Poet Interview with Liane Strauss

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  1. #1

    Poet Interview with Liane Strauss

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    Liane Strauss is a poet and is currently teaching Multimedia Composition at Writers House, Rutgers University, and Creative Writing at NYU. She has published three books of poetry, Leaving Eden, Frankie, Alfredo, and All the Ways You Still Remind Me of the Moon. She has also written for The Hudson Review and has been published in dozens of magazines.

    Hi Liane and thank you for agreeing to do this interview with us...



    Please would you introduce yourself and your work?

    I’m Liane Strauss and I’m a poet. Perhaps the best way for me to introduce
    my work is by saying I’ve always been interested in form, even when that form looks suspiciously like free verse.

    I think what first drew me to poetry was the way you could be so distracted by the music of language that you would stop worrying about the meaning. If you remember that toy we all had once upon a time, the one where you lift the plastic sheet and the drawing you just made disappears (the sound effects were great too), it reminds me of that. I still love that feeling of separation and liftoff as the surface meaning of the words stops interfering both with the experience of reading, or writing, the poem, and the process of understanding it.

    I also loved how involved poetry made me feel in the enterprise of reading, the way a good conversationalist makes you feel she’s really listening to you. Maybe it’s because poetry is so upfront about how much help it needs from the reader—to be seen and heard, appreciated and understood—that it makes such a good case for the quality of engagement we need to bring to everything. I’m pretty sure that reading poetry taught me how to read period, i.e., deeply, intently, imaginatively, boldly, body and soul.

    Please can you share an excerpt of your work with our readers?

    Here are some of my poems on The Hudson Review website [LINK]

    What ideas, concepts, philosophies, themes, are you trying to communicate through your work?

    One of my preoccupations, bordering on obsession, is the gap between (objective) reality and how it appears to us. I read this sentence recently by the physicist Carlo Rovelli: "Ever since we discovered the Earth is round and turns like a mad spinning-top, we have understood that reality is not as it appears to us.” That sums it up nicely. Although it’s not just physics, of course.

    Recently, though, I’ve been exploring the similarities between poetry and physics more explicitly. What they share in how they see and interpret the world. Both, you could say, study the makeup of the universe and the laws of nature—in which I would include human nature. Both delve into the laws and logic that govern what, like atomic and subatomic particles, is not necessarily visible to the naked eye. Both use the instruments, methods, techniques, etc., proper to their disciplines to measure and describe whatever portion of the universe they happen to be exploring. And where physicists fire up the Large Hadron Collider and astrophysicists the Hubble Telescope et al., poets, you could say, fire up their Imagination.

    My themes? Love, disappointment, anxiety, fear, the passage of time, illusion, self-deception, identity, separation, friendship, and, of course, language, its limits, its tyrannies, its clarities and distortions.

    What inspires you to write poetry?

    This is both easy and hard to answer. So many different things! Recently, I was inspired by a conversation with someone I had just met who was telling me about what it’s been like to take over her parent’s business; by what early spring felt like on a drive outside the city limits; and by a short story by David Foster Wallace.

    What is your preferred poetry form?

    That’s much harder. I love the particular challenges the sonnet poses, and how much I’ve learned about poetry—and not just poetry—from reading and writing sonnets. But really every form has its own joys—and its own sorrows!

    What comes first - the idea or the words?

    It depends. Sometimes a line comes to me, sometimes nothing more than a rhythm and tone that eventually come into focus as a handful of words. Sometimes it’s an image or a thought or a reaction to something that happened that I’m trying to get across through words.

    I suspect it’s not that different from the way we articulate anything—sometimes our words embody a thought we have and sometimes, through trying to articulate what we mean, we find out what we’re thinking.

    What does “being creative” mean to you?

    I suppose it has to do with attention. I feel creative when I’m totally absorbed by something I’m imagining—whether it’s a memory or a story I’ve heard or something I’ve seen. I mean absorbed in the sense of totally engrossed in, but also swallowed up by—in a good way. A little like what Keats called Negative Capability, that experience of losing yourself in something else (even if that something else is a part of you) in such a way that it’s not about you anymore, or anything you might think you need to say. That, I think, is the connection to freedom that creativity is associated with for me. Creativity also has to do with an openness to luck, chance, circumstance, opportunity, discovery. That has to be part of the process somehow.

