We all need more poetry in our lives. Well, today we’re in luck. Sylvia Woods agreed to answer a few questions about her new poetry collection and the path that got her there. Thank you, Sylvia!
First, let’s mention the new book.
My first book of poetry, What We Take With Us, was published April 20, 2021. The poems trace my roots in Appalachia, my teaching career and my experiences as a mother and grandmother. It is mainly narrative free verse, but there are a couple of forms. It was published by EastOver Press April 20, 2021, and edited Denton Loving.
ISBN-13: 978-1-934894-64-4 ▪ eBook ISBN-13: 978-1-934894-65-1
What is the allure of poetry for you?
Words have always charmed me. I grew up in a storytelling culture. My mother told stories constantly, often using words no longer in use. When we walked in the mountains in Eastern Kentucky, she told stories of ancestors and kin long dead. She sang old English folk ballads. I absorbed the sounds and inflections in her voice as surely as I breathed.
When we visited kin, they told more stories. After Sunday dinner, I wedged myself onto the bench behind the table and listened to women talk. Their voices resonate with me still as I remember the expressions they used, unique to Eastern Kentucky. Likewise, sounds and the rhythms of poetry dwell in my subconscious. It wasn’t until I had to teach standard grammar that I learned it, but words were with me always.
I remember memorizing poems by Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Milla, and Emily Dickinson in elementary school. I always loved teaching poetry. Young people need to know that poetry is as physical as it is cerebral. I had my high school students stand to recite the poetry of Whitman, letting the words roll over them as they read it in unison. When another class studied Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud,” one student took the role of the poet and wandered around the classroom while others played parts of the landscape. At the end of the poem, we all danced with the daffodils. It was great fun and kept students from the dullness of reading poems silently and answering questions. My ninth-grade remedial reading students recited a poem every single day. At the end of two weeks or we combined with another class and had a poetry slam. As a result, students learned to read in rhythm.
Do you have a writing quirk?
I don’t know that I have a writing quirk, but I like to read my work aloud to edit. I like to get my words close to the bone. I don’t want anyone reading my poetry notice an “uh” in a line. I love the sounds of words, how they echo each other, repeat them on the page like a dance. Maurice Manning once said a good poem is like a Virginia Reel, sounds that goes in and out of the dance repeating themselves.
Maybe twenty-five years ago at a local writing workshop, Cathy Smith Bowers, former poet laureate of North Carolina, introduced me to the chapter on sound in Western Wind by Frederick Nims. I became more aware how the sounds of words echo meaning. I was hooked.
What’s the best/worst advice you ever received about writing and/or publishing?
Writer, David Brill once gave a talk on publishing being a numbers game. He said, and I am paraphrasing, “If you submit 100 pieces of writing, ten of them will generate interest. One will be sure to be accepted.” I stopped watching the mailbox and email after I submitted. For several years my writing group, The Gap House Writers, aimed for fifty rejections a year. The person with the most rejections won the Bulldog Award, a ceramic bulldog. This simple act kept me from feeling disappointed when I didn’t receive an acceptance; instead I attempted to get more. Letters of acceptance are really great, but watching the in-box wastes energy better used for writing.
About the Author
Sylvia Woods is a native of Eastern Kentucky where her family has lived for over 200 years. She taught high school English in Tennessee for forty-three years before retiring. Sylvia continues to teach occasional classes at a local extended learning cooperative. She serves on the board of Tennessee Mountain Writers in Oak Ridge, TN. Her first full-length collection What We Take With Us was published this spring. Her work has been published in Appalachian Review, Now and Then, Southern Poetry Anthology: Appalachia, Southern Poetry Anthology: Tennessee, stilljournal.net, and others.