Wed. Jul 17th, 2024

Photo credits: Magnetic Fridge Poetry (CC BY 2.0) by Steve A Johnson via Flickr

1. How would you describe your relationship to poetry?

“I would describe my relationship to poetry as passionate. I respond to poetry completely. I have a way of thinking about the world in terms of five aspects of myself: the will, the mind, the body, the heart and the spirit. And I respond to poetry in some of these ways with my will. I feel as if poetry is a way of changing my relationship to experience. It’s a way of asserting myself fully present within life. So it’s a really powerful tool for that. With the mind, poetry I find to be an incredible intellectual experience, the way the words and the structure reflect on each other it creates a three-dimensional kind of meaning and way of thinking. With my body, there’s an incredible level of sensuality and pleasure, suspense and satisfaction. The structure of poetry gives me so much physical experience. With my heart, poetry opens up my heart to the world, to nature, to myself and in my spirit. I find poetry to be an extremely powerful experience of opening and awakening. So this is all for me poetry that mostly is completed in the physical sense. Poetry that has a strong structure to it. So it’s really not just about the meaning of the words for the poem to do this powerful thing to me, it has to be a poem that is really full in the sense that physical structures that are interacting with the words and meanings altogether in a way that feels as if it’s completed. That the development of it is complete. I don’t necessarily respond this way to everything that is called a poem, but to the poems that are really full in that way and are heartfelt and rich in terms of the depth and meaning. But that’s how I feel poetry is meant to be. So when you ask how I respond to poetry, this is my ideal.”

2. What is inspiring your current work?

“Well I am just finishing up a book that’s inspired by my witchy practice and by my feminism. So it’s full of poems about goddesses and poems about feminism and female power. So that’s the book I’m just finishing, and the new one I’m starting is poems about sex and sensuality, and I’m using the rhythms of poetry to try to capture that experience.

3. What poem rocked your world as a kid?

“Oh I love that question, lets see what age?”

3a.) Whatever you remember your earliest experience where you thought, “wow this is incredible!”

“Well, every year my father would read ‘The Night Before Christmas’ on Christmas Eve, and that was just total magic for me. He always read it the exact same way, like he emphasized certain words, he just… “the droll little mouse was tied up like a bow!” I always waited for it to be spoken in exactly that way. That was pretty magical for me and when I discovered meter as an adult because I was told in seventh grade that you aren’t supposed to write meter. ‘Real poets don’t write meter.’ Those were exactly my teacher’s words; serious poets today don’t write meter, he told me, and so I believed him and I didn’t write meter for a long time. And when I finally got back to it, one of the poems that came to me right away had the same meter as ‘The Night Before Christmas.’ Like I was giving myself permission. It was really amazing to have that permission again, to feel that magic.“

4. What advice would you give a poet just beginning their journey into publishing?

“Ah, publishing. Well I would suggest first of all, I don’t like the word submission, which if you research it, they say you’re submitting your poems to a magazine or submitting your poems to editors. I like to use the word offering. It’s much nicer.”

“When you get rejected, always have a copy of the poem nearby. Before you read your rejections, have a copy of your poem right there because the moment you get rejected is a really good moment to revise; your ego is just shot to nothing and you can see more clearly what’s wrong with it or a way to improve it. The other thing would be to be grateful for every rejection because rejections give you the chance to improve. And once it’s published, it’s out there and there’s nothing worse than having a poem out there that you wish you could change, and it’s too late. Even if it takes 25 years to publish something, I would be grateful. And I’ve had to wait years and years to publish something and I never regretted it. But I have heard of people regretting publishing too soon. One more thing, if there is a way to keep track of your rejections. I used to collect physical rejection slips and my sister told me when I was starting out that “if you get a hundred rejection slips I’ll take you out to dinner!” So that was great, and you wanted to collect them. And so I really recommend that idea. Keeping track of the rejections you get and being proud of them is a great thing.”

5. If you could have a conversation with one plant, which would it be?

“Oh how lovely! A beech tree. I have a beech tree tattooed on my arm. It is the poet’s tree. It is connected to the word book. I love beech trees. Another would be the hazelnut bush. I love hazelnuts. And I recently just discovered that they were considered sacred to poets in the ancient place of Rome, and I loved them my whole life. I love a hazelnut bush and hazelnut chocolate, oh my gosh.”

5a.) What do you think the hazelnuts would tell you?

“Oh, that’s such a good thought. Oh my gosh, I think they would be laughing a lot, giggling, rustling and giggling, and they would remind me — what would they tell me? It’s hard to think of the words. I did a green witch training once where we really got deep into the plants, and we sat with a plant we didn’t recognize and just wrote what we heard from the heart. It was incredible. And everybody got right into the truth of the value of that plant for healing. So it’s really true — I learned from that — that the plants speak to us in our core, and it’s not exactly through the mind. I see in the hazelnuts it would be a joy and a playfulness, kind of a dappled light and dark so there would be this sense of teaching that the light and the dark, and the way they come together is part of the joy and the playfulness of life, so not to try and only find the light or be afraid of the parts that are darker, more shadowed you know, or that are scarier or harder. It’s all the interaction between the two that is more fun. And if you can have the interaction more constant instead of trying to separate them to feel better. It won’t be so tough in the hard part; it’ll be easier all around, so not to try to block it out and be so light all the time, but let it all happen the whole time because it’s prettier and more fun. I think that’s what the hazelnut would tell me. And that’s kind of the flavor of a hazelnut to me too. The flavor is kind of sweet and bitter at the same time; it’s a really beautiful flavor.”

6. What is the hardest part of poetry?

“Well that’s easy: perfection. I aim for perfection, and I actually don’t stop a poem until it is perfect. And also in my teaching, the same thing. That’s one reason I love form, because meter and form actually makes perfection attainable cause you know exactly what you are aiming for. It’s like cleaning a window; when you clean a window you can do it perfectly cause you can see it all the way, so it’s not like so many things in life where you’re going through your emails or something. Publishing is endless now, especially because of the internet right; you can’t ever finish it. Cleaning a window you can finish and writing a poem that’s a meter or form you understand you can complete it. It’s such a great feeling. I think the hardest part is to have faith. that yes, it can be finished. To me, this is a question of faith, even translations. I translated a bunch of poems from French, and I kept feeling like the poem is guiding me. If it’s even possible, you feel like you are waiting for the right word, and it comes, so you just have to wait. Patience also: strong patience, active patience. Active patience: expectations and faith and the possibility of perfection. I think that can be hard. Sometimes it takes 20 years to finish a poem, and sometimes I can finish a poem in five minutes, you know, so it balances out. Maybe I would say in a nutshell, the hardest part of writing poetry is finishing it.”

There it is in a hazelnut shell.

Julia Demtshuk

One thought on “Annie Finch Poet in Residence Interview”
  1. Thank you for the wonderful questions, Julia! It was a pleasure to talk with you, and to be reminded now of my wonderful experience as part of the West Chester University community this October.


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