Barbara Crooker is a quiet soul and a richly talented woman. I first heard Barbara’s “voice” via a broadcast of ‘Prairie Home Companion’ when Garrison Keillor read one of her poems. I continued to discover her voice and work as it appeared in various publications, Rock and Sling, Christianity and Literature, The Christian Century, Spiritus, and most recently in Tweetspeak Publishing’s “How to Read a Poem” by Tania Runyan (TSPoetry Press).
In February of 2014 we both attended the AWP Conference in Seattle and ‘happened’ to be at the same poetry workshop. I noticed her in line behind me while we waited to speak with the workshop leaders. Sounding just like a groupie I gushed about her work and unashamedly asked for her email address. We kept in touch and she agreed to participate in an ‘interview’ via this blog.
Here are some of her thoughts on writing poetry.
First, from her most recent poetry collection Gold (Wipf & Stock, 2013)
We’re writing out names with sizzles of light
to celebrate the fourth. I use the loops of cursive,
make a big B like the sloping hills on the west side
of the lake. The rest, a little a, r, one small b,
spit and fizz as they scratch the night. On the side
of the shack where we bought them, a handmade sign:
Trailer Full of Sparkles Ahead, and I imagine crazy
chrysanthemums, wheels of fire, glitter bouncing
off metals walls, Here we keep tracing in tiny
pyrotechnics the letters we were given at birth,
branding them on the air. And though my mother’s
name has been erased now, I write it, too:
a big swooping I, a little hissing s, an a that sighs
like her last breath, and then I ring
belle, belle, belle in the sulphuric smoky dark.
1. Although you have undergraduate degrees in English Lit and Art History, (and a graduate degree in English Lit), you said your real education came from “The School of 3,000 Books.”
Tell me what you mean.
I’m one of a handful of writers without an MFA or a PhD; when I first started writing, I had small children, and if I’d wanted an MFA then, I’d have had to leave my family and live somewhere else for two years—no way that was going to happen! Later, of course, the “distance” MFAs were born, where you only have to be in residence for a couple of weeks per year, but even that was impossible, partly because of the cost, and partly because my youngest child (who’s now 30) was diagnosed with autism, and so even being gone for two weeks would have been too much strain on the family.
So I went to “school” by buying books—anthologies, individual collections, literary criticism, and the like, and studying, studying, studying. Then the internet came into being; that vastly expanded the availability of critical articles, poets to read (especially in “the dailies,” Poetry Daily, Verse Daily), and The Writer’s Almanac, plus “the weekly,” Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry. I’m constantly running into writers, especially beginning writers, who say they don’t read much poetry, and I don’t understand this; our job as writers is to be readers, first.
And I’m constantly learning. I might fall in love with something, say a new form, and so I research and read as many poems as I can find that exemplify the form, then try my hand at it. I’m also constantly falling in love with new writers, and falling back in love with old favorites; in both cases, I make sure I buy their books.
Continue reading ➞ Poets at Play–an Interview with Barbara Crooker