Authors: Stories Behind the Books, Carol Levin
I am so excited to have Carol Levin a part of the Author project. Carol Levin is a poet, a genre that I had yet to add to the project. When I arrived at her home I was in awe of it. She toured me around her charming home, most of it handcrafted by her husband. Bedrooms reconfigured with beautiful bay windows that overlooked Puget Sound. When I saw her office, I was in double awe of the bookshelves that surrounded her while she writes. But I couldn't resist getting a portrait in her living room with that beautiful PNW view. Below, Carol gives a very wonderful interview and talks about how life lead her to this path.
Where do you find inspiration for your poetry?
One of the first jewels of instruction I had about poetry was that “anything can be a poem” (the more interests and experiences you have the more material is available to you) Often my poem begins with what I call a —riff- words I have thought, or overheard, or read or dreamt. Then I can play with them developing content, music, surprise, narrative, etc. I never know where this fooling around will take me, it can continue for years. Sometimes the process is excruciating, sometimes exhilarating.
Poetry may not be written as linear as a full novel of character development with plot-twists. Do you have a timeline for writing or how do you know when a collection is done and you feel good about?
First, In my wildest dreams I can’t envision how a person can write a novel!!!! It is a totally different process.
When working on each of my four poetry collections I have been lucky enough to have had published, I had composed many more poems than were included in the final book. So creating the volume becomes an exercise of exclusion. Also I invite others to read my manuscript and offer suggestions. I have learned that the writer doesn’t see a lot of potential possibilities, blatant obstructions, repetitions, or cliches no matter how long, or how close the attention he or she addresses to it. Fresh eyes are important. I am grateful for the response I have been given, the comments always lead me to something I hadn’t noticed or thought of. Another other part of the process is time. I heard Tess Galllgaher say she and her husband Raymond Carver, “put their manuscripts in a drawer for two years, when they took them out, time had done all the work for them.” For me the sense of completion is a click. (Don’t ask me how to explain that, it is a sensation based on experience)
Have you always written poetry? When did you start being published?
The first poem of mine to be published was accepted in a journal in 1996. Many years ago I could have never imagined the occupations that now are the passions of my life. No I have not always written poetry. Even though I lived in books I never wrote. I couldn’t spell, (computers solved that.) However in high school I did learn to write a great business letter. As I say I couldn’t have imagined— it is so true you never know where life may take you. I love that.
You mentioned how you prefer a quiet room as opposed to "white noise" or background noise, can you talk about that for your process of writing? Why is that important to you?
I am an auditory reader, which makes me a slow reader. When I am writing poetry I hear it. I’m usually saying it aloud, it is akin to composing music. Any other sound—any noise—any music in my space intrudes or shuts down this process. I can’t hear myself think.
Has there ever been a time where you thought of a idea that you had to get down on paper and thought, "I'll use that one day"?--kind of tuck it away for later.
constantly. Listening and watching for possibilities is like a hum that is my friend. I always have pen and paper, and at my reading chair I have a blank notebook that I jot down this or that. I usually transfer these to my file on my computer. I have two files I call Compost I have been adding to for years. Each has over a hundred pages. When I am stuck on a line in a poem I am writing, I just scroll through until something catches my attention. Often this will shift or expand the direction I had been thinking of. It is a kind of improvisation. Also works for prompts to start writing new poems.
Who do you gather inspiration from?
The answer to this question moves the way the sea moves and depends on the moment I am answering relative to what came immediately before.
I can explain that after I was introduced to haiku in an acting class and began writing haiku I also met Denise Levertov. We had lively conversations several times not about poetry and one day I said to myself I cannot see this woman again without having read her poetry. I began book after book. As I read I began to ask, how does she do this? By then I was writing, and reading everything in anthologies. Anthologies are wonderful sources because you encounter many voices and can begin to explore the differences and keep track of what appeals. I found a mentor/tutor, Patricia Fargnoli who lives in New Hampshire (she later became Poet Laureate of N.H.) We worked vigorously together online and by mail for several years. At one point she told me to start submitting my poems, and she told me to go to writing conferences. I said “Who Me!!!!!” but I did, I got published and accelerated my education. I say I am “grass roots educated”
Who are your favorite authors/writers/poets?
My favorite poets today: Pat Fargnoli, Edward Hirsch, Gertrude Stein, Shakespeare, Robert Wrigley, Naomi Shihab Nye, Wislawa Szymborska, Patricia Smith (Blood Dazzler) David Young. Of course Levertov. That is a small sample just at this moment. Although I am thinking of some others also now. Ilya Kaminsky (Dancing in Odessa), Shirley Kaufman, Evan Boland . . . But wait there are more— Stegner, Virginia Woolf, Ann Patchett, Robert Caro, Samuel Beckett, Lewis Carroll, Beth Alvarado (Anthropologies—Memoir) Philip Larkin, Thomas Mann, Thomas Hardy, Carol Shields, Stephanie Kallos—(Seattle novelist—http://stephaniekallos.com)
What are you working on next?
Since my most recent book, “Confident Music Would Fly Us to Paradise” was released I have been just writing poems willy-nilly getting a few published here and there in journals. However within the last month I have been experimenting with, and researching history, for poems relating to the subject of weddings and marriage.
Receiving responses and discussions of my poems always reminds me how once a poem has flown into the world it belongs to the person who reads it, however they interpret it.
Carol Levin is part of the Ballard Writers Collective. You can find her and more local writers and their works at http://ballardwriters.org/about/carol-levin/
In addition, Carol is a teacher for The Breathing Lab: http://www.the-breathing-lab.com/
Thank you Carol Levin for being a part of this project.
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