Jan: Thanks for the interview Debbi Brody; your newest book of poetry, In Everything, Birds will be released at the end of May, tell readers about yourself.
Debbi: I consider myself a poetry activist, bringing poetry in wherever I can. This includes conducting poetry workshops and readings at festivals and other venues throughout the Southwest to writers age five through eighty-five. I publish frequently in regional and national literary journals. My work has appeared in the Santa Fe Literary Review, Broomweed Journal, Poetica, Sin Fronteras and many others literary journals and books of note including numerous anthologies. My first full length collection, “Portraits in Poetry,” (Village Books Press, Oklahoma, 2006), as well as my chapbook, “FreeForm” (2003, self published) are out of print. My new chapbook, “Awe in the Muddle” is almost sold out, but available through firstname.lastname@example.org. As well as being active in the poetry community, editing, writing and reviewing, coordinating readings and judging art shows and recitations for the National Endowment for the Arts annual high-school Poetry Outloud State Finals, I work full-time for a small scientific research and development company. I have lived in Santa Fe, NM with my husband since 1992. We have one grown, married son.
Jan: Tell me about your new poetry collection “In Everything, Birds.” I like the title. What inspired you and what is the significance of the title?
Debbi: Birds are traditionally, in the arts, a symbol of communication-including communication with the spirit world, as well as a symbol of the spirit, the soul, and of diplomacy. These are all subjects I regularly address in my writing, both head-on as well as sideways. It is infrequent that birds themselves are the actual subject of a poem, but they are flittering about within the work. I have been fascinated and comforted by their constancy in real life, even feeding one with an eyedropper, bringing it back from the brink of death, when I was eleven years old, skipping school to do so. I discovered, accidentally that birds are a constant in my real life and in my writing. How did I learn this? One day, when completing the title poem of this collection, as I hit save, the computer asked if I wished to replace a document of the same name. Without meaning to I said yes and realized I had lost a gritty poem from ten years previous of the same title. It was my Eureka moment for this collection.
Jan: Which of your current poems are your favorite poems to read before an audience and how do you select particular poems to read aloud?
Debbi: I did a CD of the collection, which covers about half of the 80 or so poems. I learned a lot about my reading style making the choices. I like poems that ask questions of the reader, that don’t provide answers, that have strong musicality. Different audiences require different choices; if I am reading at a gallery, museum, or university, I veer towards the more “intelligent, narrative, less visceral” poems. If I am reading at a Festival I steer towards the theme of the festival and more lyric and surreal pieces. I truly enjoy reading in tandem or collaboratively and will choose poems that I think will complement my co-reader (s). For many authors, writing is a solitary pursuit. For me, writers are my community, my family, my tribe. I belong to two bi-monthly writing groups. We feed off of each other’s lines at 5 minute intervals, to push our minds and pens to unexpected places.
Jan: What happens when a poet reads her work aloud before an audience? Based on audience reactions, tell us about how that experience best empowers your resolve to write?
Debbi: Funny you should ask this question because I wrote a letter to myself last night asking why I have no fear of reading in public to an entire theater full of strangers. Am I some kind of sociopath? Even the most renowned writers I know suffer stage jitters. Then of course, I realized I have this fabulous tool of suppression. Generally, I smoke 4 cigarettes a day. That’s all I want. But as the date of a big reading comes up, such as the first release of this new book, a week from the day of this writing, I am smoking seven a day!
I feed off audience reaction and participation. I encourage heckling. After reading, naturally, people approach and volunteer their favorites and I always ask why. This helps me make choices for future readings.
Jan: When did you begin to write poetry? Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote? How does it “stack up” next to your current work?
