Poetry Friday: An Interview with The Poetry Seven (Or, Cutting Loose Over Cutting a Swath)

h1 April 18th, 2008 by jules

Last week on Poetry Friday, you may have seen the unveiling of one mighty creative collaborative poetry project, a sonnet entitled “Cutting the Swath.” It was written by seven women—authors, teachers and/or librarians, poets, bloggers—who each wrote one verse in the sonnet and then put them all together and edited it into what is called a crown sonnet. Those women are Sara Lewis Holmes, Laura Purdie Salas, Tricia Stohr-Hunt, Liz Garton Scanlon, Tanita S. Davis (TadMack), Andromeda Jazmon (Andi), and Kelly Fineman. As Liz explained it in her post last week, in which the sonnet in its entirety was shared:

A Crown Sonnet is a string of seven interconnected sonnets. Each sonnet after the first one will use the last line from the preceding sonnet as its first line. The final sonnet (#7) uses the last line of sonnet six as its first line AND the first line of the very first sonnet as its last line. The perfect book-end.

As I read this sonnet, I (Jules here) found myself wishing I were only The President of the World and could command the editors of Time Magazine or, I dunno, even Rolling Stone (these women are rock stars, you know, for doing this) or some such major publication to do a cover story on this. ‘Cause . . . . well, WOW. No matter what you think of the final product—the force of nature that is the sonnet itself these women created—the process of collaborating thusly is pretty amazing, and so I thought the least I could do was talk to them about it. 7-Imp may not have the readership Time does, but perhaps some of our readers might be interested in this idea of collaborative writing. Yes, this post rivals the length of a novella (I didn’t want to cut corners on Cutting a Swath), but if you’re interested in the workings behind such a massively creative project, as I am, then this might be just the read for you: Settle down. Get a cup of coffee. And read for a bit.

The sonnet in its entirety is printed below this group interview if you’d like to read it first. Thanks to Eisha for helping me color-code this cyber-tome (I figured assigning each person’s words a color might help — as well as putting my questions in a larger font to give your eyes a break. I promise it’s not just to yell at you.)

And many heapin’ bundles of thanks to all seven ladies for agreeing to this interview.

These seven sassy, spunky, sharp ladies jokingly called themselves—during this process—”The Poetry Princesses” (as TadMack explains in this post). Someone at some point used the phrase “The Poetry Seven”—perhaps it was Sara who first did in her post about the experience—and that one’s stuck in my mind. I say we grant them the ornamental headgear pictured above for their crown sonnet and princess powers. They deserve it. So, let’s cut to the chase over Cutting a Swath. Okay, yeesh. Sorry for all the bad puns. I’ve got to CUT IT OUT. Let’s get right to it. Here are The Poetry Seven:

* * * * * * *

7-Imp: Liz, can you talk a bit about the inspiration behind this idea of yours, which came to you last November? And what drew you to choose formal poetry—a sonnet, in this case—for the project, as opposed to, say, haiku or free verse?

Liz Garton ScanlonLiz {pictured here}: I wish I could claim full lightning-strike credit for the sonnet idea, but I had recently been an invitee to a Crown Sonnet project myself (posted about here and here).

On that one, I was the 7th sonnet and it about killed me -– I was sick with anxiety over trying to fulfill the promise of the other six. But then, the instant I finished, I thought, “I want to do that again.” Call me crazy.

Since writing for children really makes up the bulk of my writing life these days, it felt like I should take this idea into that realm. But lord knows I didn’t want to write a crown all by myself. So . . . being consistently blown away by the breadth and depth of good stuff in the blogosphere, I thought there’s where I’ll go to make this happen. I’ll be brave enough to go to people who are smarter than I am and more visionary and ingenious, and I’ll just ask them if they want to play. Nevermind that they don’t know me from Eve . . .

7-Imp: Everyone, what were your initial thoughts when this was proposed to you? I mean, for serious, this is a big project. Were you thrilled or a bit terrified? Or both? (I know there was some “terror and denial,” as Liz put it amusingingly in her post from last Friday). And how many of you had written sonnets before?

Laura: I was so excited to be included. I knew a couple of people in the group slightly from their blogs (and I had barely met Kelly Fineman in L.A. at Lee Bennett Hopkins’ class, where I was too intimidated to talk to anybody) and others I didn’t know at all. So, the idea of a bunch of other writers who would want to plunge into a project like this made me so happy. My theme for 2007 was Ask Questions Later. In other words, dive in and figure out the details after. I’m usually very much a planner and considerer. So, I said yes immediately and then started to sweat.

