In the Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Martha Silano

by | Apr 15, 2019

1. Tell us about your poem, “Hummingbirds of the World,” in Volume 21. How did it come to be?

I’ve been admiring hummingbirds since I was a kid. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to view them in the wild, and I’ve spent time researching their feats of strength and gorgeous names. I’d been meaning to write a poem about them. Finally got around to it.

2. What excites you as a writer? What turns you off, makes you turn away or stop reading a piece of writing?

What excites me:

1) the utterly new and original;

2) a voice that completely grabs me and won’t let go;

3) Firing on all cylinders – sonically, imagistically, syntactically, structurally;

4) Wow! metaphors and figurative language;

5) I know it’s good because when I get to the end of a poem and immediately re-read it, trying to figure out how they pulled it off.

Turns offs:

1) boooooooooring;

2) tired/clichéd;

3) ho-hum subject matter;

4) not convinced speaker is being honest or accurate;

5) even a hint of pretentiousness;

6) syntax not doing anything interesting;

7) weird line breaks that don’t make sense;

8) piousness/earnest reverence for the natural world.

3. What was an early experience that led to you becoming a writer?

My 2nd grade English textbook included poems by Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allen Poe, and Emily Dickinson. I recall gravitating to those way more than the stuff about who vs. whom, especially when we got to Dickinson. This same teacher also had us write haiku (my first poems) – I wrote a bunch more at home. Also, I grew up on a street adjacent to John Ciardi’s street—it made it seem possible that I could be a poet. My 9th grade English teacher, Edwin Romond, was also a poet, so there it was again: the remote possibility I could join the ranks.

4. What books, writers, art, or artists inspire you and your work? Do–or have–you had any mentors in your writing life?

Some very influential books/writers: Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Lillian Hellman’s Pentimento, poems by Robert Bly, Gary Snyder, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Anne Sexton, Adrienne Rich, and many I’m forgetting. My most crucial mentors were David Wagoner and Heather McHugh—I owe them both a huge debt.

5. What does your creative process look like? How does the environment you are in shape your work or where do you like to write?

My creative process involves keeping a notebook (I write most days), trying to write a poem a week (sometimes less, sometimes more—I do the poem-a-day thing at least two months of the year), and reading a lot of poetry by others. I start to feel out of sorts when I’m not writing/editing towards publication. During the past five years I worked on two separate poetry manuscripts simultaneously—a first. I can write pretty much anywhere, but if I had to choose a favorite spot it would be in a quiet cottage or cabin in a wooded area near water (ocean, lake, river, pond, harbor, etc.). Being in that sort of atmosphere allows me to go deep into the work. Sometimes I’ll write about what’s right in front of me, but more often I will go deep into research/reading, and find myself grappling with subject matter having nothing to do with my location. For instance, at a recent stay at Yaddo, I was in the woods near three ponds and wrote a poem about childhood, a poem about words that have no equivalent in English, and a poem about things I witnessed while sitting on my front porch.

Visit Martha’s website.

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