Age: 73. Residence: Hollywood, California. Book: General Release From the Beginning of the World (Parlor Press, January 2023), a book of poetry that gives voice to the silence, lies, and secrets surrounding a father’s suicide and speaks directly to and with that which is holy, showing the tender and relentless ripples of grief that lead to healing. Agent: None. Editor: Jon Thompson.
Poetry, for me, demands honesty. And I didn’t grow up with honesty—I grew up with deception. I have written poetry on and off all my life, throughout my other careers as a classical flutist and a psychology professor. When I moved to the Netherlands in 1976 to study flute, I turned to Dutch poetry to learn the language and as a remedy for culture shock. Yet I didn’t really face writing my own poetry until 2013, my first summer at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. To write poetry I had to confront the deceptions I had built my life on and let whatever truth I could find enter me. This is uncomfortable, slow work, and I am not a patient woman. But I finally did face it, with the help of my precious community of poets and writers spread across the country.
The first time I put together what would eventually become this book was at a residency at Dorland Mountain Arts Colony. I needed the old-school printing out of poems to see if, or how, they spoke to one another, reading the work out loud. It took getting away to another place with a dear writer friend and having my own space and silence for me to gather the nerve to assemble a full collection.
The book went through many incarnations. I sent it out, revised it, threw out old poems, put in new ones—this was always a painstaking undertaking. I doubted every choice. About a year and a half into submitting the work, with a few finalist nods, I printed it out again, and it was suddenly clear that there were holes in the manuscript you could drive a truck through. Poems that needed to be written—that I was afraid to write. It was my dear friend, and a wonderful poet, Allison Albino who suggested using family pictures as muses to write those hard poems. Coincidentally, my husband and I were finally cleaning out my mother’s archives, decades after she died. Tucked away in her messy filing system were old pictures and old documents. Something in me cracked open.
All the visual poems were written then, in a bit of a fever. I ripped apart the manuscript, took out what I didn’t believe in, and put the new poems where I thought they belonged. This time it wasn’t agony. This time everything was clear. It was just: I trust this poem; keep it. I don’t trust this one, no matter whose favorite poem it was; it’s out. I interjected the new poems where I thought they belonged and retitled it. General Release From the Beginning of the World was the sixth title. I submitted the manuscript to a few places and left for MacDowell. Free Verse Editions, a poetry series at Parlor Press, was the first place I submitted to, and they took it, two years to the day after I first assembled a version of the manuscript.
I think I needed age to feel more robust in the life of scrutiny that poetry demands. I will not say that I have conquered my demons. But I have found ways to exist in conversation with them, to thrive on the difficult, enriching business of observing, of taking note, of training myself to flinch less often.Author photo: Alexis Rhone Fancher. Book photo: David Hamsley.