Enjoy reading this enlightening interview with featured poet, Bernadette McBride.
LF: Do you remember writing your first poem? BM: I think I was in about third grade. I come from a musical family—my father had a Swing band ‘on the side’ from his teaching job after the War and my mother was the vocalist, so my first writing was that of making new songs by rhyming my own lines to old familiar tunes. I don’t remember exactly which was the first, but one was to the tune of “Row, Row, Row your Boat”: “Read, read, read your book…” I like to think I still keep music in my current work (and a bit more advanced).
LF: What are some of your favorite creative influences? BM: First, reading other poets. Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate (2004-2006), told me once in an email that he tells his students for every poem they try to write, they should read one hundred! And I agree. I find reading poets of various styles and orientations expands me and gets me going. I also love art and use it as inspiration for writing a great deal of ekphrastic poetry. Finally, nature inspires me to a certain degree, but more: people, life circumstances, and matters of faith really intrigue me as a basis for exploration.
LF: Could you describe your creative process for writing poetry? BM: One is what I mentioned above—reading other poets. Also, though I used to write more at night, I’ve come to be better in the morning at beginning—or continuing—a poem…something about knowing the whole day is ahead is more calming, freeing, than the “urgency” of working at night when fatigue closes in. And since I teach classes in the afternoon and evening, I have that luxury of being home in the morning. Also, if I’m already working on a poem or wrapping up a book, I get right to it; otherwise, I might begin by editing an older one, or as I said, reading other poets, viewing art works, meditating. Or eating chocolate ice cream as I stare at the blank computer screen.
LF: At what point do you decide to stop revising your work? BM: This is an ongoing question for all of us as writers as well as artists in other genres because we are never exactly the same months or years after we’ve committed a project to paper, canvas, recording, or stage. There’s always the temptation to go back and keep hammering at it (and ourselves!). I’m a believer in trusting feedback from my husband and a few poet friends whom I respect, and though I don’t always accept every suggestion (there are often areas of a new poem I will defend no matter what), if what someone says shows me something I couldn’t see for being too close to my own work, I’ll go with it, let it sit for some period of time, then go back and reread. If I feel good about a poem, that is, that it says what I want to say in the best way I believe I can say it, I let it go and move on. Sometimes, as painters know, we can tinker and tinker, and add that one last dab of paint that wrecks the image. I think only we can know when our own work feels complete enough, a matter of sensing as well as good craft.
LF: What are you working on now? BM: I have a number of new poems on a few different topics that at some point, as I add new ones to the current group, will likely cohere to become my next book, but since I completed my upcoming collection due out at the end of this year, I haven’t felt a specific direction yet. For me, putting a book to bed is akin to exhaling and wanting only to go to the beach for awhile. Also, I find inspiration is given, the right time shows up, and the act of writing follows.
LF: Why is poetry important in the world? BM: Poetry keeps us human. It addresses all three components that make us human: body—poetry has the ability to burst our hearts, tense our muscles; spirit, in its ability to send us within by startling us from without; mind, in its ability to flex our intellect beyond how far we think we can think. I love this quote by Lucille Clifton: “…The first poets didn’t come out of a classroom…poetry began when somebody walked off of a savanna or out of a cave and looked up at the sky with wonder and said, “Ahhh.” That was the first poem.”
LF: What do you hope readers take away from your poetry? BM: I hope my poems strike some universal chord in my readers. We all know what love is; what honor, revenge, loyalty, loss, accomplishment, anger, sorrow, and joy are. I strive to make these hard-to-define human experiences concrete by putting flesh and bone to their ethereal nature and making them recognizable to others even though each of us has his/her own specific experience with them. After all, at heart, we’re all the same: human. I aspire to John Keats’ “definition”:“Poetry…should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.