I spoke with featured poet, Wendy Fulton Steginsky, about her poetry inspirations, her writing process and some poets she admires. Here’s what she shared.
LF: Do you remember writing your first poem? What was it about? WS:I have written in journals and diaries since I was young, dabbling in a bit of poetry when I was a teenager, but it wasn’t until adulthood, when a friend decided to become a fulltime painter that I wrote a poem to honor the occasion. I remember basing it on Derek Walcott’s Love After Love in celebration of my friend’s rediscovery of his innermost calling. It was this moment of bravery in his life that resonated with something deep inside me that chose poetry as the best expressive form for my gift. LF: Who are some of your favorite poetic influences? WS:When I was a student growing up in Bermuda I carried around The Penguin Book of Modern Verse—it was dark red, faded and worn, inside and out. I was particularly drawn to the poems of Stephen Spender, Wilfred Owen, Louis Macneice, Siegfried Sassoon which were passionate, poignant exposés of World War II. I think it was an attempt on my part to understand better my father and his experiences as a young doctor in the British Army. I was tracing around the edges of what had shaped his life, searching for emotions he was unable to express. Today, I still carry a book bag! and in it, poetry collections of Mark Doty, Tony Hoagland, Jane Hirschfield, Sharon Olds, Wallace Stevens, Christopher Bursk, and many talented Bucks County poets and friends. LF: Could you describe your creative process for writing poetry? WS:Inspiration comes to me from many sources: walking in nature, reading or listening to other poets’ work, dreams, reading novels, a conversation about poetry. But sometimes inspiration doesn’t find me—that’s when I rely on journaling which I do most days. Even if I write, I can’t think of anything to say, the act of putting pen to paper is so familiar somatically that it activates some part of my brain and words come. Then I’m off, down an avenue of exploration. Sometimes I don’t push myself to write if a part of me is feeling particularly stubborn. I’m learning to trust that instinct and to understand that fallow times are often necessary and usually followed by a fruitful harvest. LF: At what point do you decide to stop revising your work? WS: Sometimes a line of an old poem will call out to me; I’ll search for it in my documents and lo and behold I’m drawn back in with a keener eye. Usually I print out multiple copies of a poem as it goes through the revision process: I find it easier to read aloud this way, or I’ll put a copy beside my bed at night so when I’m fresh next morning, it’s the first thing I see. Revision is a very important part of the writing process but at some point I get tired of a poem and have to let it go breathe on its own. There is a fine line between making a poem leaner, finding just the right word and ruining it. Too much cutting or adding more material can change the original thrust of a poem or sometimes it’s just challenging to reenter a poem from a different state of consciousness. LF: What are you working on now? WS:I always return to writing about Bermuda and the roots I left behind when I settled in the U.S. I recently confessed this to Richard Blanco who writes about his Cuban homeland and he strongly urged me to respect that impulse. So, I continue to explore the island’s culture, natural beauty and my memories, shaking the dirt off those roots. LF: Why is poetry important in the world? WS:Poetry puts form to one’s imagination, adds flesh to its bones and a sparkle in the eye. Anyone engaging with poetry, whether reading or writing it, enters into the imaginal realm where anything is possible. Poetry gives hope, connecting us at the heart level where we’re reminded who we really are.
LF: What do you hope readers take away from your poem? WS:Writing poems is often a revelatory process for me: at the beginning I think I know where I’m headed but suddenly the poem will take over and go somewhere else. I hope the reader will experience that as a kind of surprise. Also, in writing poetry I tend to delve into my interior and bring up nuggets of personal experience—I hope readers will recognize those as their own.