    Do you have any creative patterns, routines or rituals?


    Ideally, I set aside time to write every day, usually first thing in the morning. In reality, it doesn’t always work out that way. But setting that time aside in mind and intention is even more important than using it. As long as the exceptions don’t outrun the rule!

    Is there an activity that particularly conjures up poetic thoughts?

    I wish!

    What’s the single best piece of advice you've received on how to be more creative in your writing?

    When rejections come in, get those poems right back up on the horse and out the door again.

    What, for you, constitutes 'good' poetry?

    Poetry that’s not trying to convince me of anything, except its own existence, I guess. I love poetry that illuminates how we feel and think—as opposed to what to feel and think. Poetry that moves me without manipulating me. Poetry that knows how to use words and music and gesture and image to acknowledge the best, and the worst, of what’s true.

    If you could offer your younger writing self advice, what would it be and why?

    Don’t worry about being a poet, focus on being a better poet. Read hard, write hard, read hard some more. Actually, my younger writing self did that! The truth is, I don’t think I'd want to give any advice to my own younger writing self. It’s not that I did everything “right,” although I’m not sure I even believe in right and wrong in those terms, it’s just that it would be like breaking the prime directive (a Star Trek reference). I wouldn’t want to interfere with my development as a poet, that development hinged on my not knowing the future, which is a sort of freedom I wouldn’t want to mess with.

    Do you view writing poetry as spiritual?

    All our endeavors are spiritual.

    If you were marooned on a desert island what five books would you choose to be washed ashore with you?

    This is the hardest question so far. The Riverside Shakespeare. (Is that cheating?) Herbert. Donne. Wordsworth’s Prelude. Milton. Keats. (Wouldn't the desert island have wifi?) Frost. Coleridge. Dickinson. Whitman. George Eliot. Dickens. Austen. James. Joyce. Proust. Faulkner. (Does it have to be only books?) The Complete Preston Sturges, Billy Wilder, Marcel Ophuls, Ernst Lubitsch. Also: Rimbaud. Balzac. Dumas. Hugo. Kafka. Rilke. Tennyson. Vergil. Homer. Catullus. Horace. (Is that five yet?)

    How did publishing your first book change your writing process?

    I suppose I did start thinking of poems as "book poems," as part of something bigger. It opened the angle out onto the cluster of underlying themes the poems were playing out.


    What advice can you offer for those wanting to publish a book of poetry?

    Send to magazines. You need a track record, and you have to build up to a book. And: Never take rejections personally. Just keep working on your craft, and keep sending the poems out. Think of yourself as two different poets. The poet who writes the poems and the poet who sends them out.

    What’s the best way to market your poetry books?

    Find an authentic way to be engaged in the world of poetry. Meet other poets. Talk to other poets. Think of yourself as three different poets. The poet who writes the poems, the poet who sends them out, and the poet who markets them. Don’t ever let them even think they can cover for each other.

    What are common traps for aspiring poets?

    To confuse marketing and submitting with writing and getting better. You do have to write for an audience, to have an ideal reader in mind, but that ideal reader is there to keep you honest, to keep you from self-indulgence, and not to dictate, or even kindly suggest, what or how you should be writing. Getting published should never be your primary aim. Think of it as an unforeseen and delightful bonus.

    What would you say to someone who has never written poetry but wants to start?

    Allow yourself to pursue all your interests, not just poetry. Read widely and deeply. Live widely and deeply. Read poetry, sure, and find poems and poets you love and learn everything you can from them. And don’t sign up for a workshop until the poems you're writing need you to become a better reader, and therefore a better editor of your own work.


    If you could share only one piece of advice with new poets, what would it be?

    If you love writing poetry, the process I mean, the work of it and the fun of it and the loneliness of it and the exhilaration and the despair, then the rest will fall into place.

