Author Tina Kelley interviewed Pattiann Rogers. She discusses her 13th collection and celebrating science in poetry. The interview was posted on the Poetry Foundation blog. Read an excerpt from the interview below.
Do you have an audience in mind when you’re writing a poem?
I do. Sometimes it’s very specific. When writing, I’m aiming for a specific communication to take place, and if I don’t imagine a communication taking place, then it’s not likely to happen. The audience can be yourself or the person you would like to be. I have four or five different audiences I imagine receiving my poem, and the audience I imagine influences the voice of my poem, the stance and the tone. If I’m writing something to please a creator, God or some being or essence that has an overall understanding of what’s happening here, like we don’t, then the voice may be prayerful or beseeching, sometimes angry, questing. It’s a prayer—“Do I understand this right?” It’s questioning, but it’s questioning a being or an entity that I imagine can answer—whether I receive an answer or not. The stance, the tone, the vocabulary shifts slightly depending on the audience I imagine. Imagining a perfect audience might produce a perfect poem!
Or if I’m writing to a lover, of course it’s a different voice altogether, maybe enticing or praising the body, erotic. Often the audience I imagine when I’m writing a description of the physical world is all those who are moved with me to celebrate the physical world. The voice is celebratory, unrestrained—“I’m happy, look at those seven large magpies all perched in that spindly little tree, this makes me happy”—just a joyful voice, and in that joy is a thank you too.
Whoever you have in mind as an audience is either going to limit that poem or have the possibility to strengthen it. For instance, people who’ve been in a workshop for a very long time begin to understand what kind of poem the workshop participants want to hear. Then a poet might unconsciously let them shape the poem with their desires. It isn’t a bad thing all the time.
What do you find to be the poetic power of lists?
I love lists. They energize me. Look at anything—wildflowers, birds, bugs, beetles, the seashore—and there are so many words, beautiful words, lyrical words describing the Earth and universe, a great resource for poets.
Read the full interview here.