Speed Interviews: Poets from AWP: Susan Elbeby Rachel Dacus • 04.29.2010
During the annual AWP conference in Denver in April, Fringe contributor Rachel Dacus asked a few poets a few questions. Over the next few days, Fringe will be posting their responses–enjoy!
Susan Elbe is the author of Eden in the Rearview Mirror (Word Press) and a chapbook, Light Made from Nothing (Parallel Press). She’s on the Board of, and serving as Webmaster for, the Council for Wisconsin Writers, and served on the Governor’s Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission. She lives in Madison.
Fringe: When did you first become interested in poetry and writing poems?
I wrote my first poem at the age of 10. I can’t recall learning about poetry in school. But I knew even then that I would always write poetry. It was love.
Fringe: Which poets or poems have influenced you?
While I always wrote poems, I didn’t really think about being influenced until I found Diane Wakoski’s work in the late 60’s. I was clearly influenced by Plath, Sexton, Bishop, Eliot, the Beat poets, and others, but it was Diane’s work that really gave me permission as a woman to write the way I wanted to write. She was a tremendous influence, and I’m astonished and thrilled that I now call her “friend.”
I’ve also been greatly influenced by Charles Wright, Jack Gilbert, Li-Young Lee, Louise Glück, Arthur Sze, and Lucille Clifton, all writers of power and singularity. I’ve, of course, left out many, many poets that I love, which is different from “influence,” I think.
One of my favorite poems is “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” It taught me everything I know about the music of a poem when I first read it at the age of 18.
Fringe: How does poetry enrich life?
I would like to say that poetry does in fact enrich life, but I don’t know if that’s true or not. It does for me, of course, but I know people who are perfectly content to not have poetry in their lives and even if it were pressed upon them, they wouldn’t be the least interested. Do I think their lives are less rich? Not at all.
But I couldn’t say it better than Gregory Orr does in terms of how poetry enriches my own life: “What the heart longs for, the poem accomplishes.”
Fringe: If you could change one thing in your work, what would it be?
If I could change one thing about my work, it would be that I produce more and faster. I’m a very slow writer.
Fringe: What’s your favorite moment or milestone in your poetry career?
One of my favorite milestones was when The Southern Poetry Review published my poem “The Seamstress at 19” in 2000. It was my first publication in a literary journal and the first year I began sending out my work. I wrote for many years without the benefit of a poetry group, without any knowledge of po’ biz, and with no desire to put my work into the world. I am grateful for finding my poetry group and to them for pushing me to put my work out there. I’d be lying if I said that being published doesn’t matter. The work is one thing. Putting it out there is another. Both feed me, albeit in very different ways.