Hear Annie Finch read “Paravaledellentine,” from the CD of Calendars, just released by Tupelo Press to accompany the new edition of Calendars complete with Reader’s Guide. Below is an interview with Annie conducted by Halley Proctor. [download]
Q: How has having a blog and reviewing other’s work helped you as a writer?
A: It has made me more conscious of what I think matters in poetry. When you notice yourself discussing the same concerns over and over, you begin to see patterns. Understanding those patterns has helped me define myself as a poet. Writing about other people’s poetry can also help you become more self-reliant, more independent in your judgments. You realize how little the trends in poetic fashion really mean. That independence has helped me trust my own taste more as regards to my own work.
Q: You seem to re-appropriate characteristics of nature to people and vice versa (“Under the ocean that stretches out wordlessly” -“Elegy for my Father”). How does nature-personification/anthropomorphization and their reverse play into your work?
A: Interesting question. For me that kind of anthropomorphization does two things. It emphasizes the unity between humans and nature, even if only in a self-conscious or campy or ironic way. Also, it plays with imagination vs. reality since everything we write is imagined anyway, I don’t feel a need to be “realistic,” but I try to be realistic enough so that the imagination can sneak up on the reader by surprise and it feels more authentically amazing.
Q: You’re not afraid of the character “you” in poetry. How do feel about the “you” character?
A: Yes, there are a lot of “yous” in Calendars, the dying father in “Elegy For My Father,” the lover in “Paravalledellentine,” the vine in “Winter Solstice Chant”; and in Eve, the baby in “Being a Constellation” or “Gulf War and Child: A Curse,” the African violets in “Diving Past Violets,” Salome’s mother in “Whirling.” “Writing about other people’s poetry can also help you become more self-reliant, more independent in your judgments.” But it’s not like the generalized, informal “you,” meaning “someone,” that I see in many contemporary poems. In my poems, “you” refers to a specific person or thing. Interestingly, though, in a few of the poems that feel most important to me as ars poetica— “Encounter” and “Sapphics for Patience”— the “you” does two things: it refers to a character in the poem and is also a kind of stand-in for the reader. How do I feel about the “you”? I feel tenderly about it. I guess it makes the intensely solitary space inside a poem less lonely for me; it brings in a space for the deep communion that makes a poem feel alive.
Q: How much of your poetry develops from questions that you have? Do you feel by the end of the poem that something has been answered?
A: Many of them develop not as much from an intellectual question as from a sense of mystery or wonder. Often something will seize me—an intense sensation—and I’ll want to understand it better, so I use the poem as a way to stay with it, deepen my understanding of it. By the end of the poem, the mystery is not solved, the question is not answered, and yet I feel a kind of resolution, as if I have given the sensation its due. With the “Elegy for My Father,” for example, I have discussed in another interview how the whole poem developed from a particular moment of experience; now I feel as if the poem is a kind of shrine to that moment.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Poems about poppies and about minerals, each of which, as described above, tries to fathom a specific mysterious perception; a new poem I promised a soldier I would write about war (I wrote about this on the Harriet blog at the Poetry Foundation website); a commissioned poem about birds; polishing a book of existing poems; developing ideas for a new collection; final steps on a textbook about poetry writing called A Poet’s Craft; recording all the poems in Calendars for an Audio CD that will accompany the next edition of the book; and several other projects …
The following can be answered in a word, a phrase, a sentence …
Q: Name a writer who is currently making you jealous.
A: Toni Morrison; she looks so calm.
Q: What kind of child were you?
A: Observant, self-contained, and extremely self-conscious.
Q: What is your relationship with rejection like?
Q: What book did you suffer for the most, and why?
A: Eve—because the poems in it were written during such a long period of painful alienation.
Q: What was the greatest surprise for you in your most recent writing?
A: Lately poems keep coming to me in Emily Dickinson stanzas. I’m still not used to it.
Q: What writerly habit would you most like to break?
A: Leaving scribbled scraps of poems all over the house and worrying that I’ll never be able to a) find them and b) decipher them.
Q: Lastly … (one random fact to top it off). What did you have for lunch today?
A: A glass of herbal infusion made from nettles with Susun Weed’s recipe; prosciutto and provolone from the Italian deli; blue corn chips and a local bosc pear.
Annie Finch is the author or editor of fifteen books of poetry, translation, and criticism. Her books of poetry include Eve, Calendars, The Encyclopedia of Scotland, and the forthcoming Among the Goddesses: An Epic. Annie’s book of poetry Calendars was shortlisted for the Foreword Poetry Book of the Year Award and in 2009 she was awarded the Robert Fitzgerald Award. Annie currently lives on the Maine coast near Portland where she directs Stonecoast, the low-residency MFA program in creative writing at the University of Southern Maine.