Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I don’t! There has always been poetry – I can’t remember a time without it. I have this tattered high school poetry text book that was my mother’s from the 1960’s and it has always simply been. I still have it – been toting it around the country. But whether and when I chose to follow these poems on the journey to shape my own ideas into poems and stories and to do this as a concerted endeavor – that is a recent development and a great relief.
Why do you write?
To make some space inside my head and to go on a journey with my characters and poems and see where they go. Rather than hypothesis-based, like my scientific training, it is discovery and process-based. And I really like having both types of activities in my life. I hope that some of it will speak to others (hey! Friends for the journey!) and be enjoyable to read.
What is your favorite genre or style to write in?
For poetry I enjoy a variety of verse forms – free, quatrain, epigrams – even tried my hand at a sestina once! For stories, I’ve primarily written in the sci-fi/fantasy realm.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I would say Madeleine L’Engle for prose and T.S. Eliot for poetry. Madeleine L’Engle has this expansive parallel cosmology with characters from her YA books – one series of books in Kairos (pure, with no measurement) Time and one series in Chronos Time (wristwatch time)- and they cross over and interact beautifully. The connections she draws are wonderful. That and she really knows how to get inside teenage girl’s heads. T.S. Eliot also knows how to get inside people’s heads – we follow along with the musings of a lovesick man going preparing to tell the woman he loves that he loves her in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and his thoughts meander and connect to form a picture of what’s going on in his head.
What books have most influenced your life most?
Dante’s Divine Comedy, T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle.
Do you have a favorite quote or piece of advice that you would like to share with us?
This comes from Kit White’s book 101 Things to Learn in Art School – “#64 Art is a form of experimentation. But most experiments fail [my own aside: experiments fail 9 days out of 10 in research science, I will tell you]. Do not be afraid of those failures. Embrace them. Without courting the possibility of something miscarrying, you may not take the risks necessary to expand beyond the habitual ways of thinking and working. Most great advances are the product of discovery, not premeditation. Failed experiments lead to unexpected revelations.”
Do you have any advice for other writers?
All I can say is to get it out of your head and you will feel much better. That and to heed Anne Lamott’s “Principle of the Shitty First Draft” – from Bird by Bird – you have to have a first draft to improve it, it will be shitty, and that is okay.
Can you tell us a little background or anything special on the piece you composed?
A bit of revisionism and post-script to the Divine Comedy. After Virgil and Dante are parted at the end of Purgatory, I have wondered what it was like for Virgil to go back to Limbo and what sort of attachment he would feel for the man he had led, literally, from Earth through hell to heaven. And here you are!
To Dante, my Last Student
I led; you followed me through to places
Untouched by human hands
Down through the dissembling faces,
And polluted crystalline crimes.
You more than any other pupil, you
And I truly saw the hidden fetid
continents and unsanctified tombs -
Places that only dream of stars.
You fainted, slept, crawled at my side,
Together we awaited Divine Aid and
Escaped the Devil’s shaggy hide
So how could I not love you?
Is it not for the poet to sing
Of the un-had, the teacher to
Pine for the student who has taken wing?
Ah, holy Will, I am in love with you!
You were my punishment time could not wear
Even as I knew already the end, as
My time-sight had not narrowed; I must bear
The vision of your death in Italy
A stone tomb not in your Florence, but far,
As though I should hope to see you
Again even if your soul would be scarred,
Sinking to wander the pit beneath me.
When your last moment arrived,
I went to the lip of that balcony
Over the view of the wildfire of pride,
Perhaps to see you ascend, to see
For sure that the boat came full
But not to see your face lit by
His fiery eye wheels, huddling in the hull
Your absence in this vessel rent me in two.
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