I don’t remember ever writing a sonnet before, though I might have tried one at some point, as I do love to play around with forms.

Tricia Stohr-HuntTricia {pictured here}: When I received Liz’s message, I honestly thought she had the wrong blogger. She mentioned that Sara, Kelly, and Tanita were already on board, and I wondered how I could keep up. Yes, I participate in Poetry Friday because I read so much poetry, and I do write some poetry, usually nonfiction, for my stretches, but I just didn’t view myself as a sonnet writer. When Liz mentioned that Kelly suggested my name, I was shocked! Sometimes I am still surprised to find so many people find their way to my blog. So, that’s a long way of saying I was surprised and honored. Even though I’d never written a sonnet before, I just knew there was no way to say no. So, I took the plunge.

TadMack as a budding poetTadMack {whose inner child is pictured here}: I have to admit to . . . some panic. Writing full-time is really isolating, and since I’m an introvert (with, granted, an on-line persona that is marginally more outgoing than I really am in person), I have to make myself interact with others. Normally, I have a challenge I give myself weekly––to write a short story based on a photograph––but my writing group has gotten bogged down in their own lives, so I’ve done very little interacting with others for months, and working with other people on a group project –- oh dear. Isn’t that the type of thing that always meant I ended up with all the work at school? However, I took a chance on the fact that these people were Real Poets -– not amateurs like I am. Clearly, they’d be carrying me. I hadn’t pushed myself to write outside of my own comfort zone for awhile, and so, perspiring freely, I jumped right in…

Kelly: “Clearly, they’d be carrying me.” To which I say “Ha. Ha ha.” You are a genius poet, Tanita. And I think you should own that truth.

TadMack: I’m not sure genius is the same thing as accident!! I do thank you –- but let’s see if I can pull it off again before we say there’s actual talent there!

Kelly: My reaction to the idea {was} “I’m in.” And that sums it up. I’d written sonnets before (at least a dozen) and had a handle on the form, and I thought the challenge and interaction would be awesome. And it was.

Andi: I thought it was crazy and exciting and exactly what I was waiting for to leap into the next big thing for me. Joy and terror! I had never written a sonnet before I agreed to this project. I had read the other poets’ blogs long enough to trust them to teach me and guide me along the process, and I was crazy enough to think that somehow or other I would come up with something adequate. I had no idea how far I could go. That’s one of the exciting things that happened. By their inspiration and seeing all of us stumble along in new territory, I was able to stretch to new places myself.

I started studying sonnets right away, when the project first took shape last November. I bought some poetry anthologies of sonnets and started seriously reading them. I can remember many nights cooking dinner while the little boys watched a video and I read sonnets while stirring the spaghetti sauce. I studied every blog post the other poets had done on the form (they were fantastic teachers — all six of them!) Gradually I started to get a feel for iambic pentameter. Those long ago college literature courses started coming back to me. Tricia’s Monday Poetry Stretches really helped me get into using new forms. She gave us so many challenging and fun exercises, {and} I started thinking I could manage to figure out forms that had always frightened me.

7-Imp: Tell us about the process for this sonnet (for those who haven’t read Laura’s post and Tricia’s post, in particular). How did you start the “plunge into the abyss,” as Andi called it? How did you go about determining a title, subject matter, audience, etc.? How did you know that Sara would start the whole thing off and Kelly end — a random drawing, correct?

Sara: Laura left out the part where she cursed the day I was born and stuck pins into my last line.

Laura: Heh heh . . . did you feel a little punctured at that time?

Sara Lewis HolmesSara {pictured here}: Part of the problem was that my sonnet was not end-stopped in many of its lines, because of the up/down and in/out feeling of laces, tied and then unbound, that I was shooting for. I was grateful, and impressed, when Laura, without whining, found a way to honor my intent, and yet, make the line completely her own in such a graceful way. I do think, though, that the other poets learned from my goof and were much more gracious in the lines they passed along. I’d like to say that I would be more conscious the next time, but truly, I think each of us learned that we could be wholly ourselves, and trust the group to gather that in, and make it work.

