Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Jumping Into Form - Interview with Bob Raczka

National Poetry Month is long over, but I believe in poetry EVERY day and still have forms and interviews to share. So without further ado, another wonderful poet weighs in on form.

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Today I'm sharing the thoughts of Bob Raczka, author of numerous books about art and art history, the seasons, as well as poetry. Recent poetry titles include Presidential Misadventures: Poems That Poke Fun at the Man in Charge (2015), Santa Clauses: Short Poems From the North Pole (2014), Lemonade: and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word (2011), and Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys (2010). I'm looking forward to a new book coming out in 2016 entitled Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems.
How do you begin a poem? Or, how does a poem begin for you — with an idea, a form, an image, or something else?
Bob: I usually (but not always) start with the form. And it helps to have a theme in mind. For example, my book Santa Clauses consists of 25 haiku “written” by Santa. Haiku are about nature, so when I started writing, I thought about things in nature that are unique to the North Pole, and that might make an impression on Santa. Pretty soon, I was writing poems about the northern lights, reindeer and snow hares.

How do you choose the form of your poems?
Bob: Most of the time I’m inspired by other poems. For example, I just finished a manuscript of 20 poems that I’m calling “skinny sonnets”. The form is based on a 14-word sonnet written by a poet named Frank Sidgwick in 1921. His abbreviated sonnet is called The Aeronaut to His Lady, and once I read it, I knew I had to try one for myself. The same thing happened with my book Lemonade, which was inspired by an anagram-like poem called rain by a poet named Andrew Russ.

Are there any forms you haven't tried but would like to? Why or why not?
Bob: There are many forms I haven’t tried. I tend to gravitate toward shorter forms like haiku, cinquains, clerihews and limericks. I find them easier to wrap my head around. Call me a minimalist. I also don’t have a lot of time to write poetry with my day job in advertising, so the shorter forms work well with my schedule. That’s not to say that short forms are easy, or that I don’t rewrite my short poems many, many times. I do love the fact that you can say so much, and be so clever, with so few words.

What tools (rhyming dictionary, book of forms, etc.) do you use in writing poetry (if any)?  
Bob: I love my rhyming dictionary. It’s paperback and the edges are well-worn from all of my quick-flipping back and forth. I also have quite a collection of poetry books for inspiration, mostly adult poets. Some are anthologies, others are by individual poets. One book that I return to again and again is Poem-Making: Ways to Begin Writing Poetry by Myra Cohn Livingston.

What would you like students or children to know about poetry?
Bob: First, poetry is about playing with words. So if you like playing with words, or seeing how other people play with words, chances are you’ll like reading and writing poetry. Second, don’t expect to like—or even understand—every poem you read. Poems are like books, and poets are like authors: you’ll like some more than you like others. Third, reading poems is a great way to slow down and appreciate the little things in life. I like to read a handful of nature poems before I go to bed. It makes me feel good and helps relieve any stress I may be feeling.

Finally, one of your esteemed colleagues suggested I ask for a poem in a foreign verse form. Would you be willing to share a poem for this project?

I reach for firefly’s
flicker, but all I catch is
a handful of dark.

Poem ©Bob Raczka, 2015. All rights reserved.

A million thanks to Bob for participating in my Jumping Into Form interview and for waiting ever so patiently for it to post.

1 comment:

  1. Bob is a master of short form! I'm glad we have another book from him to look forward to next year. Thanks for the interview, Tricia, and amen to his advice for students and children.