THINGS WE’RE DYING TO KNOW…
Let’s start with the book’s title and your cover image. How did you choose each? And, if I asked you to describe or sum up your book, what three words immediately come to mind?
The title is from one of the poems. I think many poets, good writers in general, are holy fools, able to take the most difficult realities (love, loss, frustration, regret, anger, despair, joy, etc.) and live with them in their raw state long enough to observe and document, without losing the depth of feeling. The fool in literature is a word twister, disguising truth as humor, working the dangerous space between what one wants to know and what one needs to know.
Let me say, though, that I am not there yet. Holy fool is a goal, not a description of me.
The image is a photo by my husband, Curtis Wells. His photographs often capture the moment when a commonplace image inspires questions about how we think about what we see.
What were you trying to achieve with your book? Tell us about the world you were trying to create, and who lives in it.
The poems in this book were written over a long time, through many challenges. I hoped that they had enough universality to give a reader a sense that we are all in this together.
Can you describe your writing practice or process for this collection? Do you have a favorite revision strategy?
Since the poems were created over many years, the process changed. Some years there was lots of time to work on poetry, some years very little. I sit and write at the computer (used to be typewriter). I stopped writing in longhand when I learned to type. Junior high, 1950-something. The speed of the typewriter was thrilling, and so is the computer. I spew, then revise ad nauseam. Revision is the real work. I have peers who help weed out the sloppy, sentimental or pompous stuff, and I try to channel them when I start revising.
How did you order the poems in the collection? Do you have a specific method for arranging your poems or is it sort of haphazard, like you lay the pages out on the floor and see what order you pick them back up in?
Putting a manuscript together, choosing the poems, ordering them was so stressful it sent me back into therapy. Some days I threw all of them (hundreds) on the floor and made up some weird test like choosing what fell together, or choosing all the ones that fell face up, or face down. Slowly, I gave in to the reality that there were themes and objectives, that many were just not ready, that some were better than others, and became able to make choices that made sense, for better or worse. There is a vague chronology in it.
What do you love to find in a poem you read, or love to craft into a poem you’re writing?
A reason for it to be. A thought I haven’t thought. A surprise, or a warmth that makes me feel I belong in the world.
Can you share an excerpt from your book? And tell us why you chose this poem for us to read – did it galvanize the writing of the rest of the collection? Is it your book’s heart? Is it the first or last poem you wrote for the book?
This is the first poem in the book. I wrote it years ago, but it has been republished a couple of times and people seem to like it.
I Keep Losing Things
I keep losing things
car keys, hats, paper cups
places on the page
I keep losing the sense of purpose
that propels me to the ends of sentences
I have lost the state of grace that comes
to those who know the plumber's number
or the limits of anticipation
I keep finding things that look like
reasons to continue looking
details masquerading as philosophy
I remember that these make a lie
but forget how many times
I've learned the lesson
This is also from the first section:
Jamaica Bay, 1953
Our road had not yet
given up its secret.
We could drive away
from the new six-story boxes
that grew in empty lots
where once only shorebirds lived,
and old cars died
away from the river
to the creek
where shanties held
damp mysteries in patchwork shingles
we could sit beside the speckled dunes
and wait for the murmuring tide.
We let our fingers drag behind the rowboat
swirling slips of marsh grass
trying to spell our names.
Our names washing out to sea,
and soon the smiles of our young parents
erased by hospitals and surgeons.
But not quite yet, there is, for now
the sunlit island so small our jumpings
make it bounce--and we are jumping
loping side-wise after horseshoe crabs
tossing bits of crusty sandwich to the gulls.
I float beneath the cloudless ancient sky
seaweed woven to a wreath around each wrist.
My eyelids droop and close, I have no fear
of water, nor of solitude.
I have yet to learn how small I am
how little I can do.
If you had to convince someone walking by you in the park to read your book right then and there, what would you say?
“Do me a favor, read this.”
For you, what is it to be a poet? What scares you most about being a writer? Gives you the most pleasure?
It is hard work. I am driven to write, always have been. I have turned my back on it many times, only to find I was more miserable not doing it than doing it. I have had to learn that I write for me, that I am never going to be a great poet, but I can live with being pretty good. Some people like my work; they tell me it speaks to them, and that is a help.
Are there other types of writing (dictionaries, romance novels, comics, science textbooks, etc.) that help you to write poetry?
I read nonstop most of childhood. I loved reading the dictionary, the encyclopedia, anything that I could get away with that kept me from homework. I love the dictionary; it is my favorite tool. Often when a word is not right, but I can’t find another, so I go to the dictionary to find all the secondary meanings and etymology. That sometimes leads me to the meaning that the wrong word was looking for, and I can find the right word.
What are you working on now?
Poems, very slowly, about whatever comes up at the moment I am writing. I don’t have much time, so there is only process now, with no intention of doing anything with it.
What book are you reading that we should also be reading?
I read junk to relax. Well-written junk, like good mysteries, but nothing to inspire anything—unless I go through with a plan to commit the perfect murder on some of my poems.
Without stopping to think, write a list of five poets whose work you would tattoo on your body, or at least write in permanent marker on your clothing, to take with you at all times.
Whitman, Dickenson, e.e. cummings, Rexroth, Li Po
What’s a question you wish I asked? (And how would you answer it?)
Q: How do you keep going?
A: I don’t know.
Purchase The Fool Sings from Rain Chain Press.
Weslea Sidon is a poet and musician who lives in Seal Cove, Maine, with her husband, cats, and big plans to finish the garden. Her poems and prose have appeared in many literary magazines, a few anthologies and a few newspapers. Weslea teaches guitar, and has taught poetry and creative writing to children age 10-16 at Summer Festival of the Arts since 1989. She was awarded the Martin Dibner Fellowship in Poetry in 2002. The Fool Sings, her first full-length book, was released by Rain Chain Press on July 1, 2014.
Nicole Rollender is a poet, editor and seeker.