I guess I should also say a bit more about being first. Was that random or not? ASK LIZ! I don’t know. But I do know that I didn’t mind. First is scary, but it’s also liberating. I took the image that grabbed me: how teenagers sometimes use shoelaces as a form of expression, and followed it down the path it led me. I was surprised by how much the sonnet form itself supported my efforts. It seems like it would be a straitjacket, but it’s more like an amazingly sound pattern. You can lean on its strengths to get started: rhyme, of course, which adds melody; iambic pentameter, which helps give your words a conversational quality; and the turn at the last six lines, which helps you leap off, thematically, into a new place.

And then, when you have a draft down, the sonnet form keeps you on track as you revise. At first, you don’t see how you could change a word without messing up meter or rhyme, but gradually, when other poets suggest alternate phrasings, you come to see how much freedom you have to tighten things up, replace flabby words with truer ones, and remove any unwanted meanings or images that are distracting.

Laura: I love what you say about the sonnet form itself, Sara. The support it gives really was a lattice to weave our vining words and ideas through. You expressed perfectly how the form was actually a help and comfort and not as restricting as I first feared.

Liz: {About} how random the random drawing was: Here’s what I’ll reveal. There were a couple of folks who were going to jump off cliffs if they were first or last, and that seemed like a tragic end to an extracurricular activity, so, yes, not every single name was put in for every single position. But, that aside, it was random. Ask my 9-year-old. She did the picking.

Kelly FinemanKelly {pictured here}: We started with a theme-ish idea about teens and the vagaries of high school, etc. An early proposed title (soon after Sara’s lead-off post…) was “Voices in the Hall” (or was it “Voices from the Hall?”) to echo the idea that these were the stories of kids in school. Only, eventually, we left school. And entered home. And then ended up on the roof, and it didn’t fit anymore. A few titles were kicked around and we settled on my proposal “Cutting a Swath.” It was important that the title fit the poems, and not the other way around, so we left that open until the end. But I think we all thought it was “Voices from the Hall” until at least the fifth sonnet came through.

TadMack: Writing my own sonnet was easier, because the framework had been agreed upon. We were thinking of tribe, of high school, of identity and personhood. I know my tribe -– we’re the weird bespectacled chubby average people who wish we had star power, could make snappy comebacks and crack wise, who wish we had presence and poise and . . . don’t. But I tried to breathe magic into the wallflower I was/am and honor the fact that even just sticking to something annoying, embarrassing, and hard (like school can be)—and finishing it—is a kind of power and skill, too.

Tricia: I know I wrote a bit about this on my blog, but I have to make a small confession about mechanics. Being the type-A personality that I am, I made up a form in Word that outlined the rhyme scheme and wrote in my first line. Then I brainstormed a whole bunch of words that rhymed with “vast.” I came up with a few words that I loved and had to use (“unsurpassed” was one). Each time I came up with some line I liked, I went through the whole process of listing rhyming words again. I had a hard time with both the meter and the rhyme. And as for enjambment, forget it. I’m too neat and anal and just can’t end a line in mid-thought without a comma. The other fearless princesses had no problem with this!

Andi of a wrung spongeAndi: I learned from Kelly and Liz the basics of the form. Liz gave us the ideas of writing with the rhyme scheme in a column down the right side of the page. I think it was Tricia that said she used a table to make columns. I made a sonnet practice table in Google docs with two columns: one for the lines and one to remind me of the rhyme scheme (abba abba cde cde). I bought a rhyming dictionary . . . Then Laura suggested rhymezone.com and I started using that. I started practicing writing sonnets in December and first posted one on my blog in early January.

Once Tadmack finished hers in early February (in lightning speed, shocking all of us with it’s brilliance), I knew my first line and I got busy. Tanita’s use of words astounded me. She used one in particular that just blew me away: “sobriquet”. I looked it up: “a descriptive name or epithet: nickname.” Ha! In high school, I changed my name from a very common name my mother loves to a pen name: “Andromeda Jazmon.” Since college, that is what everyone I know calls me (except my mother). Her sonnet really whacked me upside the head.

I opened a Google doc {and} used another table with five columns to collect rhyming words for what I thought would be end words (“free,” “door,” “room,” “home,” “wings”). Then I did some free-writing based on what the other poets had said about their sonnets. {Some notes} from that document were:

Inspiration ideas: The way I like to lay on my bed staring out the window or watching the light and shadows across the ceiling. The way my room was always my hiding space as a teen…Thoughts of escape. Privacy. How we slam doors in our family. How we separate behind doors…Families, leaving, forming, seeking, fleeing…Books I was reading that influenced me during the writing: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. (Sara read it first, while she was writing her sonnet and she mentioned the idea of tribe. That influenced the theme as it developed for all of us.) My thoughts — Wanting to get out. Wanting to not betray his own…Being in two places…

I edited it in Google docs. After a week or so of revising and tinkering, I felt I had to release it or drive myself completely nuts.

