I spoke with featured poet, Marylou Kelly Streznewski, about her poetry writing process and her latest writing endeavors. Here’s what she had to say.
LF: Do you remember writing your first poem? MS: It was probably in college. After viewing a film of a dancer outdoors in the mountains, I felt inspired to write about it. I never showed it to anyone. In fact, I never shared my poetry until I was in my forties. When I asked my Advanced Placement students to each submit a poem after we had studied poetry, with no names attached until after we had discussed it, one of my students announced that they would do this only if I submitted one also and I was faced with a gleeful palace rebellion. I agreed, but also said I would put in a poem by a famous poet, just for fun. I used an Auden poem, and they guessed that it was mine! So once in my life I have been mistaken for W.H. Auden. That mischievous girl took me to a poetry group she knew about, and there I met a woman who introduced me to the poetry community of Bucks County. After almost 30 years, that girl is still my friend, an environmental attorney who communicates from her goat farm in New England.
LF: What are some of your favorite creative influences? MS: I once received a high compliment from the late Pam Perkins-Frederick, “You see things that most people never notice.” Among my favorite admired poets are Jane Hershfield and Mary Oliver.
LF: Could you describe your creative process for writing poetry as opposed to fiction, nonfiction, or memoir? MS: For me, other genres most often take form as an idea, a protest, or a story that insists on being told. In poetry, it is more like a poem happens inside me and requires that I respond by writing it down, even if only in very rough form. I may not quite know where I am going, but the poem seems to know.
LF: At what point do you decide to stop revising your work? MS: Thanks to the ease of changes on a computer screen, I am tempted to say, “Never.” There is always an “and” to be deleted, or a comma to be added. Then there is the realization that a poem you haven’t looked at in a long time, and regarded as finished, would be so much better without the first stanza. Thanks to poetry workshops, one can find those stanzas in many forms.
LF: What are you working on now? MS: I’m trying to organize my poems into a draft of a full-length volume. It is a long process, but very interesting to try to look at the whole body of my work. I’m also compiling a chapbook of poems about aging. I sometimes think I write too much about sad and gloomy subjects, but I have decided that if this is the voice in which I am destined to speak, so be it. “Dying with Robert Mitchum” is a book about war, by a person who has never been to war, but that is most of us, and it tries to speak about how an observer can be affected by conflict.
LF: Why is poetry important in the world? MS: I think William Carlos Williams said it best. It is difficult To get the news from poems Yet men die miserably every day For lack Of what is found there.
LF: What do you hope readers take away from your poetry? MS: I have a poem called “Parallel Universe.” I have come to believe that that is where poets live. Non-poets will see, hear, or experience something in the “real” world, but a poet will be inspired to write about the same experience in a very different way. Someone once said, “Poetry is not about experience, poetry IS experience.” I hope that my poetry invites the reader into my parallel universe and provides a new experience of the familiar world. I think I will title my full-length volume as “Parallel Universe, Where Poets and Poems Live”.