Welcome. In today's interview, we talk with HWP Contributor Pat Anthony to learn more about her process, motivations, and how truth shapes her poetry. Pat's poem Vigil is featured in the 2020 issue of From the Depths and Runes can be found in the pages of SPLASH! Enjoy!
If you mean something outside of my own work, then it has to be Robert Frost's Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening ... that idea of not only choosing but the possibility of having a choice was so crucial in my life.
How long did it take you to find your voice in your poetry? Do you look back on your early writing and see the ways in which you have grown as a writer?
Well, I've come a long way from poem-a-week as assigned in middle school, where it was all meter and too frequently forced rhyme! But I was developing a voice by university days, both independently and through a few ways. I'd like to think you learn by reading other outstanding poets and writers and then working at writing your own stories, which is at the root of so much of my poetry.
I think we have to be open at all times to others, to experiences, to the marvelous and unique gifts of each person we encounter.
We’d love to know more about your process for writing poetry. Do you sit down to write on a schedule, or rush for a pen and paper when an idea strikes?
I keep notes on my phone, particularly at night, and have scraps and bits in notebooks everywhere in order to "capture" the phrase, the idea, the nuance of a perfect string of words. I cannot write on a schedule unless I'm editing a manuscript, which means going into my office and shutting out the world! I like the idea of "prompts" that are not too didactic, and then letting my mind work out various possibilities until one begins to gel. Many times inspiration comes from my hikes or even an overheard conversation or experience.
Do you find your poetry driven more by truth or fiction? How much personal experience makes its way into your writing?
I would have to say my poetry is driven overwhelmingly by truth. While there might be a bit of tweaking, either to disguise real people or adjust the frame, life experiences make for the best depth for me. Much of my writing is reclaiming truth; that is to say what was denied to me in a pretty dysfunctional childhood or truths observed in my experiences with others.
What advice do you have for the self-conscious aspiring poet?
First of all, read people whose work and voice you admire! If you're looking for someone like you, whether culturally or politically, or whatever, research those voices. Not to imitate, but to learn from their richness as contributors to the genre and the wider world. There are so many exceptional writers from the Native American culture, the Black experience, or marginalized representatives of the LGBTQ culture. Secondly, WRITE! even if you think it's wretched, put it in the bottom drawer, and six weeks from now, get it out and re-write the idea, be your own editor, and think about form and content. Do the work! Then research some places that might be receptive to emerging writers and try some out by reading and following guidelines carefully. Lastly, please know that poems that "didn't quite fit" are not rejections of you as a person or even your work. It's a matching game, and you just need to understand and value yourself, your work. Go to Readings, listing to presentations, and it will come together! You've already started!!
Writing is already a fairly solitary endeavor. How would you say the pandemic has affected you as a writer?
Well, I'm bipolar with some pretty big issues, so it's been a bit of a roller coaster ride. Meds had to be adjusted up, in all honesty. I've not been moved to develop a body of "Covid" poems, but there have been relationships severely restricted that certainly impacted the overall picture. I've written out of that loss for sure! Plus, I've tried to set myself some pretty big goals of engagement; sending out work, editing, getting another chapbook mss ready. In many ways, I've benefitted from having more time.
When you’re not writing poetry, what might we find you doing?
Well, I love to hike. I live on acreage and have more than a mile down the road. Lots of timber and wild woods, deer, etc. Bookcases full of first editions mashed next to Field Guides! I also crochet winter scarves for the homeless and area shelters. Very Zen and helps me calm and yet be productive. We have huge gardens here where we take produce to two food pantries when in season, too, plus I try and reclaim native plants to promote local birds, butterflies, and silk moths. The barn cats are all rescues from fields and worse if that counts!
What are you reading right now?
I just finished Louise Erdrich's The Nightwatchman and began Brit Bennett's The Vanishing Half. Poetry I read simultaneously at the moment is Linda Hogan's The History of Kindness and Billy-Ray Belcourt's This Wound is a World—both highly awarded Native American writers with themes and voices that resonate loudly with me. I also try to read and support as possible small-press publications that are the lifeblood of poetry's voice right now, in my opinion.
What words do you live by? Do you have a personal motto?
Yes, Matthew 7: 1-3 Judge not, and Micah 6: This is what Yahweh asks of you, to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God. I think we have to be open at all times to others, to experiences, to the marvelous and unique gifts of each person we encounter .... Personally, I tell people I'm a survivor and the job is never finished. That goes for the need to write poetry, too.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
To quote Galway Kinnell's gorgeous poem, there is "Still Time," in all its interpretations and nuances... Don't give up, don't sell yourself short, and be willing to take on new adventures and risks within reason. You can't (at least I can't) write in a vacuum, so get out there and know there are people who will help you when you feel like you can't help yourself. Reach out and don't be too proud to take another's hand.
Lightning Round with Pat Anthony
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pat Anthony writes the backroads, frequently using land as lens as she mines characters, relationships, and herself. Her poetry is both release and compulsion as she contends with the challenges of bipolar disorder. A recently retired educator, she holds an MA in Humanities from Cal State, poems daily, edits furiously, and scrabbles for honesty no matter the cost. Her poetry celebrates survival and draws upon not only personal experience but the larger metaphors of the natural world. Between Two Cities on a Greyhound Bus (Cholla Needles Press) is her latest chapbook. She has work published or forthcoming in multiple journals.
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