Lockward is the author of What Feeds Us (Wind
Publications, 2006) which was awarded the Quentin
R. Howard Poetry Prize. She is also the author
of Eve's Red Dress (Wind Publications, 2003),
and a chapbook, Against Perfection (Poets Forum
Press, 1998). Her poems have been published in
several anthologies, including Poetry Daily: 366
Poems from the World's Most Popular Poetry Website,
Garrison Keillor's Good Poems for Hard Times,
and Letters to the World. Her poems have appeared
in such journals as Beloit Poetry Journal, Spoon
River Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner. Her
work has been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes,
featured on Poetry Daily, and read by Garrison
Keillor on NPR's The Writer's Almanac. She is
the recipient of a 2003 Poetry Fellowship from
the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and read
her work at the 2006 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry
Festival. A former high school English teacher,
Diane now works as a poet-in-the-schools. She
and her husband live in New Jersey and are the
parents of three grown children. To learn more
about Diane, visit her website: www.dianelockward.com
1- "I think that good
poetry rises from a kind of urgency." What
is your interpretation of this statement by Rosemary
Starace , please? And for you what is the source
of good poetry?
I believe it means that our best
poetry comes when we feel driven to speak, when
some subject compels us to put pen to paper, when
we care passionately about the subject. We write
best when we write out of a sense of necessity.
And I think that just as urgently as we feel we
must speak, we also desire to be heard. Because
I feel that what I have to say matters, I want
someone to listen to me. This is true of even
my most personal poems, perhaps especially true
of them. So the poem might first be a kind of
spilling out. Then comes the craft, the desire
to shape and refine, to make art out of what spilled
forth. The spilling often comes quickly; the shaping
much more slowly.This might sound odd, but sometimes
I want to write yet have nothing to say. I feel
a kind of physical agitation, an itchiness to
get back to writing. Then I need to keep my ears
open, to read good poetry by other poets, to go
to a reading. Invariably, this hyper-attentiveness
will reveal something that needs to be said. Then
the hunger, the urgency grips me and I head for
Other times I have something bouncing around in
my head, maybe something I overheard or some cool
image. But no poem presents itself, Then I need
to be on the lookout for the real subject. What
does this image relate to? Why does this interest
me? The tidbit bounces around in my head for days.
It won’t leave. That means it’s
begging to be a poem. If I’m patient, the
poem will come. This is slow motion urgency.
For me, the sources of good poetry are many and
varied; personal experience, invention or imagination,
poems by other poets, eavesdropping, even television,
the news, music, snippets of conversation. And
today, right outside my kitchen window a glorious
profusion of goldfinches, their first day back
this year. Last year they flew around in my head
for days, then ended up in a poem.
2- What is your interpretation of Adrienne
"The imagination's cry is a sexual cry."
I’m not familiar with this
intriguing quotation, but I suspect that Rich
means the poet’s desire to create is like
sexual longing. I think she is speaking metaphorically,
but as with many strong metaphors, there is also
literal accuracy in her words. When I haven’t
written for a while, when too much time has passed
since the last poem, I feel a physical need to
get back to the desk. I want the pen in my hand,
the raw paper in front of me. I wake up with that
need; it’s a kind of itchiness. A poet in
heat? I feel a sharp hunger to create something
new. That hunger is experienced by both the imagination
and the body. The imagination sends out a cry
3-How do you see the place of women poets in
America compared with men?
It’s historically been an
uphill struggle for women poets, but I think we
are moving up that hill. Years ago women weren’t
supposed to write poetry at all. Look at any textbook
of early American Literature. Look for the women
poets there and you’ll find one, Anne Bradstreet.
And we know that she wrote while her husband was
away from home and late at night after her eight
children were sleeping. But now we have many well-known
women poets—Mary Oliver, Louise Gluck, Sharon
Olds, Alicia Ostriker, Nikki Giovanni, to name
just a handful.
I know that some contests have a history of favoring
men as do some journals and presses. But we now
have a number of journals, print and online, devoted
to women’s poetry. We also have several
presses devoted to women’s poetry. Switchback
Books, founded in 2006, is a feminist press that
publishes two poetry books by women each year.
Other presses, such as Mayapple, strongly support
women’s poetry. Both of these presses were
started by and are run by women poets.
Although the gender balance continues to be disproportionate,
women poets have won Pulitzer Prizes and have
served as Poets Laureate at both the national
and the state level. Men still get more critical
attention, but women poets have it within their
power to correct that imbalance by becoming critics
and reviewers themselves. And many have done just
that. But I don’t want to be too glib about
that and make it sound easy; it’s difficult
to work a job and forge a career, raise a family,
keep a house, and find time to pursue one’s
art. Writing poetry is a joy, but it is also a
challenge. It is a sign of the resiliency of women
poets that they have forged on ahead in spite
of the difficulty of the challenge. The hill may
actually be a mountain, but we are moving it.
4-Faiz Ahmad Faiz says: "The true subject
of poetry is the loss of the beloved." For
you what is the true subject of poetry? And how
do you interpret the word: "beloved"?
who is this beloved?
