I had the great pleasure of posing a few questions to this issue’s Featured Poet, Steve Klepetar, I asked him about his process and his poetry.
Why do you think poetry is important?
I think poetry, in the literary sense, is a coterie enthusiasm. A small percentage of people out of a large population is passionate about reading and writing poetry, but that still means that it is important to a lot of individuals. While finding poetry books in book stores can be a challenge, it is readily available online in many journals and magazines, a real explosion over the past ten years or so. Beyond that, many people find meaning in song lyrics, and I can attest to the power of nursery rhymes for my granddaughters. People need well-crafted, expressive language, what Pound called “the intellect of the emotions.”
What prompted you to begin writing poetry?
Hmm. When I was little, I really wanted to be able to draw. My taste ran to action pictures – dinosaurs, dragons, battles. But I couldn’t draw at all, and I still can’t. I discovered that I could write rhymes, and that began to satisfy my desire for self-expression. I was kind of the poet laureate of my grammar school class, with brilliant verses like “The Russians had Yuri Gagarin, my friend/But we have Shepherd and Grissom and Glenn.” Luckily nobody discouraged me, even after reading that one, so I kept on going. I really started writing seriously in college, switching from doggerel to free verse, and had my first few publications then.
How does a poem begin for you?
I try to write every day. Of course, I fail at that. Sometimes life gets in the way, or so I tell myself if I’m too lazy to write or if the writing proves fruitless, but I do try. If nothing occurs, I work on revisions, especially of poems I’ve sent out a few times without success. But I rarely sit down to write with a specific idea in mind. I have done that on some occasions, but usually I read some poetry and then set out to write. I try to follow where the poem, or the “pre-poem” takes me. Sometimes I work with memory or dreams, sometimes with a character suggested by a phrase or a line.
What is your preferred form and how do you choose the form of your poems?
When I was younger, I wrote in longhand and struggled with form right from the start. That is, I worried about line breaks, line lengths, and it took me a long time to get started. I write on my laptop or on my IPad now, and I have taken to writing continuously across the page, as though I were writing prose. Once I have a sense of where I’m heading, and when I have enough on the page to play around with, I start to experiment with breaking the lines, first striving for equal length lines and later paying attention to sentences, enjambments, and the like. At that point, I revise as I go, and once I have a draft, I try various forms until I get something that works for me.
Are there any forms you haven’t tried, but would like to?
No, not really. I admire poets who can write sonnets or villanelles or sestinas, but I find those forms and others too restrictive. What I mean is that I am not skillful enough to find freedom within the forms, and I end up sacrificing content to form. I have published a few haiku and villanelles, but I really like the openness of free verse.
Tell me a little about your writing process.
I try to write daily, and I begin by reading something, either from one of the poetry books in my library or from something new I find online. Sometimes a line from a poem acts as a trigger for me, but if I am patient, something always occurs, and I get something down on the page and try to figure out who is speaking and what the situation might be. Sometimes the process of reading and waiting leads to a memory, and I’ll try to tell a story from my past or about my parents or someone I knew. Often such memories become the basis for a poem, which may alter or elaborate the actual incident involved.
Where do you write?
I have two places where I do most of my writing, which is incredibly lucky. One is an enormous study on the lower level of my house, a comfortable space with a lovely view of small mountains and a wetland. I also often write in a large blue easy chair in my living room, with my IPad balanced on my lap.
What is the relationship between your speaking voice and your written voice?
I would like to say that they are the same, but I don’t really think that’s true. I tend to write more or less colloquially as I speak, but I think my written voice is usually a bit more formal, and certainly much more focused on sense detail as I work to create images.
What do you see as the role of everyday life in poetry?
That’s really the heart of the matter, don’t you think? “Everyday life” is a very good phrase for capturing the sense in which we tend to get overwhelmed by the quotidian, by the ordinary, by habit. But life is really quite strange and mysterious, and I try hard to explore that in my work. Waking up in the morning is a kind of miracle, a return from a world of dreams to a body and a reality, and I think most of us experience that transition, however short, as something strange, interesting, even at times dislocating. And during the day we move about our world doing what we do, but we also have an inner life which may run parallel or counter to that movement. Poetry can explore such things, stripping away layers of the ordinary to reveal a different richness around and within.