'Poet Laureate' of West Caldwell on Martinis in Her Mailbox and Release of Fourth Book
Diane Lockward followed her dreams to live life as a writer.
Poet Diane Lockward may have grown up in all three Caldwells, but according to her, she's happy to call West Caldwell home.
"Since I grew up in this area, there's a lot that's comfortably familiar," she says of her hometown. "But there have also been enough changes to keep life interesting."
Perhaps her biggest transition, however, was the one from high school English teacher to a full-time poet.
Lockward has published four poetry collections — her most recent is Temptation by Water (Wind Publications, 2010) – and her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Poetry Daily: 366 Poems from the World's Most Popular Poetry Website, Garrison Keillor's Good Poems for Hard Times, and The Poet's Cookbook.
In addition, five of her poems have been featured on The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor. Patch caught up with Lockward to discuss her path from teacher to poet, her upcoming readings and inspirations for her art (a gin martini in a mailbox, anyone?)
How did you get into poetry?
I arrived at the party late as a full-grown adult with three kids and a full-time job teaching high school English. One year I saw an ad in the English Journal. The ad came from William Stafford, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. He and another poet were writing a poetry textbook for high school students, and they wanted English teachers to test the assignments. I volunteered and then every two weeks for several months they sent me one or two writing prompts. From the very first one I was hooked on poetry. I'd studied it before, but had never had a single teacher who asked me to write any poems. I found it exhilarating and emotionally satisfying.
When did you first realize you had talent as a poet?
After that experience with the textbook, one of my poems, a little acrostic, was selected for publication in Getting the Knack, the book that came out in 1992. That was my first published poem, another exhilarating experience. I determined that I would continue writing poetry, so I started taking workshops, going to conferences, and reading all kinds of craft books. I began sending the poems to journals and slowly getting them accepted.
What was the inspiration for one of your recent poems?
Last year, I realized that during winter it was often hazardous for me to go into the street to get my mail out of the mailbox, so I ordered a two-door mailbox. I love the convenience and safety of being able to remain on the sidewalk. Then one day I imagined that someone left a martini in the mailbox and I began to wonder who would do such a thing? What could it mean? The poem took off from there and became "Two-Door Mailbox with Gin."
When writing a collection of poetry for a book, do you set out with a theme for the collection, or does it appear over time?
With my first two books — Eve's Red Dress and What Feeds Us — I accumulated 50-60 poems that I thought were bookworthy. Then I thought about how those poems might work together. What common threads existed? Could I detect an overriding, unifying idea? Then it became a matter of deciding which of the 50-60 poems belonged in the book and which ones had to get booted out. And then came the difficult task of determining the order of the poems.
For the most recent book, Temptation by Water, my approach was different. I had an idea before I began writing the poems. The idea was temptation and its various forms. Then I wrote one poem based on Henri Matisse's Open Window and I titled it "Temptation by Water." So then I had the overriding theme and the central motif. I began to write more poems connected to those ideas. This was a more efficient way to get a book. Who knows if that will happen again?
What's in store for 2011?
I have a reading in Medford, in March and another in Monmouth Junction, also in March. Then I'll be running an event called "Girl Talk" on March 29 at the West Caldwell Library. This is a reading in celebration of Women's History Month. Approximately two dozen women poets will each read one poem related to the lives of women. In May, I'll be running "Poetry Festival: A Celebration of Literary Journals," also at the West Caldwell Library. This event will bring together the editors of 12 journals and 24 poets for an afternoon of poetry and more poetry. My calendar is available at my website, www.dianelockward.com, and at my blog, Blogalicious, www.dianelockward.blogspot.com
Do you have any New Year's resolutions?
My resolution is to write more poems, to be more disciplined about it. But that's my resolution every year! I do, however, do other kinds of writing when I'm not working on a poem. In addition to the website and the poetry blog, I do a monthly poetry newsletter for subscribers and I write several book reviews each year.
How do you stay motivated?
People often assume that the inspiration just strikes. It doesn't; it has to be courted. I'm always on the lookout for new ideas, and when I find them, I write them down in a journal. Then I need to sit down at my kitchen table in the morning — my best place and time for writing — and do the hard work. It's exciting when it's going well, frustrating when it isn't. But a writer really needs to show up at the desk.
What's your favorite subject to write about?
Food, family, things of the body, temptation, love, jealousy, quirky things like worms, memories real and invented. I try not to limit myself to any particular topic. If I did, I'd get bored. For the most part, I write in free verse, but I also like to work with forms and find it exciting to experiment with different ones.
Can you describe a typical day working at your craft?
First I should tell you that I don't write poems every single day. Wish I did, but I don't. I always begin the day by reading poetry with my breakfast. Then I check my email, do some exercises, get dressed. Then, if I'm being good, I sit at the table with another cup of ginger tea and begin writing, just free writing. Sometimes I can see a poem emerging. Sometimes it's just exercise. I'll do this for about 30 minutes. On subsequent days that morning time might be for crafting the poem and revising. Then errands and lunch. In the afternoon I work on my blog or newsletter or possibly a review of someone else's work. I send poems out to journals. When the weather is nice, I like to take an afternoon walk. I go with my iPod and music and find that that activity relaxes me and stimulates creativity. I rarely do any poetry work in the evening, though I keep a little notebook nearby in case I hear something cool on TV and want to write it down for possible use in a poem.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a teacher. That never changed.
When did you realize it was time to quit your day job as a high school teacher?
When I couldn't bear to face another set of papers. But also I was getting more and more involved with poetry and felt that I wanted to have some years to live as a writer.
Do you miss teaching?
I do not miss full-time teaching although I enjoyed it right up to the end. But I also work very part-time as a poet-in-the-schools. I do that freelance and with the NJ Writers Project. I go into schools for short-term residencies to teach kids how to write poetry. That's the best of teaching without the paper work or faculty meetings! I love my life as a writer and feel privileged to have it.
Family: I have a husband and three adult children.
Professional or Amateur: Professional
Training: Master's in English Literature, but poetry training acquired via workshops, conferences, and reading.
Influences: John Donne among the older poets – I fell in love with his metaphors. Sharon Olds, Linda McCarriston, Lucille Clifton and many other contemporary women poets for their boldness and opening up a whole range of new topics for women writers; My mother for her good vocabulary.