— a poetry interview series by Christine Klocek-Lim
1. What is your favorite poem that you’ve written? Read?
I must preface that my answers to both parts of this question are a bit biased. “Serenade” is my favorite poem that I’ve written because it is a love poem I wrote to my partner, Daniel Milbo, for Valentine’s Day in 2009. A few weeks later I reprinted it on linen paper and then had it framed for him as a gift. For me, it is my best work, though I’ve never been satisfied with the poem’s final verse. I’ve often recited it in my mind as I’ve tried to find something better, but Daniel will never allow me to change it. To my horror, I found a typo in the framed poem when I read it where it hangs on the wall this past winter.
My answer to the second part of this question also involves Daniel and is based on a very personal event. The favorite poem that I’ve read has never been, nor ever will be published. It is titled “Soldier, Come Home,” and it was written for me by Daniel when I began my transition into retirement from nursing in the autumn of 2007. As I walked into our dining room upon my arrival home after the final day of working full-time as a nurse, I found what appeared to be a framed document at my place on the dining room table. Unsuspecting, I began to read it when I suddenly realized it was a poem. It made me cry with the intensity of a cry of release, an unburdening that came from the depths of my soul. The poem is about the ending of a phase of life and the transition into a new one. It begins with my life as a caregiver, and the professional and personal challenges, trials, and sacrifices I had experienced and made as a nurse after 30 years at the bedside. As the poem progresses, it beckons for me to accept the transition and then invites me to rest, recover, and look forward to an unencumbered future. After I recovered, I discovered (with Daniel’s help) a second poem hidden within the frame, titled “Over The Threshold,” and I cried again with even more emotion. This poem was about a new beginning. It recounted all my dreams for the future, all the things I had shared with Daniel; and it reiterated his ongoing desire for me to reach for those dreams and his unwavering support of me to achieve them. I then realized that the contents of that frame represented the greatest gift I had ever received.
To continue along the lines of what I believe to be the intention of this question, I have read many, many poems on my own and thousands more that have been submitted to our journal and press. I have a folder on my computer that contains between 90 and 100 poems that have moved, amused, or inspired me, but I’ll list only the following poems because they immediately come to mind.
“Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas to which I wrote my first attempt at a glose or glosa, titled “Daddy’s battles,” in response to a challenge offered by Colin Ward on the Poets.org workshop forum. I think it was one of the 2009 offerings in my NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) Poets.org thread. Also included are:
“Blow, Healing Wind” by Esther Greenleaf Mürer
“Dirt” by Catherine Rogers
“Door Card” by James S. Wilk
“Dying” by Stephen Bunch
“Final Night” by Tina Hacker
“Grasshopper” a DATIA sonnet by Colin Ward
“I See God Standing in Stout Grove” by Larina Warnock
“Night Shift” by Ed Bennett
“No Possum, No Aesop, No ‘Gators” by Stephen Bunch
“Pass on: to give a thing that has been given,” a never published poem written for me by Larina Warnock
“The Quilters of Gee’s Bend” by Alarie Tennille
“Studying Savonarola” by M.A. Griffiths
“The unnamed” by Christine Klocek-Lim
2. Do you think there is a disconnect between academic poets/poetry and online poets/poetry?
Not so much a disconnect or disparity as there is a difference in their approach to poetry. Also, because I am not an academic, I would have to say that my opinion is inherently biased. I have found that academic poets more often tend to focus first on craft while online poets more often tend to focus first on content. Unfortunately, sometimes that’s where the focus ends. I also find it admirable to a degree that because of the medium in which they are most familiar, each group inherently tends to gravitate towards “home.” There are large numbers of online poets who seek criticism of their work in open forums where their poetry is exposed to comments from anyone. I have no evidence to suggest that academic poets, on the whole, do the same, but I have learned that they do seek critique from their academic colleagues. I do understand that like tends to seek out and attract like, but for either, this can result in a stagnation of the critiquing pool. Regardless of their background, poets who can connect to an audience achieve the greatest success.
Simply put, I think that these two groups represent two different poetry factions and that there is a tendency for them to want to remain that way, but I do occasionally see crossovers and merging between the two. This is not to say that there aren’t internet poets whose work has rivaled the level of craft achieved by the academics. A few of these that come to mind are the late Margaret A Griffiths, Christine Klocek-Lim, Colin Ward, and Larina Warnock. Nor does this mean that there aren’t those academic poets whose poetry is infused with accessible content allowing their work to connect to a wide audience. When you encounter the work of a poet like Catherine Rogers, you experience the best of both worlds.
