An Interview with New Hampshire Poet Laureate Alice B. Fogel

I'm really excited to be the New Hampshire poet laureate and I see my position for for these five years as being a kind of ambassador for poetry so my main goals are to bring more poetry to more people from both sides to think about both sides think about the poets of whom there are many in our state and get their work and their readings workshops get them into the community and from the other side get more people reading poetry and interested in it so I'd like to match readers and writers and I also would love to collaborate with some of the organizations that already exist in the state there are a lot of organizations in New Hampshire supporting the arts so I would love to see how we can collaborate and come up with ways to get more poetry throughout the state and beyond I never said to myself that I would want I want to grow up to be a writer I want to be a writer it was more just that I wrote I always wrote even when I was a little kid and so when it came time for me to choose what was I really going to focus on I think I went more into writing because I was shy and it was easier to do that on my own even though I loved the arts and I always wrote and made other things painted drew danced played music when I went to college I thought that I needed to have a serious major or something you know that like it uses a career so I was a I was majoring in sociology and interested in juvenile criminology but I kept taking so many art and literature courses that in the end I had a double major in art and literature and gave up on the whole idea being a sociologist of any sort but then after college I was living in New York City working at bookstores and sort of fell into doing the Africa costuming and I was ready to leave New York City I was looking into grad schools I had taken some poetry workshops meanwhile with Galway Canal and Sharon old and I got a job running the costume shop at a theatre by the sea in Portsmouth also after being in Portsmouth for a while began the graduate program with Charlie Simic and Miquelon ride at UNH after graduate school I continued to work at UNH for a while of teaching writing courses and and then I decided to just go into my own business so I do custom sewing work for 4 people but my specialty is refashioning which is basically cutting up old unwanted clothes and turning them into new interesting items it's collaging which is very much what I can what I sometimes do in my writing I take phrases or images from many different places and then try to weave them together into something coherent the reason I wrote strange terrain was that I've done all these reading programs with people through the Humanities Council and people come together and they love to read and they love to talk about what they read but when a poem shows up they freeze often so I wanted to come up with a program that would simply say here's a few ways to enter a poem some ways that are really basic and so I came up with this 8 step program and I began that program and during the realm of poetry for the Humanities Council and then someone wanted to reprint my first two poetry books who that were out of print but she wanted them to be presented more with with me speaking about the poems the way that I would at a reading where I would say something out were a poem came from and and then read it and so I began to write about some of my poems and realized that really what I wanted to do was to create a book that would help people feel more comfortable with poetry using some of my older poems that way I could talk about them from the inside not as someone instructing you how to read Yeats or how to read Dickinson but saying here's what I was doing here's the effect I wanted here's what I was thinking when I did this I don't necessarily think that poetry has to be accessible I don't believe that difficult or challenging poetry is a problem there are many different kinds of poetry and different readers who want different challenges some readers want a poem that they understand right away and that that touches them right away other readers like me want to read things that I have to participate in making the meaning it's almost like archaeological levels of what you can get from a poem so you can read a poem and simply take in the content maybe it has it speaks to you about an experience or a feeling but we can go to the next level which is what were the actual elements that the poet put there to have those effects what kind of language was used what about the shape on the page the way that the lines break and how that slows down our understanding or brings multiple understand things word choices that have connotations but images do we see and so we can keep on digging down and down and down through those layers the book also addresses teachers who are trying to teach poetry but who themselves might not know if they're on the right track so it does have a section at the end that gives teachers some ideas it also works as a guide in even in a writing workshop because each of those chapters is really a section that you could spend a week talking about what goes into poems right now I'm using it in a creative writing workshop at Keene State and so each week we read about one element one chapter and look the students looking for poems that demonstrate what goes on in them and then write a poem that really focuses on that particular element and then finally the last audience for it is the loved ones of poets so if you're a poet and your family says I just don't get this stuff or your friends say you know that's nice but I can't give you feedback on that then you can give that book to to that family or family member or that friend and and say here read this and now we can talk about my poems when I wrote strange terrain I wanted to set it up from perhaps the simplest steps to the more complex ones starting with the shape on the page why is it shaped the way it is does it have even stanzas or is it all over the page next comes words how does the poet use words differently from the words we read in a newspaper or even in fiction I think a lot of people get confused about poetry because they think that the words are going to be explicit and in the same sense that they would be for a recipe or newspaper article and they're not necessarily the language in a poem maybe full of double meanings or maybe placed on the page in a way that brings up new meanings the next sections are image emotions and thought how a poem brings us to see things brings us to our own feelings brings us to understand the emotions of humanity and also makes us think about ideas makes us think about situations predicaments what it means to be a human then the next step is I talk about the conventions of prose that when we Thomas readers to a piece of writing there are conventions that we automatically look for that we that we know without necessarily being conscious of them and the final step in the book which is the hardest and yet the most important is called unknowing the unknowing and what that is about is really no matter how much we understand about all the elements that go into making a poem we're still going to experience a sense of mystery when we read most poems and what I really want to get across is that that's a good thing that it's something to be grateful for that that we can read poems and understand so much about their language and experience so much through the images in the shapes on the page and thoughts and feelings and yet still feel some sense of mystery and that's not the fault of the poem or of the reader that's simply the state of being here on the planet that many things in life are mysterious so I for one am I'm grateful to have the opportunity to be able to sit and feel that sense of mystery so in so the whole point of the book is there's the it's sort of twofold there is the demystification which I show you here's some really simple ways for you to enter a poem many of which really you already have available to you and then the part which is to accept that you won't always understand you won't get a poem all the time and that's fine it's not that's not what we're reading poems for

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