the haiku will be part of a poem of place later on. I carry a notebook with me everywhere to jot down words that come to me that I might want to use in a poem. Yesterday it was backtrack and I started to think about how you never go back exactly the way you came, like the saying from Heraclitus that you can’t step into the same river twice. Today I read the word greenly in some song lyrics in relationship to fall. Kim Stafford, the great Poet Laureate of Oregon, teaches a daily writing course that I’ve taken twice. It’s been an inspiration to me. What comes out of the practice doesn’t have to be perfect or finished, but what it does is make me feel better about myself and the world.
5. What motivates you to write?
I suppose there is a fair amount of grief. I write eco-poetry because I care intensely about forests, plants, beings with roots. I know what challenges we have thrown in the way of living things. I’ve seen enough changes from climate crises to be profoundly saddened by what is happening – which makes the observation of the truly sublime and beautiful a blessing which finds its way into poetry. I also write a fair amount of political poetry, reflecting on what is happening in the world today. And then I write some lyric and narrative poetry as well. I think they are all aimed at healing and sharpening my own insight.
6. What is your work ethic?
I work hard. Discipline has never been a problem for me whether it was training for a marathon or showing up on time at work for a job that wasn’t my dream job. I try to never let a random floater of an idea for a poem go unacknowledged. I am obsessed with the great joy of being able to write poetry in my retirement.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Today I read predominantly women poets although not exclusively. What my early reading did was give me a great interest in word choice, how poems are formed, and I love the open-endedness of great titles. From time to time I fall back on Walt Whitman.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Right now I’m reading Mary Oliver’s new collection Devotions. I’ve found two poems in the opening section that are forever-keepers. Most poets recognize that Billy Collins and Mary Oliver are two poets whose names and work always show up at weddings, funerals, church services or big “events.” They make a livelihood out of being poets. In that respect they are unusual. I got Devotions out of the library, but I’ve been so amazed by the first poems in the book from her collection Felicity that I’ve ordered that from Amazon.
That said, in my personal pantheon of favorite poems I include work by Langston Hughes, Kim Stafford, Ursula Le Guin, Ellen Bass, Joy Harjo, Wendell Berry, W. S. Merwyn, Han Shan, Jane Kenyon and many more.
In any given season I return to Naomi Shihab Nye whose work resonates with me because of its gentle nudging toward the universe of loving kindness. If I had to be stranded somewhere with one poet, it would be her work.
9. Why do you write?
My mental health requires it. Particularly in these divisive and dark times.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
You write. You don’t stop if someone doesn’t like what you write. You agree to give yourself the time to explore, not to judge what you’re doing, but to let it sweep you to somewhere that is different than where you started. And when you’re done writing, you read until it is time to write again.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
Early in 2018, Antrim House press released my collection How I Learned To Be White, poems that looked at how education, ancestry, family and socio-economic privilege impacted who I became as a person. That culminated three years of intense introspection so I could make sense of the story that was my life in regard to race.
I just completed a manuscript of poems about my relationship with trees called “One Bent Twig.” Many of the poems in it have been published. It is seeking a publisher.
In June 2018 I moved from Portland, Oregon (where I lived for over 40 years) to Vermont to be closer to my daughter. That 3,003 mile journey involved packing up a lifetime, discarding bits, and starting with new buds under the fingertips of a dedicated gardener. I’m writing a lot of poetry about this new place – discovering that the migration of seniors to be closer to their children is a fairly common occurrence. A kind of migration to “renuclearize” the family.
I’m giving myself space to write about whatever strikes my fancy here in Vermont. Why are all the barns red? Why do eastern white pines speak to me? Today I learned that bass fishing is a competitive high school sport in Vermont. I’ve written many poems about Oregon’s red cedars, but this is new. I’ve fallen in love with a white pine on my property. Why am I spending so much energy pulling goldenrod? I look forward to a winter of snow; it’s been decades since I lived where it really, really snows. On my to -do list is the need to by an ergonomic snow shovel…and maybe there will be a poem in that. I tried to buy one at Home Depot today, and the employee there seemed a bit surprised I was thinking about this in mid-October. The aging homeowner’s snow shovel.
Thank you for your interest, Paul.