April is National Poetry Month! This month I’ll be interviewing several poets here on the blog! The first poet is my friend Brianna Pike, who was in my MFA program at Murray State. At the end of the interview, poets are allowed a “Free Space” where they can say anything they want to about themselves and poetry.
Why do you write poetry?
Writing poetry is my way of making sense of the world. I’ve kept a journal since I was a kid and gradually as I began to read more and discovered poetry, I started writing poems. I still keep journals and most of my poems come from those entries.
Who is your favorite poet and how has he/she influenced you?
My favorite poet is Elizabeth Bishop. I discovered her in my first undergraduate poetry class my sophomore year in college and she’s been my touchstone ever since. I love her use of language and form, her intelligence, her keen observers eye and her intensity. I find Bishop to be a very passionate poet but at the same time very self contained and I find that an interesting juxtaposition. I also relate to her subject matter and at the start of my poetry career I wanted to write just like her. I’ve expanded my scope since those first poems, but I always return to her. I teach her poems in my classes and when I get stuck, her poems are where I go for inspiration.
Talk about the process of writing a poem.
My poems always start out with a free write. Sometimes the ideas come quick and I finish in fifteen minutes and have a page or two of content. Sometimes I sit for an hour and come away with a half a page. The free write may contain actual lines or images that will find their way into a poem, or it might just contain the general idea of what I’m trying to say. Sometimes I just use the free write as a way to clear my mind so I can get to the real subject. These free writes give me a place to start but they are often messy. From there I try to find a way into the poem from the free write (idea, line, word, image) and then I start to draft. If I can pull something, even if it’s just one word, from a free write that’s usually enough to get me started.
What is your writing practice?
My writing practice is not routine in the slightest. I have preferences, but I can’t always work the way I want to, so I’d say the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to be flexible. If I think of an idea for a poem, I write it down immediately and then try to return to it sometime during the week to complete one of my free writes. How long the free writes sit in my journal before they become poems can vary, but if I can at least generate some content, I know I’ll have someplace to start when I get back to it. I always write first drafts by hand and I prefer to work in the mornings or evenings, but really, for me, flexibility is key.
How do you deal with rejection?
Rejection isn’t fun but I deal with it by sending out more work. If I send out a batch of poems and there are not any acceptances, I revise and then I send them out again. I’m constantly sending and have anywhere between 15-20 submissions out at one time. I also constantly remind myself that it isn’t personal. If you want your work out in the world, you have to keep trying.
Why does the world need poetry?
I think the world needs poetry for the same reason I feel compelled to write it and that’s to make sense of human experience.
Share a poem you’ve written (either a link or in its entirety) and talk about the poem.
Here’s a link to my poem “Wigs,” which appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of The Hamilton Stone Review. http://www.hamiltonstone.org/hsr29poetry.html#pike
I started actually drafting this poem while in graduate school, but I probably had the idea long before that time. As I mentioned before, poetry helps me process events in my own life, so this poem started as a way for cope with the death of my aunt from ovarian cancer. It was a traumatic experience for a lot of reasons and for years my poetry was consumed by her death. Grief is a complex emotion and I think what I didn’t anticipate in the aftermath was how much her loss would impact a place I once loved. This poem came from a space of trying to make sense of losing not just a beloved person but also a beloved place.
Besides the actual creation of the poem, I think the most important part of writing poetry (that is often overlooked) is community. Poets need to be better supporters of one another. Support can come in the form of writing groups, social media posts or simply purchasing the poetry collections we love. We need to celebrate each other in times of success and comfort one another when times are tough.
This idea of community is partially what drew me to Tupelo Press’s 30/30 project that I’m participating in this month. It has been a great experience so far.