Saturday, October 24, 2009

Background on "Processional" by Joan Larkin

1. How did your poem come into being?

I traveled through South India in late 2000 and 2001. The unexpected sight of a decorated corpse being carried upright in a chair startled me and stayed with me long afterward. It came back to me years later, when I was sitting at a desk in New Hampshire. I didn't know where the image would take me, but it naturally connected to thoughts of loved friends, and the poem began to spill down the page like the long narrow movement of the funeral procession through trees.

2. Do you have a favorite line or phrase or word in your poem?

The phrase "of everything alive" -- the last line of the poem -- captures for me the way death and life are inextricably joined; I wanted to end the poem with the sense of aliveness in every moment, to express joy about every detail of experience.

3. Do you have a line that gave you particular difficulties?

This may seem a small thing, but poems are made of details –– every word and syllable is a choice: I struggled before choosing to say "clothed yellow," instead of what would have been the more familiar phrasing: "clothed in yellow." I wanted the stronger beat and closer connection between the two words without the unstressed extra syllable "in," but for a while I worried that the phrasing might seem strange and stop the reader. Now, the economical choice seems to me the right one.

4. How long have you been working on poetry?

I wrote silly comic verse at about age 8 or 9, got serious in high school with a ponderous sonnet about Julius Caesar, and in college listened to a teacher who advised me to choose poetry over fiction and focus on becoming a stronger poet. I liked telling stories, and the desire to write fiction kept resurfacing, but I've finally realized that my deepest impulse is more lyrical than narrative.

5. To read the poem out loud to an audience, how would you introduce it?

I'd probably say very little! I might say that "Tamil Nadu" is in South India, or mention the details in my answer to question #1, above, or say something about how fascinated I was in India to see faces painted with bright vegetable dyes to show loyalty to particular gods. Or I might mention the connection I found myself making to the many deaths of friends in the AIDS epidemic. These two threads fused, in the poem, with what I hope is a sense of life's vividness and mystery.

6. What poet's work has taught you the most?

It's hard to name just one, but Emily Dickinson keeps surprising me; reading her always feels like a fresh encounter, not a second-hand experience. I'm still learning from her immediacy and thrift, and the combination of wildness and aptness of her metaphors for interior life.

7. Do you have a favorite Frost poem? If so, what is it.

I grew up in Massachusetts, and Frost's distinctive voice was one of the first that spoke to me. Vividness of sensory details, economy, strong rhythms, and the way darkness and light live together in his poems still move me with their power. Among many memorable Frost poems, I think I'd choose "Desert Places" as one favorite––but on a different day it might be "After Apple-Picking"!

1 comment:

mister jim said...

Makes a great instruction piece
on how poetry can infuse things
into you a picture cannot,
soak you in that environment.