not to edit out the surprises

Following is an interview with Diane Lockward for Couplets. She is the author of Temptation by Water, What Feeds Us and Eve’s Red Dress. Her chapbook, Twelve for the Record, is scheduled for a promo at Amazon for April 28th and 29th, so now is the time to pick it up. Some of the poems at her website are featured in the chapbook.


Joanne Merriam: What is your writing process?

Diane Lockward: I am not a morning person, but I am a morning writer. I like to show up at the kitchen table with a cup of ginger tea and do my first drafts there. Those are typically wild free writings. To get myself started, I often first read some poems in a journal and then find a line or an image that I want to respond to. Or I might find a strategy that I want to try my hand at. Some of these beginnings go somewhere; some don’t. I wish I were an everyday writer but I’m not. I can go for stretches without getting any new poems underway. This makes me feel a bit guilty, especially during April when so many poets are cranking out a poem a day. But I’ve come to accept my process for what it is and I like to think of the non-writing days as gathering days. Some of these seemingly unproductive days are spent on revisions, for me often the place where the real writing gets done. I usually spend several weeks on revisions. When I think the poem is done, I put it aside and don’t look at it for a few weeks. When I take it out again, I discover that it isn’t done after all. Then I do more revisions. I almost never send out a poem for submission without sitting on it for a while.


Joanne Merriam: What’s some writing advice you’ve received, that works for you?

Diane Lockward: Some years ago at The Frost Place I sat down for a conference with the poet Jeffrey Harrison. I handed him a rather long and, for me, unusual poem, and said, “This is a weird one.” I distrusted the poem, was afraid of it and of what Jeffrey’s response might be. But he said, “Weird is good.” I’ve always remembered his words. They’ve become a kind of mantra for me, reminding me not to be overly literal, not to explain what should be merely suggested, not to edit out the surprises.


Joanne Merriam: Can you say a little bit about the genesis of Twelve for the Record and the process of putting it online?

Diane Lockward: This was originally a print chapbook, part of the Greatest Hits series. I wanted to get more mileage out of it. So I thought about the possibility of doing it as an ebook. With some help from people like you, I figured out how to do it. It took a good deal of time and patience to get the formatting right, something that’s more challenging for poetry than for prose. It took me a few weeks to get it done. But I did it and I’m happy with the result. I also had some trepidation about moving into this fairly new mode of publication, but the response has been gratifying.


Joanne Merriam: Do you think writing poetry helps you to understand more about yourself and the world, or is advancing as a poet more about learning how to communicate the things you already know?

Diane Lockward: Some of both, but the poems that excite me the most fall into the first category. Those are the poems that pull something out of me that I didn’t know was there, that lead me to some new discovery or understanding, the ones that surprise me. When I’ve got one of those poems underway, it’s intensely exciting. I walk around feeling somewhat electrified. What keeps me going as a poet is the possibility of writing a poem that says what I haven’t said before.


Check out more poetry-related interviews, reviews and guest posts at Couplets: a multi-author poetry blog tour.

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