7-Imp: Everyone, Liz wrote at last Friday’s post that there was both swooning and panicking with the introduction of each piece. Can you all talk a bit about that? How did you all work through the panic and sweat and overcome intimidation? If some (or all) of you want to talk about what it was like to finally read the sonnet prior to yours (such as, when Kelly wrote that cloudscome “set me up marvelously with an angry teen and a window sill,” I think that’d be interesting).

Laura Purdie SalasLaura {pictured here}: I was second, and until the moment Sara revealed her sonnet, it was all this lovely abstract game. Then Sara blew everyone away with her sonnet, and I thought, “Holy crap. How the hell am I supposed to follow that?” After a few days, I calmed down, though, and got to work. I’ve written poetry on demand for educational publishers, so I knew I just had to buckle down and get to it and somehow it would work out. But Sara’s poem was so . . . poetic (aren’t I great with words?). Mine came out more literal, and hers was so sophisticated. I felt kind of like the ugly stepsister following behind. But everyone was so terrific and supportive when I revealed mine. That helped immensely! Once my part was done, I could relax and watch the rest of the crown unfold, which was incredibly cool to see.

Tricia: When Laura sent her sonnet, it began: “All right, I feel a little sick to my stomach.” That’s exactly how I felt upon receiving it. The bar felt awfully high. I read the first two repeatedly over the course of several days before I began to work. I was very worried about my last line, so I looked at the rhyme scheme and tried to come up with a last word that I thought would give the next person (Liz) some degree of freedom. I actually wrote that last line before many in the middle!

Liz: {As for} what Tricia set up for me with her last line (which arrived on January 18)… “because they live and breathe to be set free.” She was referring to dreams, and I really loved that, but by the time I’d gotten out of the bath (where I’d gone to think), I realized that my line referred to a speaker who felt like freedom was an impossibility. She came as a complete voice to me, an overachiever who was sort of owned by what everyone expected of her. That really resonated with me, since I remember feeling, as a teen, like I’d never access my own identity, because I was trying so hard to be so many different things for different people. So once I started writing, there were other things that came up, too, like body dysmorphia and a hint of self knowledge there at the end, ready to push up to the surface. It was almost like Tricia’s dreams again, but it took me fourteen lines to get there.

TadMack: I’m still not really sure how I wrote mine. Tricia-–-who is somehow related to God––came up with a sonnet form, and I cribbed off of her shamelessly. I have a piece of paper that has scrawled on the top, “Three stanzas. Four lines each. An iamb is a foot, so penta meter is ten. Remember!” I have my first line––the last line from the previous sonnet—written over and over and over again, and lists of rhyming words. I have the words “maelstrom” and “typhoon” written in various rhyming couplets. I have “seers,” “wizards,” “etymology,” “glyphs,” and then the phrase “suffused with nameless hopes” …and the word “Stress!!!!”

It took me about four hours to write it, and then I hesitated to push send. It’s not like I thought everyone would hate it, but I more feared indifference or a pat on the head like, “Uh-huh, nice job for a non-poet, let’s move on.”

Finally, someone emailed the group about something else, and I replied with something innocuous and attached my poem to the email -– without saying I’d sent an attachment. In hindsight, that was really dorky, but . . . well, there you have me. Queen Dork. (Or is it Princess?)

Kelly: It was excellent to see the poems come across the interweb. But with each one that got posted, an impending sense of weight/doom settled on me. The women in front of me had all done such amazing work, and every completed sonnet was one step closer to it being my turn. There was something menacing in that, even though the project was wonderful and creative and the people involved were supportive and thoughtful and kind.

{As for} Andi setting me up well, it was the content of her sonnet—the anger and frustration that came through—that spoke to me. Also, I read her sonnet as indicating that the teen in it was now, in essence, trapped within her room. She’d been driven there by anger and a need to get away from parental negativity. And as a former stomping door-slammer, I got that. Her teen (like I as a teen) could only look out their window. It resonated to me, but as the final sonnet in the crown, I didn’t want to leave the teen boxed in — I wanted her world to be wide-open. And so my sonnet-teen did what my actual-teen (and a bunch of others I know and knew) did: she went out the window onto the roof. And cooled down a bit. And converted that anger to determination to lead a different/better life than what she saw patterned for her, or what she was told she wanted. At least, that was my intention.