    You can find Liane at her site The Writing Remedy or on Twitter at @LianeStrauss. You can also buy her books on Amazon.
    Last edited by The Fantastical; April 13th, 2017 at 06:34 AM.

  2. #2
    Enjoyed this interview.
    I keep reading astrophysics, not because I’m smart and understand it, but because I’m not and don’t. Before reading this, I never considered there might be a correlation between an interest in poetry and astrophysics. I was married a long time to someone with physics background. He did not have a poet’s soul. If only we could have done a mind meld. Hmmmm.

  3. #3
    BTW: Her advice to aspiring poets was "to write for an audience, have a reader in mind." Does anyone in WF do that? I'm sure this would apply to all writers who wish to be published, emphasis on "wish to be published" which she did not say, but implied, I think. But, do poets write to be published like writers of books or stories? Do they write for an audience, or do they uniquely write for themselves? I never have a reader in mind when I write a poem. Of course, I never have publishing in mind either.

    And, yet, it seems the reader plays a more symbiotic role in poetry. It requires much more of them...interpretative efforts being only one. Poetry readers cannot be passive passengers and expect to be taken somewhere, which is, perhaps why, few read it for pleasure. So, is this poetry's inherent Achilles heel .. .poets write for themselves, not a reader?
    Hmmmmm.

    Good questions posed, Fantastical. And, thought provoking answers. Thumbs up. Sas
    .

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by sas View Post
    BTW: Her advice to aspiring poets was "to write for an audience, have a reader in mind." Does anyone in WF do that? I'm sure this would apply to all writers who wish to be published, emphasis on "wish to be published" which she did not say, but implied, I think. But, do poets write to be published like writers of books or stories? Do they write for an audience, or do they uniquely write for themselves? I never have a reader in mind when I write a poem. Of course, I never have publishing in mind either.

    And, yet, it seems the reader plays a more symbiotic role in poetry. It requires much more of them...interpretative efforts being only one. Poetry readers cannot be passive passengers and expect to be taken somewhere, which is, perhaps why, few read it for pleasure. So, is this poetry's inherent Achilles heel .. .poets write for themselves, not a reader?
    Hmmmmm.

    Good questions posed, Fantastical. And, thought provoking answers. Thumbs up. Sas
    .
    I will say this: When I write prose, I write for a reader. When I write poetry, I solely write for myself.
    "He slides into second with a stand-up double." - Jerry Coleman
    "Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth." - Lou Gehrig
    "After Jackie Robinson, the most important black in baseball history is Reggie Jackson." - Reggie Jackson
    "Your Holiness, I'm Joe Medwick. I, too, used to be a Cardinal." - Joe Medwick to Pope Pius XII
    "I think Tim Wakefield would even say tonight that Tim Wakefield got to Tim Wakefield tonight." - Tim McCarver

  5. #5
    WF Veteran Bloggsworth's Avatar
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    Hmmm. Has Liane stopped teaching at Birkbeck and moved back Stateside - She was my poetry tutor at BBK and in private group sessions after with the estimable Rosie Shepperd.
    A man in possession of a wooden spoon must be in want of a pot to stir.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Bloggsworth View Post
    Hmmm. Has Liane stopped teaching at Birkbeck and moved back Stateside - She was my poetry tutor at BBK and in private group sessions after with the estimable Rosie Shepperd.
    Bloggsworth....How interesting. How fortunate, for you. Would you elaborate more? I'd be interested in your class experience.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by sas View Post
    BTW: Her advice to aspiring poets was "to write for an audience, have a reader in mind." Does anyone in WF do that? I'm sure this would apply to all writers who wish to be published, emphasis on "wish to be published" which she did not say, but implied, I think. But, do poets write to be published like writers of books or stories? Do they write for an audience, or do they uniquely write for themselves? I never have a reader in mind when I write a poem. Of course, I never have publishing in mind either.

    And, yet, it seems the reader plays a more symbiotic role in poetry. It requires much more of them...interpretative efforts being only one. Poetry readers cannot be passive passengers and expect to be taken somewhere, which is, perhaps why, few read it for pleasure. So, is this poetry's inherent Achilles heel .. .poets write for themselves, not a reader?
    Hmmmmm.

