DL: Years ago I wanted to write novels. I had what seemed like good ideas; what I lacked was the patience to sit at the desk for hours and hours pounding out the words. I then tried short stories and had a few published, but I finally admitted that I wasn’t crazy about the genre so it didn’t make sense to want to pursue it. When I volunteered to write poems for Stafford’s textbook-in-progress, I knew I’d found my genre. I made a conscious decision that I would pursue poetry and not give up. I began taking workshops and courses. I went to summer conferences. I read all kinds of craft books and poetry anthologies and books of poems by individual poets. I learned the craft, began submitting, and just kept on going.
VAH: Imagine you’re striking up a conversation with someone who wants to be a writer, or someone just starting out. What is your best advice for emerging writers?
DL: Learn the craft. It’s essential to have a heart and a brain, but you must also learn the craft and know what you’re doing and why. Be patient and persistent; it won’t happen overnight. Learning the craft takes years. Writing the poems takes weeks, months, even years. Sending them out is time-consuming and the responses are slow in coming back. Here’s my daily mantra: Go forth boldly.
VAH: How have you gone about studying writing? Did you consider the MFA?
DL: I do not have an MFA. I came late to the party. By the time I found poetry, I had three children in school and was teaching full-time. I did manage over a period of four years to get an MA in English Literature and then Supervisor’s certification. But I was tapped out at that point and an MFA seemed impossible. Nevertheless, I very much wanted to devour poetry, to learn the craft, and to become part of the poetry world, so I studied independently. I read books, journals, and craft books. I took local courses and workshops. In the summers I went away to conferences for a week or two while my husband took over the household.
VAH: Those conferences were opportunities to immerse yourself in writing. Do you have a favorite conference, writing retreat or seminar and why?
DL: The Frost Place in Franconia, New Hampshire, was hugely important to me. It was the first week-long conference I attended shortly after I began writing poetry. I went there nervous as a cat, but soon realized that I’d found my right place, that I fit in, and that, yes, I belonged there among other aspiring poets. I learned how to critique and be critiqued. I met other poets. I became part of a community of poets. I went back for seven summers. Two of those summers I also attended the Advanced Poetry Seminar there, run by Baron Wormser. One of the high points of my life occurred in 2005 when I was invited back to The Frost Place as a guest poet for the Conference on Poetry and Teaching. A perfect circle.
VAH: That must have been very validating. Diane, what is your writing life like currently?
DL: I am doing exactly what I want to be doing right now. After teaching high school English for twenty-five years, I decided to leave so I could spend more time with writing, so I could live as a writer, a poet. I now get to spend my days immersed in poetry. While I don’t write many more poems now than I did when I was teaching, I have time for other poetry-related activities. I keep a website. I also keep a blog, “Blogalicious,” where I post about once a week. I put out a monthly Poetry Newsletter that I started three years ago. Much of the material in my new craft book, The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop, came from my blog and my newsletter. I’m sure that this book would not exist if I were still teaching. Nor, most likely, would my three poetry books, all of them published after I left teaching.
I also run two local events. One is a poetry festival that I began ten years ago. It’s called “Poetry Festival: A Celebration of Literary Journals.” It brings together a dozen journals and their editors for a day of poetry. Each editor invites two poets to read for his or her journal. While the journals are on display and the editors are talking with visitors—around 200—readings take place in another area of the library. The second event I run is called “Girl Talk: A Celebration of Women’s History Month.” For that, I invite 24-30 women poets to each read a poem on a woman-related subject. I’ve been doing this event for six years.
VAH: Later this month a review of The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop will post here on the site. The twitter size review would be simply Get this book! Be a better Poet! More with Diane Lockward on the 23rd. You’ll find links to a sampling of your work below:
“Original Sin,” first place winner of the 2012 Naugatuck River Review contest.
“The Third Egg” in Waccamaw: A Journal of Contemporary Literature.
“Sinkholes” in Valparaiso Poetry Review .