Laura Purdie Salas{Ed. Note: Okay, so TadMack started a trend. Pictured here and below are Laura and Sara as budding poets, too. I’m sure Laura’s dreaming about dark murmurings of a sestina. Keep reading for an explanation.}

7-Imp: How did you handle the process of editing the piece as a whole, once all the seven sonnets were submitted? Was that difficult?

Laura: It was difficult for me, because I was the first one to actually make any critical comments (like saying the meter didn’t feel quite right here and there) on the Google doc, and I sort of felt like, “Who am I to be doing this, since I’m by far no expert on sonnets!” But I love revision and felt like it was an important step (or many steps). And once the conversation got rolling, we got to hear different opinions, give suggestions for line/word changes, etc.

Sara Lewis HolmesSara: I agree with Laura that it was intimidating at first to comment on the Google doc. It’s hard to know how to concisely say what is slightly off in an otherwise lovely line. But I know I loved it when the other sonneteers made comments on my words, and I changed one line in particular, because it wasn’t reading right to the rest of the group.

Collaborative editing is a strange mix of having confidence in your intent, but being open to the honest reactions of others. I hope to get better at it, and I learned so much about how to do it from watching the others do it. I think I’m fairly comfortable at getting criticism, because I’ve been forced to, from working with my editor and agent, but I’m not very secure in giving it. I think everyone will hate me if I’m too nit-picky!

Andi: I shared {my} Google doc with the others, and we started talking about group editing when all the sonnets were finished. By sharing our docs with the group, we were all able to add comments in different colors. When we got to that stage, it was truly exciting. It was hard to read as the comments piled up on each other, but the benefits were amazing. Others could see where I had messed up the iambic pentameter by making lines too short or long. Some words were unclear or repetitive, and better wording was suggested. We all made changes and improved the whole. I am usually too impatient to spend a lot of time on revisions, but I have learned a valuable lesson here. A writing group that is honest, thoughtful, and skillful in revision is golden.

TadMack: I didn’t want to edit anyone’s sonnet… it seemed…critical. (Duh.) Eventually, I watched fearless Laura wade in and make suggestions and comments and as others followed suit, I was able to make a couple, but that bit was really hard…my writing group is easier; in fiction, I have a little more confidence and can more easily see what works and what doesn’t, but in poetry -– what do I know from sonnets? Yet, I did see a few things here and there, and eventually was able to make suggestions that didn’t seem too awful.

Kelly: It was a complete pleasure to work with other writings in a collaborative way on a joint project. The editing process (once Laura got us going) was really interesting, and I think it forced all of us to hone our work to a finer point. I also enjoyed working on such an ambitious sort of undertaking (a crown/corona of sonnets is quite a feat!), and I really loved being shoved in the doubly tight box of having to force my opening and closing lines to come close to what Andi and Sara had created. I deviated far more from Sara’s line, again because I wanted a hopeful, defiant ending instead of a more confined one, but I think the echoes from Sara’s sonnet and those of the others are nevertheless present.

Liz: I think we were all shy to start, but once we did it was a gorgeous cacophony of voices. You should see the Google doc, all striped with various colors of commentary. Revising rhyme is really hard because once you pull one thread, the whole thing is liable to unravel. But we put our noses down and went into it, and the sonnets that came out standing were better for it.

Tricia: I {would like} to address the value of {group editing}. The last six lines of my sonnet changed drastically, thanks to the questions asked and comments made by others. They were not afraid to say when something didn’t make sense, didn’t fit, or didn’t feel right. They helped with word choice when I was struggling. I benefited greatly from this time for revision, and my sonnet was better for it.

7-Imp: What was it like to see those crown points circle together, to see the corona of sonnets in its entirety?

Laura: You know when your sister sends you a birth announcement? That’s about it. You knew it was coming. You knew generally what it would look like. But that official moment…aaaahhhhhh.

Sara: I had a strange feeling that I’d never seen it before. It seemed, in Tricia’s words, to “live and breathe to be set free.” I liked reading it, and thinking of each poet’s personality, and I loved knowing the secret history of certain words that had won their way into the final sonnets after some tough auditions.