3. Has the rise of the poetry MFA been positive or detrimental to the art?
In general, the positive effects of the rise in MFA’s are an expanding awareness of literature, an increased desire to excel in communicating thoughts and ideas, and an overall elevation in the desire to possess the ability to comprehend the intention of language through the written word.
I can’t say that I believe the possession of a MFA has been detrimental to the art of poetry, but I was surprised to learn a few things about the writing skills of some and the degree to which those skills were lacking. My impression is based on my experience with the work we’ve received from MFA candidates and those who hold a MFA because my expectations are much higher for someone who would possess such a degree. I was surprised to learn that some MFA’s / candidates believed that the possession or pursuit of the degree automatically elevated their work to the level of art, qualified their work for acceptance for publication regardless of whether it met a publication’s requirements, submitted work that did not adhere to the basic rules of grammar, or understood the difference in meaning between homophones.
4. Do you write for yourself or for an audience/reader?
I write for both at different times though I rarely begin a piece with an audience in mind. More often, a piece begins as a personal endeavor, then at some point, usually quite later, I might consider whether it has the potential to be transformed into something that could be appreciated by an audience.
5. How much of what you write is inspiration vs. perspiration?
Considering question #4, I’d say 75% inspiration and 25% perspiration. I say this because starting a poem is my greatest challenge. I’ll often have an idea floating around in my mind for days that begins with the need for an emotion to be expressed. Sometimes it will submerge itself into my sub-conscience to mature until it’s ready to reveal itself. When this happens, putting it to paper becomes an all-consuming focus.
The annual NaPoWriMo challenge would be an exception to this. Participation in this endeavor often garners rough or very rough poem drafts that I will return to later in the year. It forces me to write, whether I think I have something to say or not.
6. If you were a Celtic bard, carrying poems from place to place as if they were the last flame, which ones would you sing?
As a Celtic bard, the poems I would carry would begin with my list in question #1 and end with those in the folder on my computer.
Anything else you’d like to say?
In closing, I have found that I have a greater affinity for poetry editing than poetry writing. Daniel’s poem, “Over the Threshold,” helped me to realize that the focus of my life has been to contribute to the efforts of others by helping them to achieve their goals and reach their potential. As a nurse, I enter people’s lives at moments when their life’s journeys are interrupted or their journey in this life is coming to an end. My skills and efforts help those who are detoured from their journey to return to the course they were traveling. For those whose journeys are ending, I help them to remember what they have achieved, take pride in their accomplishments, and realize how they have affected and made differences in the lives they have touched along the way. With regard to poetry, I realized there were many parallels between my vocation in nursing and what I might hope to contribute to poetry.
As an editor, I try to understand not only the message and meaning of a poem but also the intention of the poet who wrote it. I do this by assuming the role of a reader and communicator. When I read a poem, I try to decipher its message, determine how well it conveys its message, and document how it went about achieving that. Then the editor in me begins to creep in as I consider different or more effective ways that a poet may use to convey the message.
To be successful as a nurse, one must be able to communicate information succinctly, directly, and quickly and in a way that recipients can understand, incorporate it into their lives, and make their own. Successful poets do much the same.
When I returned to writing 10 years ago, I began by writing prose. Then, in April 2007, I discovered Poets.org which presented me with the opportunity to return to writing poetry, something I had not done in many years. Within a short period of time, I realized that I was able to identify the difficulties other poets were having with conveying the intention of their poems more than I was able to identify it in my own work. After a time, I realized that this revelation was not unique to myself, but it led to my desire to help other poets reach their potential and be recognized for their work.
O.P.W. Fredericks is a Registered Nurse from Pennsylvania who is transitioning into retirement. His clinical practice encompassed medical-surgical, intensive care, and emergency nursing. He was a volunteer paramedic for twenty-two years. He returned to creative writing in 2002 after a hiatus of several decades. His poetry and short stories reflect human interaction and the human condition interpreted by his philosophy of life as well as recollections from his career, his childhood, and his observations of the natural world. He currently serves as a moderator and the assistant administrator for the Academy of American Poets Poetry Workshop Forum. He is the editor and publisher of Touch: The Journal of Healing and The Lives You Touch Publications. His poetry has appeared in The Externalist: A Journal of Perspectives, Autumn Sky Poetry, and Philadelphia Poets.
Couplets: a multi-author poetry blog tour – click for a list of participating blogs and daily entries
Upper Rubber Boot Books is coordinating a book blog tour for April, to help promote poetry and poets for National Poetry Month. Check back here for updates throughout the month of April (we’ll also post updates to our blog, and so will many of the participating poets).