I spoke with featured poet, Luray Gross. Here's what she shared about poetry and her poetic influences.
LF: Do you remember writing your first poem? LG: I think it was a little rhyme about a hen in a pen, pretty juvenile, even for a third-grader.
LF: How did your experience of growing up on a dairy farm in Bucks County serve as a source of inspiration? LG: Once in a while, that childhood serves directly as subject matter, but I do think it influences me even in poems that have no surface relationship to that place and that life. My upbringing was very grounded, both literally and metaphorically. I grew up on a farm that had been in our family for nearly 200 years, immersed in the daily cycles of birth, growth, decline, and death. Both the pleasures and strains of physical labor were simply part of my family's life. But our farm was far from a work-above-all enterprise. My father took voice lessons and valued beauty above industry. He frequently interrupted work - even pausing in milking the cows- to call our attention to a sunset or moonrise or the miracle of a new calf or the first skunk cabbages poking their way up in a soggy part of the woods. Our mother loved mischief and banged out waltzes on the piano. She also loved to read and had a definite talent for being a friend.
LF: Who are some of your favorite poetic influences? LG: Whew, that is always a difficult one. Early on, Keats and Whitman were my contending guides. Discovering William Carlos Williams in high school gave me permission to write in my own voice. Over the years, so many have taught me. Among those I do not know personally: William Stafford, Nina Cassian, Nazim Hikmet, Lucille Clifton, Jane Hirshfield . . . The list could go on and on. Others I've worked with and who have kept me going: Jean Valentine, Margaret Holley, Christopher Bursk, Baron Wormser, and my friends David Keller and Peter Wood, to whom Lift is dedicated.
LF: Could you describe your creative process for writing poetry as opposed to story writing? LG: That is easy, because I simply can't seem to write stories. A poem can begin with any scrap of language: a sign, a phrase that comes to mind when I talk to myself during the day, a line from another poet, a dream (that's a fertile source), an overheard conversation (I am a dedicated eavesdropper), an obituary – then, if the jotting really does want to become a poem, it proceeds by intuition rather than plan. I'm always hoping that the emerging poem will begin to sing to me, and sometimes it does. Once a rhythm - either one of sound or one of mental leaps - begins, I realize I am working on/with a poem.
LF: What are you working on now? LG: Lately I've been writing a lot of poems that work off of other text. This week I'm working on a poem initially inspired by a line Alicia Ostriker read at the recent Dodge Poetry Festival: "Most of the time I like to take my seat next to the fool named Hope." The poem, like so many, is turning out to address loss and survival.
LF: Why is poetry important in the world? LG: Because we all need to be makers and anyone can make a poem. All you need is language. We all also need to be receivers of messages that let us know we are not alone in experiencing the beauty and terror of daily life.
LF: What do you hope readers take away from your poems? LG: I hope a reader feels alive, awakened, when he or she is reading the poems. I do think poetry is a force against death, and I hope my poems contribute to that endeavor.