Tricia: Reading all seven straight through was humbling. It was amazing to see how well they all connected, and I was simply thrilled to be a part of it.

TadMack: It made me think of seven high school students… I could practically see a picture of us. We wouldn’t necessarily be friends -– we’d be in the same galaxy but on different planets. I actually imagined us as The P.L.A.I.N. Janes . . . Hey, maybe Aquafortis will draw us!

Liz: I couldn’t really believe it when we pulled them back out of the Google doc, finished revisions, and pieced them together again. That they hung as one solid piece and that we still hadn’t ever come together as a group of people to tend to them . . . except online! What a trip. It was like virtual gardening.

In the end, I was least impressed with my own sonnet and totally bowled over by everyone else’s. I think that’s pretty typical, and I don’t mean it in a pathetic way, but just that I was wickedly humbled in light of such totally inspiring poetry . . .

Sara: I love this part of Liz’s response: “It was like virtual gardening.” Love that. Especially since I’m so bad at real gardening. I just gave a workshop in which I needed a dead plant as an example, and believe me, it was no problem finding one.

7-Imp: Can you elaborate briefly on how you got to know one another better through this project, which Liz mentioned at Friday’s post? Did you gain any new insights on, not only collaborative writing and the intimacy that resulted, but also your own individual talents and/or struggles as a writer?

Laura: The self-imposed pressure to not let the group down was enormous for me. I am confident in my own writing, but for a group? This is why I never participated in team sports. I don’t want to let other people down. So that part of the collaboration was hard for me.

But the rewards were enormous. Not only in learning about a new form (thanks largely to Kelly), but also in becoming a better teammate. And in getting to know (or know better) six people as passionate about words as I am.

And in furthering the struggle against the cliche. That was my biggest struggle in my sonnet, and in the revision process. It was very helpful to have people nicely point out a couple of lines that weren’t up to the standard of originality. Since my whole premise
was fairly cliched, I needed the language to be strong and original.

Sara: It’s funny that I forgot that Laura didn’t know Liz! I thought she did. I think intellectual friendships are rare. Does that sound stuffy? I don’t mean that we don’t share personal stuff, because some of us do. But you know when you read in books about literary salons or great literary correspondences or roundtables? I was always so jealous of what I imagined that kind of respectful, playful, and honest give-and-take to be like—and it probably was cantankerous and petty and wild in real life, now that I think of some of the historic and huge egos involved—but when it works, it works, and now I know a little piece of how and why.

TadMack: “Elaborate briefly” ?! I just had to let you know how much I love that.

7-Imp: {Ed. Note: D’oh!}

Liz: How well have we gotten to know each other? Well, I could count the emails in that folder, but I’d need a calculator. Suffice it to say we are a communicative bunch. It’s not that we all share our down-and-dirty interpersonal stuff with each other now, although many of us have and that’s a comfort. But there is something passionately intimate about coming together around a shared creative effort that is totally and completely optional, but also somehow important, and also somehow fun. It is a taste of that community you miss when you are working at home, alone, in your own headspace all the time. When you aren’t part of the Bloomsbury Group and you aren’t an ex-pat in Paris in the ’20s. You’re just wherever you are, communing with other writers you really respect. And plus, we seriously get a kick out of each other, too.

7-Imp: So, what’s next? Going to do more collaborative poetry? Tackle a new form?

Laura: There are dark murmurings of a sestina. Yikes!

And a probably joking mention of an in-person gathering, which I would absolutely love. A poetry retreat somewhere.

TadMack: Okay, everyone is BLAMING ME FOR THIS but it was A JOKE. I was kidding when I suggested it; a sestina is the hardest poetry form I’ve ever seen. Okay, there are probably harder ones and I haven’t been paying attention, but … a sonnet. Okay, there are about four types of sonnets, and we could have flexed a bit with our crown. But I think there’s zero flex in a sestina. Someone mentioned that it kind of tells a story… I’m much better with stories… it may be that there’s hope…

7-Imp: This might be entirely too hard or unfair, but here goes: If you had to summarize this creative venture in one word, how would you?

Sara: “Thrill” (which is also the name of the nail polish I used to paint my toes with).

Laura: “Adventure” (with both the danger and exhilaration that word implies).

Tricia: Oh please! One word? I can come up with many, but I suppose since you’re making me choose, it should be “exhilarating.”

Liz: Well, I’m tempted to say “daunting,” but that’s too negative, so I think “inspiring” is the same thing, with a little life force behind it. This was inspiring. Truly.