I’ve heard it said that
poetry has only two subjects: love and death.
Don’t both of these come together as one
subject in Faiz’s words? The loss of the
beloved is, after all, a kind of death. However,
for me, the word “beloved” has definite
romantic meaning. The beloved is always the human
object of one’s love. So I think that Faiz’s
statement, while it might be true of his own poetry,
is, for most of us, too limited. It is possible
for me to love some humans with whom I have no
romantic relationship–my mother, siblings,
children, friends. And it is possible to love
what is not human. I love tomatoes, my dolls,
flowers, any number of objects and places. And
I can write about my real beloved though I have
not lost him. So there are many people and things
to love, and there are many kinds of love. And
there is the opposite of love—hate and jealousy
which are really forms of love turned inside out.
And there are stages of love and the absence of
love and the longing for it.
I would enlarge Faiz’s idea
and argue that the true subject of poetry is simply
love. As I look over my own work, it seems to
me that it’s all somehow connected to love.
I can’t imagine writing a poem that wouldn’t
be. Poets are passionate people, at least inside,
in the place where the poems grow. I’m not
talking about the brain, though it’s good
and essential to have one of those too.
5-How do you see the relation between literature
Religion is a gold mine for writers.
Consider novels such as Crime and Punishment,
Madame Bovary, and The Handmaid’s Tale.
None of these is a religious work, but all draw
significantly from religion. Poets also draw from
religion and the Bible for allusions, allegory,
symbols, stories, characters, places, and rituals.
As a child I was raised Episcopalian and had 11
years of perfect attendance at Sunday school—not
good, not excellent, but perfect! I no longer
go to church, but I know that that background
is valuable to my work. My first book, Eve’s
Red Dress, uses the biblical Eve as an archetypal
figure, but the poems are not religious. My Eve
is out of the Garden, is many-faceted, and lives
in the modern era. Her snake walks on two legs,
and she is more likely to be tempted by an apple
fritter than an apple.
I still love church music—“Ave Maria,”
“Amazing Grace,” “O Holy Night”—and
two of my favorite poets are John Donne, the Dean
of St. Paul’s, and Gerard Manley Hopkins,
a Catholic priest. I’m not interested in
poetry that preaches or tries to impose doctrine.
I’ve read many such poems, but I can’t
name any or the poets who wrote them. That’s
because such poems and poets aren’t memorable.
However, Donne’s work, both prose and poetry,
is infused with religion and Hopkins’ poetry
is exclusively religious. But it’s the poetry
and the passion that appeal to me, the craft that
makes these poets and their work great. Neither
attempts a conversion. Neither offers chicken
soup for the soul.
In Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple,
Celie, the main character, bathes Shug Avery.
Already in love with Shug, Celie says, “It
feels like I’m praying.” That’s
how I feel about poetry. It cleanses me and it
feels like I’m praying.
6- As a poet what is your interpretation of
beauty? I mean in what do you see beauty?
As is true of most abstract concepts,
it is easier to give examples of beauty than to
define it. We find such examples all around us
in the physical world: a rainbow, a sunset over
the ocean, flowers. These are free and available
to all of us and give pleasure to the eye and
the spirit. Many material objects are regarded
as things of beauty—jewels, a fine house,
a sleek car. These give pleasure but may stimulate
greed and class distinctions. There is human beauty—the
flawless skin, sleek hair, the perfectly proportioned
body. This kind of beauty goes only to the fortunate
and is sometimes a source of envy. There’s
a touch of irony here in that something beautiful
may provoke something unattractive. There are
also acts of the spirit that might be regarded
as beautiful—generosity, kindness to others,
service without expectation of reward.
Artists are always in quest of beauty. Think of
Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn”
with its famous closing lines: “Beauty is
truth, truth beauty,—that is all / Ye know
on earth, and all ye need to know.” We are
compelled by beauty as a topic, but we are also
compelled to create a thing of beauty when we
craft a poem, the “well wrought urn”
that the critic Cleanth Brooks spoke of. For me,
beauty in a poem comes from a number of elements.
Distinguished diction is one element. I do not
mean beautiful-sounding words, though there’s
that too; I mean diction that enters my ear, my
head, my heart. I want involvement of the senses.
I want the poem to enter my body. I want to feel
what the poet is talking about. I want a kind
of music, though it does not have to be a harmonious
music. I want the poem to offer something worth
saying and I want it to be well said. Galway Kinnell’s
poem “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps”
comes to mind as a poem that illustrates this
kind of beauty.
But there is also beauty in what is not traditionally
or conventionally beautiful. In “Sow”
Sylvia Plath creates a beautiful poem about a
huge ugly animal. Richard Eberhart crafts poetic
beauty in “The Groundhog,” a poem
about the animal’s decomposing body.
Since you’ve got me thinking about beauty,
I want to quote the opening lines of Book 1 of
John Keats’ Endymion:
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
7. What gave you the courage
and the confidence to publish poetry?
The poetry itself is the source
of whatever courage I have. When I am writing
a poem on a difficult, painful, potentially embarrassing
subject, I utter one of my mantras, “Go
forth boldly.” I tell myself to just write
it, and I remind myself that I don’t have
to show it to anyone. I just need to say it, to
put it down on paper.
