|poet Carol Berg|
Laura Davis: Describe the process of making a recent poem or story. Lightning? Slow-dripping faucet? How long did you work on it?
Carol Berg: I’m part of an on-line group of poets who try to write a poem every day during certain months. A prompt is provided that you can choose to use. I’m also using Diane Lockward’s book The Crafty Poet. So last Tuesday, I started a poem by picking a line from a song, “I know a dirty word,” from Kurt Cobain’s song “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Then I scoured the dictionary for words using only those letters. That was time consuming—I think it took me at least two hours or so. I got three journal pages of words and then the next day started crafting the poem. I used the phrase “I know to” to start generating lines. I don’t know how long it took to get a draft—25 minutes maybe? The world doesn't really exist when I’m inside the poem, crafting it. Right now the poem is simmering in a folder. I've visited it today and tinkered with a few words, but I know it’s not finished yet.
LD: How do you begin writing? Warm-up exercise? Daydreaming? Any strange rituals involving smelling a drawer of fruit? Do you just dive in?
CB: I keep a journal and sometimes my writing begins by mind-dumping. I need to write out my fears. Other times, if I’m writing a series of poems with a particular speaker, I’ll scour my journal for ideas or an image or some subject matter that I want to explore. There are things I’d like to do in my poems that I see other poets do. For example, I love poems that have dictionary themes to them and about a month ago, I was writing poems in the voice of a woman who dwelled in the caves of Lascaux. So I tried to write a dictionary poem of sorrows through that woman’s voice.
LD: What color is your writing process? Do explain.
CB: I love this question! I think my color is a gray-ish opaque, mainly because I’m so inside my head or inside the words themselves that the process seems foggy. The dictionary is so very black and white. I write with a pencil in a journal so there’s a lot of black and white happening visually there as well. Then when I move to the computer with its blue background the process might change a bit. Things might open up more.
LD: How do you decide that you are finished working on a story, essay, or poem?
CB: There was a Facebook photo going around where it said something like, “I do my best revising after I submit a poem.” Sometimes this is very true of me: I get so excited about my poems that I send them out too quickly. Other times, the ending is pretty final to me. This is a very intuitive part of the process. It’s a feeling about the poem—either you feel that it is finished or you still want to prod it a bit. Poke at it in the middle and see where it jiggles.
LD: How do you motivate yourself to write? Chocolates? Self-flagellation? Drugs?
CB: It’s pure pleasure. Nothing else I do mentally gives me as much feeling of understanding about myself and the world. Not to mention the surprises that come, either new ideas about myself or a new way of seeing things in the world, and I've done that. I wrote that new thing. Pretty powerful stuff, really.
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