TadMack: “Perspicacity.” Could we have come from angles further apart on the compass? Could we have experienced a more diverse young adulthood? Yet, based on those varied angles of sight and the differences from where we come from and where we’re going, we had the insight to come to a single point of connection.

Kelly: One word: “Exhilarating.” {Tricia}, you, my sister, used the same one word as I selected. What are the odds?

Andi: I need a two-word phrase: “Swedish Sauna” (heat to kill you followed by icy cold zing!)

* * * * * * *

“Cutting a Swath”

By Sara Lewis Holmes, Laura Purdie Salas, Tricia Stohr-Hunt, Liz Garton Scanlon, Tanita S. Davis, Andromeda Jazmon, and Kelly Fineman

As shoes untied, you drag frayed words in trail
Behind your name; unlooped, they flop up steps
And trip your stride, and blacken blue the depths
Of day; from light to dark, from deep to pale,
Undone, you fall; unknown, you pass or fail.
In halls, you thread the holes between your debts
Unpaid, and those who shove your name in reps
Against the rails of crowded stairs. Inhale
The stench! Keep true your shoes! The ups and downs
Will yield a path to out beyond, to where
The mirror turns, and those who hid their marks
And stumbled most will dress and march in gowns
On paths unfound, on tracks, unnamed, a pair
Of laces, ends unbound, leaps free as sparks.

As lacy skirts, unbound, leap free and spark,
the prom girls surge in silk through streamered space.
They orbit round in endless tethered chase
and ride the DJ’s pounding sound through dark
around a nova. Can you see the mark
she brands on planets trapped in her embrace?
There’s just one sun. You risk her hot disgrace
unless you dance in place along her arc.
I can’t revolve and spin in cosmic time.
I won’t resolve to tread another’s trail.
I’m blasting free, eclipsing all my past.
I’m leaving stars and velvet queens behind.
I’ve torn away my atmospheric veil
to fly through life’s grand chaos, bright and vast.

Flying through life’s grand chaos, bright and vast,
the tide of days leads down a path unknown.
I know not who I’ll be when I am grown,
but want to live a life that’s unsurpassed.
I wish to speak in words both true and fast
(when sideways glances make me feel alone
or handsome smiles imply I’ve won the throne),
while keeping every secret to the last.
But I commit my heart with pen to page,
my feet to races not yet known or run,
my life to every opportunity.
These dreams I hold are bound to come of age,
cannot be stopped and will not be undone,
because they live and breathe to be set free.

Because I live and breathe, to be set free
from each presumption of my proven name,
released from excellence and bland acclaim,
is neither choice nor possibility.
Embracing expectations hungrily,
I place each gaping hour in a frame
and persevere beyond the reach of shame
within this endless valedictory.
But quantitative claims define one bit
of me. Much deeper, stretching ‘gainst my skin
with all the effort of the waxing moon,
the greater self to whom I must commit.
It’s time for me to feed what’s been starved thin –
my name will be too small to hold me soon.

My name will be too small to hold me soon.
Unnamed, traversing now this darkling plane
called school. Fey, fickle, Royalty arcane,
Bequeathed with charm and crowned with mystic runes,
Their sorcerous hold upon the madding crowd
Points social scepter, friend or foe to choose.
Those Named hold sway: I do hereby refuse
To be so owned; stand rowan-straight, unbowed.
Swift, fleeting, “Shadow” is my sobriquet.
Invisible. To none allegiance owed,
My scholarship I practice, moments seize.
Small magics my cold iron will displays,
Four years I serve. I pace this treacherous road,
My eyes, now disenchanted, my soul free.

My eyes now disenchanted; my soul frees
one stifled cry – then peace behind the door.
My room, my sacred space above the floor
is all that shields me from their strident pleas.
They’ve chosen out the path of life for me;
their scholarship a prize I would ignore.
I spurn the grind of their required score.
I cut them off. I beg them. Let me be!
I mark the time and hide myself away,
no greater plan than lay about and dream
within the walls that guard my fractious will.
My music pounds. The restless shadows play.
Light curls across a ceiling cracked and mean.
My window opens past a well-scarred sill.

