3 Questions and a Poem–in which one of my favorite poets is interviewed and shares a poem.
What do you consider the three most important elements of a poem?
Weirdness, honesty, and feeling. For me, good poetry has some of the qualities of a dream. Using the activities and experiences that make up our daily lives, it creates something completely fresh, moving, and strange. A poem’s strength comes from its mystery: how is it that a particular arrangement of words can evoke strong emotions the way poetry does? And yet we know that this is true. Poetry, and all art, rearranges the familiar threads that play through our minds, giving them back to us changed, as we are changed in the process of reading and writing poetry. In the poet’s careful choice of words and form, we learn how something felt, which I believe is the point of lyric poetry. Our emotions are our guide through poetry.
What’s your best advice for writing poetry?
I have taught poetry to many students, from schoolchildren to senior citizens. My advice to anyone who wants to write poems is to learn how to play with words. Children understand this very well; they don’t need a lot of encouragement to think of words as things to be played with. They love making funny compound words and silly puns. Adults, however, have been taught to question and edit their thoughts, processes they need to overcome in order to create. So, learning to play with language is primary. Next is reading. I’m always surprised when poets tell me they don’t read other poets. You must read, as much and as widely as possible. Go to the library and check out a new book of poems every week. Read a poem before you go to sleep. Copy poems by other poets into a notebook. Write imitations of famous poems. Poets need to constantly flex their poetry muscles to keep in shape!
What’s the one poem that everyone should read today?
“The Rain Stick” by Seamus Heaney: https://newrepublic.com/article/114546/seamus-heaney-rainstick
Night Court leaves us hungry for more of the poet’s open, probing, leaping intelligence, her “wild associations” and surprises in the unexpected “shivering” sweetness of a love story where “joy scrambles sadness.” We hear “the clatter of souls entering bodies” and experience “spring’s lizard stealth” as sadness, longing and reluctance are transformed by breath-stopping beauty. Like a creature in the forest, the poet will “rub my cheek against the night.” And she reminds us a prince waits, perhaps for centuries, until we wake.
—Susan G. Wooldridge, author of poemcrazy: freeing your life with words
& a POEM
Driving Past Lettuce Fields on Highway 101 Erica Goss A freeway is a dream where we move like magic beings, too fast to see the implications of lettuce rows, the men bent double, knives out. Eyes on the road, we lose ourselves counting signs, happy at small diversions: tumbling litter or glass shards sizzling in the sun. And if the stink of fertilizer blasts our bubble, we step on the gas, keep our gazes high above the men lifting heads from the ground and tossing them onto the back of the truck they walk behind, that never stops moving.
“Driving Past Lettuce Fields on Highway 101,” first published at Innisfree Poetry Journal, Fall 2021
About the Author
Erica Goss served as Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, California from 2013-2016. Her latest poetry collection, Night Court, won the 2016 Lyrebird Prize from Glass Lyre Press. She is the author of Wild Place (2012, Finishing Line Press) and Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets (2014, Pushpen Press).
As Poet Laureate for Los Gatos, she organized the first St. Patrick’s Day Poetry Walk, created Poems-in-the-Window (local businesses displayed poems during National Poetry Month), recorded The Poetry Podcast (50-plus recordings of poems in a variety of languages), established the first Los Gatos Poet Laureate Scholarship, and launched The Poetry Kitchen, a poetry reading series at the Los Gatos Library.
Erica’s work is featured in numerous anthologies and journals, including Colorado Review, Georgia Review, North Dakota Review, Oregon Humanities, Pearl, Ekphrasis, Main Street Rag, Café Review, Perigee, Dash Literary Journal, Eclectica, Up the Staircase, Lake Effect, Consequence, Stirrings, Convergence, Passager, Atticus Review, Gravel, Tinderbox Review, Caveat Lector, Rattle, Zoland Poetry, Spillway, San Pedro Rover Review, Comstock Review, Contrary, and Innisfree Poetry Journal. She received the Zocalo Poetry Prize in 2019 and the Many Mountains Moving Prize for poetry in 2011. She was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2010, 2013, and 2017, Best of the Net in 2016 and 2017, and received the first Edwin Markham Prize for poetry, judged by California Poet Laureate Al Young. Wild Place was also a finalist in the 2010 White Eagle Coffee Store Press Chapbook Contest, and received a special mention from Jacar Press’s 2010 Chapbook Contest.
Erica was the host of Word to Word, a Show About Poetry, on KCAT Cable TV in Los Gatos, and wrote The Third Form, a column about video poetry, for Connotation Press. She is the co-founder of Media Poetry Studio, a poetry-and-film camp for teen girls. In 2018, Erica founded Girls’ Voices Matter, an arts education program for teen girls. Erica lives in Eugene, Oregon, and teaches classes in poetry, memoir and video.
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