Thursday, September 12, 2013

Writers on the Writing Process: An Interview with Poet Carol Berg

poet Carol Berg
Carol Berg’s poems are forthcoming or featured in The Journal, Spillway, Redactions, Pebble Lake Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, and Verse Wisconsin. Her poems have received Pushcart Prize nominations and a Best of the Net nomination. Her most recent chapbook, Her Vena Amoris, is available from Red Bird Chapbooks. She blogs here.

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.


Would you like to be a featured writer in this interview series? Email Laura for more information.
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