Through open window, past a well-scarred sill,
on gritty shingles sheltered under eaves,
I take in cool night air; my anger leaves
with every ragged breath that I exhale.
Your words, a thousand stinging papercuts,
lose power underneath the watching stars.
I see your reigning planet, red-light Mars,
horizon-bound and fixed. Your self-made ruts
preclude adventure or a change of course.
Is this the future that you want for me?
A mediocre life filled with travail,
a boxed-in life of sameness and remorse?
I choose to free myself of your debris:
I’m not afraid to leave you in my trail.

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22 comments to “Poetry Friday: An Interview with The Poetry Seven (Or, Cutting Loose Over Cutting a Swath)”

  1. Jules and Eisha this is the greatest gift. You are brilliant. Really I can’t believe how you have pulled all these thoughts together to show what happened. You are diamond cutters.


  2. I feel like a rock star!

    Thank you for this gift. Not only does it make my day but it’s a wonderful scrapbook to help me remember this very cool experience. Thanks!


  3. Well, the princesses may be the only ones reading this, but that’s alright with me. This is just amazing to read altogether. Thanks for this incredible gift. I echo Laura’s sentiments. I DO feel like a rock star!


  4. Oh, now I see how we did it…

    Thank you so much, Jules, for making sense out of this madly involved endeavor. We’ll be paging you if we lose our way in the thickets of the sestinas.


  5. I still want someone to write a novel called Dark Murmurings of a Sestina. Or maybe another sonnet. Or a diamante would be quicker. HEY, YES! Diamantes are seven-line poems. You all should do that one next. One line each. And they’re shaped like diamonds. It’d be a diamond to go with your crowns.

    I’m rambling. Must. get. coffee. already.


  6. Great project! I’ve seen sonnet coronas before but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a collaborative project like this. Very cool.


  7. I’ve met some mighty talented writers through blogging. These seven ladies are amazing. Loved the interview…and the crown sonnet!

    I think we should rename the “sonnet ladies” The Magnificent Poetry Seven.


  8. Oh, this is fabulous, just wonderful. I love the description of the revision process, especially. Poetry seems so much like magic, like something that just *arrives*–it’s great to be reminded of how it, like all other writing, has a process.


  9. Jules. Has anyone suggested sainthood? I’m serious, girl. I mean, you combed through all our emails and turned it into this????? It’s almost like it makes sense and we knew what we were doing. Thanks so much for doing this. What a huge, whopping treat. Mmmm-hmmm….


  10. Wowie! I really enjoyed reading about the process behind this enormous (and enormously successful) project. I’m in awe of all of you, and definitely inspired! Great job, Jules and Eisha.


  11. Unless creative cursing can be considered a particular form of enlightenment or benevolent power, I’d fail as a saint. Just think, though: “*^&%#$!” could be my symbology.

    Plus, this was all very selfish on my part. I like reading about creative ventures like this.


  12. This was so awesome, Jules. And I’m nearly positive that you should get EXTRA points toward sainthood for the creative cursing.


  13. Cursing as a “benevolent power”… hmmmm. What potential! I am sure that is another writer’s tool that, as my golf teacher used to say, is in the bag. It’s definitely working for you.


  14. One word? Speechless. How incredibly inspired … and inspiring. Jules, thanks for making room for all of us at this incredible virtual literary salon/roundtable. Can I second the vote for Dark Murmurings of a Sestina? A collaborative novel, perhaps?


  15. I loved hearing all the participating bloggers talk about this project for so long and then finally seeing the final product, which was just as good as I expected it to be (which is to say really, really good). Thanks for doing the interview and giving us a closer look at the process.


  16. Amazing. Thanks again to all the poets, and thanks, Jules, for this documentary.


  17. This is such a treat to read. I like Elaine’s idea of The Magnificent Poetry Seven!


  18. [...] remember that she stopped by exactly one year and one day ago with the rest of the Poetry Seven for a group interview. Today, though, she’s goin’ it solo, and she’s here to talk a bit about her new [...]


  19. Oh, I am so dazzled by this project ! I am an analog woman for whom the stapler was a challenge. Miss Rumphius and blogs like 7 Impossible Things make me feel on the brink of addiction.
    Shall I start smoking again after 15 years or simply start hanging out in the blogosphere?


  20. [...] Poetry Seven are at it again. This time with villanelles. Good [...]


  21. What an amazing accomplishment! Both the marvelous sonnet and the fascinating interview/article were so exciting to read.. My mind feels stretched and eager to get to work…maybe even on a sonnet!


  22. [...] An Interview with the Poetry Seven (Or, Cutting Loose Over Cutting a Swath) [...]


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