Then I start with the revisions, many of them,
and during that process craft takes over. The
poem asserts itself. It’s no longer the
subject I’m thinking about; it’s image,
metaphor, word choice, sound, rhythm, shape. As
issues of craft consume me, I lose the worries,
the fear. I want to make the poem as good as it
can be. If I become proud of the poem, if I think
it’s worthy, then I want to go public with
it. I want it to have readers. I don’t worry
about who’s reading it, and for the most
part, I don’t know who’s reading it.
I hope people will like the poem, but I’m
not concerned about how they might judge me.
Another hurdle awaits, however, and that’s
the prospect of reading the poem aloud to an audience.
It’s one thing to have your work read in
a journal by strangers on the other side of the
country. It’s another thing to stand up
in front of those strangers and perhaps some familiar
faces as well and bare your soul, to put your
heart out there on the floor. To overcome that
kind of fear, I always do a practice read-through
at home, sometimes more than once. And I’ll
tell you that there are some poems I have never
read to an audience though I am happy to have
them in journals and in my books.
I’d say that, on the whole, I’m much
braver in my poetry life than I am in my other
life, that is, my life outside of poetry.
8- What is your interpretation of this idiom
by Russian poets:
I’m not familiar with this
expression, so I’ll just be speculating
here. One thought that comes to mind is that the
Russian poets might have been thinking about those
people who seem to move under a cloud of misery.
We all know such people. Misfortune pursues them.
Their dreams are never realized. All their plans
turn to dust. Their investments go sour. Love
never lasts. It’s as if someone cast a spell
of suffering on these people.
Another possibility is that the idiom refers to
the allure that suffering has for some artists.
Sometimes it’s hard to say if suffering
pursues them or they pursue suffering. We have
a romantic myth that artists must suffer for their
art, that it is impossible to produce great art
if one is happy. There are many artists who clearly
suffered. Van Gogh comes to mind. Janis Joplin.
Jimi Hendrix. Among the poets we have Sylvia Plath,
Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell. The list goes on.
But these were artists who had serious psychological
problems, sometimes combined with substance abuse.
The romantic myth of the necessity of suffering
is a false idea and a dangerous one. We all suffer
enough in this life. We don’t need to court
I think it is essential that a poet be able to
feel intensely, and how is it possible to live
in our age, in our world, and not be affected
by the chaos all around us? But I need to believe,
too, that it is essential to feel joy as well.
Poetry is large; there’s room for all degrees
9- What makes you happy besides your writing?
So much of what makes me happy
is connected to poetry. It’s where I live
my life most fully, where I feel most intensely.
I like hanging out with poets and I like going
to poetry events. I like giving readings. For
the past five years I have run a festival celebrating
literary journals and that has been a great satisfaction.
I also run a three-day poetry retreat for a group
of women. This year I organized a large reading
in celebration of Women’s History Month.
I spend time every day with poetry, so it’s
a big part of my life.
But I do have other interests and sources of pleasure.
When I was teaching full-time, I never had time
to watch television. Now I do and I find that
indulgence. I enjoy “American Idol,”
“The Apprentice,” “Dancing with
the Stars,” “So You Think You Can
Dance,” and “Hell’s Kitchen.”
Now I know that these are not the most intellectual
shows on tv, but I seem to like shows that involve
people having their dreams come true.
I read a lot, novels and memoirs. I go walking
every day that the weather permits. I go with
my iPod and love that. I enjoy computer work and
designed my own website and one for my husband.
I’ve been keeping a blog for the past year
and have been surprised how satisfying that is.
I enjoy good food, especially candy and pastries.
10- If you were me, what would
you ask as the last question ?
I would ask: What advice do you
have for aspiring poets?
I- Remember that you will always
be an aspiring poet. In order to get good at poetry,
you must be willing to serve an apprenticeship.
Then when you get good, you must always be trying
to get better. Always stretching and growing.
II- Hang out with poets who make
you feel good about your work. And remember that
that goes both ways. Support and be supported.
III- Imitate work that intrigues
you. This is not the same thing as plagiarism.
It is a way to learn, to move into new territory.
Let the poems be your teachers.
IV- Avoid poets who are competitive.
Somebody is always better than you, but why be
reminded of this on a regular basis?
V- Forget about making money.
It won’t happen with poetry. But you will
VI- Buy books by other poets if
you hope that other poets will buy your books.
Support small presses with your purchases.
VII - If you go away to a poetry
workshop or conference, leave your family at home.
Indulge yourself. Give yourself and your work
the experience of total immersion. You can vacation
some other time. Make time for poetry and then
protect that time.
VIII- Don’t dismiss poetry
that you don’t understand. Instead, try
to figure out what the poet is trying to accomplish.
Ix- Don’t let anyone tell
you what is or isn’t an appropriate topic
for poetry. You are free to write about whatever
is in your heart and your head. And you are not
obligated to tell the story behind your poem.
X. If poetry has come into
your life, then you have received a blessing.
Show your gratitude by giving something back to
the poetry community.