Debbi: You can laugh as you wish, but I began writing as soon as I could write. I was a bit precocious and taught myself to read, via the backs of cereal boxes and Dr. Seuss books by the time I was three. I have a very distinct memory of going out on to the driveway with a piece of blue chalk, writing “ that fat cat hat,” then running inside to show my mother that I knew not only how to read, but how to write. Something my big sister (4 ½) couldn’t do! I don’t believe my first “poem” stacks up well to my current work, but strangely I still feel Seuss in my bones, although my rhymes are all slant and/or enjambed – unless I am writing in a form which requires a rhyming pattern.
Jan: What “rules” for poetry do you reject as too constricting? Are there any particular “rules” that you believe are essential for the full development of your work?
Debbi: Yes, I firmly believe that all writing must follow the same rules, no matter the form. But in poetry, if it does not have some scheme of rhythm, it is just an essay shaped as a poem. Use complete sentences, avoid superlatives, create images in the reader’s mind. Remove the distance between self and reader wherever possible. Did I say image image image, to tell a story and/or to create a visceral response? The joy of poetry for me, versus the other kinds of writing I do, lies in the non-linear nature of the genre. I can go from a dream, to under a tree, to a remembered conversation all in under 30 lines, and it feels natural and right to do so. That is an on-going thrill!
Jan: Who are among your favorite poets alive and writing today? And of course, I must ask who are your favorite poets who are no longer with us?
Debbi: Currently, I am hooked on Joan Logghe, poet laureate emeritus of Santa Fe. She has had a big influence not so much on my style, but on my process. I am a devotee of Sharon Olds and Dorianne Laux. But it was a visit to the Chicago Public Library as a little girl, when I heard Gwendolyn Brooks read that everything fell into place. This was before she became Illinois’ poet laureate in 1968. So here’s my poetic lineage post Seuss and Brooks: Ginsberg, Yevtushenko, Gerald Stern, Dickenson, Langston Hughes, CK Williams, Maya Angelou, John Muir (I say everything he wrote was poetry), Rumi, Plath, Miribai, Cummings and Leonard Cohen. Wow, reading that list, I see I am a weirdo even for a poet.
Jan: What are the greatest obstacles to your writing at this point in your life? And of course, what do you know now about writing, poetry and the poet’s world that you wish you’d known when you were twenty?
Debbi: You ask some wonderful tough questions. I was saying to a friend at a reading this afternoon that life gets in the way of poetry. I work full time at a fairly intense office. I am the only full-time employee there who is not a scientist, and I do everything except science. This includes the occasional midnight alarm call (a window in the laboratory has been broken into!) I also find that while waiting for a new book to come out, it is difficult to write, it’s like having sex at the end of a pregnancy, no purpose, no desire. In those moments I turn to flash fiction and socio-political essay as well as close content edits for friends and customers who write nonfiction.
“I wish I knew when I was twenty that not everyone, in fact very few, will hear your words the way you intend them; this is one of the joys of writing. It is not a problem of execution!”
Jan: And what advice do you offer to a budding poet that would help and encourage him or her? What should you know if you want to be a poet?
Debbi: You should know that if you are an organic and tasty poet versus pedantic and scholarly poet, this will always be your avocation, not your bread and butter, even if you acquire great success.
“First thought, best thought,” as Ginsberg said, may be a great way to find your initial draft, but in reality, first thought is much like the first pancake on the griddle, not as pretty as the next one. Clichés come to exist for a reason, so “revise, revise, revise,” as Ginsberg said. Think of poetry more as a process than a product and you will be happier every step of the way. Play with your stanzas, invert them, subvert them! What words are unnecessary to the picture you are painting? Get rid of them, don’t love your own words too much; you are a poet, or as Shakespeare says, “Brevity is the soul of wit!” You will still write long poems. Most importantly, don’t take yourself too seriously.
Lastly, there is no such thing as writers block for a poet, only an unwillingness to look outside yourself and record what teases your mind and sparkles.
Jan: How can people contact you and learn more?
Please find me at www.facebook.com/pages/Debbi-Brody And of course at your local independently owned bookstore, barnesandnoble.com, and amazon.com