Tuesday, March 18, 2014

LitOrlando: An Interview with Poet Terry Godbey

An all-Florida installment of Functionally Literate is happening Saturday, March 29. But worry not! We're here to help you brush up on your local authors with our new series, LitOrlando. In this second edition, Functionally Literate host Jared Silvia talks to Orlando-based poet Terry Godbey about her inspirations, the challenges poets face in the literary world, and her future projects.

Your new book, Hold Still, deals with some pretty heavy subject matter. On the other hand, some might argue that most poetry deals with visions that weigh heavily on the mind of the poet. Given the themes running through your collections, what would you say most fascinates you about the world as you see it?

People and their stories. Desire. The speed at which the years slip away. How we build relationships and wreck them. 

You're originally from Maine, and have lived in California as well. And, of course, you live in the Orlando area now. How would you say the concept of "place" interacts with your poetry? What about "community"?

I tend to write about events from several years back, after I’ve sorted through them and let them settle, and since childhood is one of my favorite subjects, California and Maine make appearances in my work. My first Florida poems are in Hold Still, and I can’t say for sure why it took so long to write about the Sunshine State. But I guarantee you that if I moved back to Maine tomorrow I’d write nothing but Florida poems! 

Speaking to the particulars of Orlando, have you seen anything in the local community that has excited or energized you recently? 

Orlando is very lucky that Kim Britt opened Bookmark It, a new independent bookstore at East End Market featuring local authors. You can’t have a vital literary community without an independent bookstore, and we should all be grateful to Kim and support her store. Every small city I visited in Maine a few years back had at least one thriving independent bookstore and a poet laureate. That’s what Orlando needs next!

How do you see the conversation between Orlando and the rest of the literary world community as it stands? How do you think it might best position itself to grow?

I honestly don’t know. I’m not in academia, and if there is such a conversation, I’m not privy to it. I am a recovering journalist newly planted in the corporate world in a challenging job. I’m overextended and have little time for reading or writing right now. Orlando has many talented poets, but what we need most are readers.

Describe, if you would, how a poem forms in the wild of the mind, or what threads commonly come together for you in the inception of a work of poetry.

A poem might start with a little scrap of overheard conversation, or I’ll be reading and come across a word or phrase that seems striking or fraught with new meaning, and I’ll bat it around in my head for a few days until I’m ready to take it somewhere. I can write under pressure, in a workshop setting, though that’s stressful, and I can write with my friend, Susan Lilley, and that’s pure pleasure. I’ve been known to wake up with an idea at 3:00am, too, though it’s not my favorite method because I don’t like to lose sleep. When I’m getting ready to cut loose, I make a lot of connections between events and objects and feel obsessive and slightly off balance. Writing that first frenzied draft, with its exhilaration and discovery, is the best part for me, though I will go on to revise each poem for months and sometimes years. 

I think poetry requires no justification, and that it is a vital aspect of the literary arts. Still, I am interested in your response to recent critical challenges to the medium as a whole. Some have suggested that poets have a difficult time being noticed in an era where the sweeping genre novel holds tightly onto the American consciousness. Others, like Alexandra Petri, in a 2013 article for the Washington Post, have suggested that "the medium might not be loud enough any longer." I wonder if you would mind weighing in on this criticism.  

Of course poets have a difficult time being noticed. Sometimes I think writing poetry is a bit like playing the oboe, with apologies to all the oboists out there. Most people keep poetry at arm’s length, and even if they claim to admire it, they don’t read it. They don’t feel they need it. But I believe there is a poet to challenge and delight every introspective, questioning person, if they knew how to find him or her (they won’t make that discovery at Barnes & Noble). Poetry is not, as Petri described, “a limp and fangless thing” – it can be transformative and a source of enormous pleasure and strength and connection for those who read it. Petri is not the first to try to bury poetry, but the body is still warm. 

How has your idea of poetry changed throughout your time as a poet? Would you say its place in your life or your thought process on poetry has changed drastically over time?

Lately poetry has become the thing I don’t have time for, and I regret that. But I feel I’m on the verge of a shift – maybe in subject matter, maybe in tone, maybe in art form. For one thing, I’ve taken up photography, and it’s changed my experience with the world. If I write a fifth book, I want to combine poems and photos. I’m entering a new phase now, slowing down a little, and it’s hard to sit in front of a computer when a blue sky beckons. I’d rather grab my camera, jump on my bicycle and have an adventure. My photographs are poems, too.

Terry Godbey’s full-length book, Hold Still, was published in March 2014 by Main Street Rag, and she’s the author of three previous poetry collections, Flame, Beauty Lessons, and Behind Every Door. Her poems have appeared in Rattle, Poet Lore, Harpur Palate, Passages North, CALYX, Pearl, Slipstream and other literary magazines. She lives in Orlando, Florida.

Jared Silvia is a writer, a teacher, and the host of Functionally Literate. His fiction has appeared online with Monkeybicycle and with Annalemma, and in print collections from Burrow Press.

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