Thursday, May 06, 2010

Poet Elizabeth Austen

Richard Hugo House has a blog that recently featured an interview with poet Elizabeth Austen.  

Here's some of my favorite answers from the interview done by Brian McGuigan:



BM: Several years ago, I was in your six-week workshop, “The Poet’s Toolbox.” What are your favorite “tools” to employ as a poet?
EA: I’m a big fan of cultivating opposites, of using questions to stir up the surface of a draft to see what rich muck might lie underneath. Sometimes I do that in a literal way, by writing with my non-dominant hand. Other times it’s more analytical, looking at what I’ve got on the page and asking myself what the opposite impulse would yield. My poem “Epithalamion” is an example of that—I was attempting to write a poem for a dear friend’s wedding and getting nowhere. Then I decided to write the exact opposite of what would be appropriate for a wedding poem—as a result I got a new poem, and cleared the way to write a poem I could stand up and read at the wedding.
BM: In that workshop, you gave me some valuable feedback on my poetry, particularly regarding gerunds. Are there any “rules” of poetry that you follow? Or any that you deliberately break?
EA: Ah–the gerund! You must have taken that class with me right after I discovered my own work had a not-too-pleasing “ing ing ing” ringing through it—unintentionally. One of the things I’ve discovered late in life is that when I’m in an uncomfortable situation (like a messy almost/maybe draft of a poem or a challenging social situation), I’m apt to try to figure out what the rules are, so that I can have the illusion of structure (i.e., safety). I’m learning to listen for that, and then take a long hard look at the “rule” I’m tempted to bow down to.  So—to answer your actual question and stop psychoanalyzing myself—no, I don’t believe in rules anymore. I know what has been useful to me so far, and I try to continue to do those things until I notice that they’re no longer useful, just habitual.
BM: What's the best thing about Seattle's poetry community?
EA: The best thing is its range and vitality—every single night of the week, you can find a poetry reading happening somewhere. Whatever style you’re after, you can find it here.

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