VAH: Diane, welcome to Three by Five. The first question is always why do you write?
DL: I write poetry because it makes me happier than anything else I do. If I get a poem going in the morning, I feel exhilarated all day long. I carry that draft around in my head and am alert to images and words that might be useful in the poem. I become more vigilant. I write poetry because it’s the place where I live my life most intensely.
VAH: Talk a little about when you wrote your first poem…
DL: I never had a single teacher in elementary, middle, or high school who taught poetry or asked me to write a poem. In college I studied some poetry and liked it, but the only creative writing I did was fiction. In graduate school I took several poetry courses and loved them, but they were academic courses, not creative ones; I still wasn’t doing any writing of poetry. Then one year when I was teaching high school English, I saw a call in the English Journal for teachers to test poetry-writing assignments for a textbook William Stafford was writing for high school students. I volunteered. Every few weeks for the next six months I received one or two poetry prompts. From the very first one, I was hooked. Something lit up inside me. As requested, I sent back all of my poems. From the poems sent in by the volunteers, Stafford selected sample poems to use in his book. One of mine, “Serendipity,” an acrostic poem, was selected. That became my first published poem. It appears in Getting the Knack: 20 Poetry Writing Exercises, published in 1994 by NCTE and still in print. I haven’t stopped writing since then.
VAH: Do you have a favorite literary character?
DL: Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. I love the fierceness of his passion, his darkness, his loyalty. He is such a mysterious character, one we can never fully know. He is a romantic character and a complex one, having both heroic and villainous traits. I admire him and am terrified by him.
VAH: Imagine you are stranded on a deserted island. What book or series of books would you want and why?
DL: I’d want Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels, Wendell Berry’s novels, and Fannie Flagg’s novels. All three authors give us delightful characters, have charming dashes of humor in their stories, touch our hearts, and lift our spirits. Ordinarily, I go for darker, more complex characters and plots, but if I were stranded on a deserted island, I’d want books that provided happy endings and offered hope that I might someday be rescued. Of course, I’d need some poetry, too. I’d want several issues of my long-time favorite journal, Poet Lore, and several issues of a recent favorite, The Cincinnati Review.
VAH: Is there someone you’d identify as the biggest influence on your development as a writer?
DL: My mother, not because she encouraged me to write but because without even trying she instilled in me a love of language. I remember her reading me the entire Wizard of Oz and books of fairy tales. Later, she gave me, one by one, all the Nancy Drew books. She used “big” words and when I asked, she told me what they meant. She had wanted to be a journalist, but her parents wouldn’t allow that. They said it wasn’t a profession for a woman. Instead of allowing her to attend the college she wanted to attend for journalism, they sent her to Duke where she majored in French, a language she never spoke thereafter. Before she died, I’d had my first article published in the English Journal, an article about poetry. She was very proud of that. But she died before I’d begun writing poetry so never saw any of my poems. I like to think I’m writing for the two of us.
VAH: That’s a terrific story Diane. It reminds me of my own mom, who sent me a note in college I treasure to this day that simply said, “Are you still writing?” I think your mother would be proud of the poet you’ve become.
Diane Lockward is the author of The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop (Wind Publications, 2013) and three poetry books, most recently Temptation by Water. Her previous books are What Feeds Us, which received the 2006 Quentin R. Howard Poetry Prize, and Eve’s Red Dress. She is also the author of two chapbooks, Against Perfection and Greatest Hits: 1997-2010. Her poems have been included in such anthologies as Poetry Daily: 360 Poems from the World’s Most Popular Poetry Website and Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems for Hard Times, and in such journals as Harvard Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner. Her work has also been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer’s Almanac.
Join us on the 13th for more with Diane Lockward.