    Good questions posed, Fantastical. And, thought provoking answers. Thumbs up. Sas
    .
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptolemy View Post
    I will say this: When I write prose, I write for a reader. When I write poetry, I solely write for myself.
    Can I just add a possibly very unpopular opinion here... I think that Liane is right, you need to write for an audience, when you write for yourself, what interest is there for the reader? I personally do not like poetry for the very reason that it is mostly all written for the writer. I have nothing to connect to or anything to have an interest in as I really honestly don't care about the writer. This is something that I think writers and particularly poets forget or don't know - most readers don't care about you, they want something that speaks to them, not about you.

    Not to say that you can't write for yourself... but do it just for yourself and don't try and publish those works or share them, let them be exactly what they are... personal.

    P.S. You are welcome Sas, it was great talking to both Sheenagh and Liane as they are fascinating people.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by The Fantastical View Post
    Can I just add a possibly very unpopular opinion here... I think that Liane is right, you need to write for an audience, when you write for yourself, what interest is there for the reader? I personally do not like poetry for the very reason that it is mostly all written for the writer. I have nothing to connect to or anything to have an interest in as I really honestly don't care about the writer. This is something that I think writers and particularly poets forget or don't know - most readers don't care about you, they want something that speaks to them, not about you.

    Not to say that you can't write for yourself... but do it just for yourself and don't try and publish those works or share them, let them be exactly what they are... personal.

    P.S. You are welcome Sas, it was great talking to both Sheenagh and Liane as they are fascinating people.
    I don't think it's an unpopular opinion, I just personally know that I will never publish any of my poetry, because that isn't what I focus on as a writer overall. I'm a prose guy by trade so I stick with that. But, it would be a waste for me to write poetry for an audience that will never see it. I'd rather put that collective effort into a piece of a novel or short story.

    But Liane is right, for any true poet who wishes to share with many, try to push it towards an overearthing audience.
    "He slides into second with a stand-up double." - Jerry Coleman
    "Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth." - Lou Gehrig
    "After Jackie Robinson, the most important black in baseball history is Reggie Jackson." - Reggie Jackson
    "Your Holiness, I'm Joe Medwick. I, too, used to be a Cardinal." - Joe Medwick to Pope Pius XII
    "I think Tim Wakefield would even say tonight that Tim Wakefield got to Tim Wakefield tonight." - Tim McCarver

  9. #9
    That is exactly why, as I said, it is the Achilles heel of poets. In my opinion, of course. They write for themselves. I don't believe it's possible for many to do otherwise. Poetry seems cathartic for those who write it. Most are not trying to do anything except purge themselves.

  10. #10
    Extrapolation of favoured styles, authors, and techniques can help when applied to poetry. Story for the sake of story, allegory, and the power of parallels. Third person perspective is an element that is far more scarce in poetry than it is in prose. But it also has an affinity to the reader's empathy and strengthens the fourth wall. It is a small step, but the extra space allows the reader some breathing room and grants a broader view of overarcing themes and imagery. It makes for a more universal read.

    First person perspective poetry is almost uncomfortably close, especially if content is not something the reader can empathize with. A bit like pretending to be someone you're not. An introvert at a crowded party. (I, first person perspective, also has a tendency to be the dominating pronoun within the medium...And has a way of battering against the fourth wall. Not a perspective I care for, so I rarely deploy it. The reader doesn't want my POV in their head.)

    As a third person perspective poet, (an acknowledged niche), I know I approach the medium at an odd angle, but there is a conguency between the style I deploy and the poets I like to read. It comes down to perspective and how well the fourth wall holds. Strauss is right when she talks about writing for the audience. It is something that has come up on the boards before and will again. Has the author left room for the reader? It is an aspect not a lot of poets consider because as prior posts mention, much of the poetry here is written as a purge. In essence, theraputic poetry.

    I write for the stories, something I've done all right with. (Nonsense being a universal language has led to several commissions for the pieces of whimsy I do.)

    Strauss gave an excellent interview. Well grounded.

    - D. the T.
    Last edited by Darkkin; April 16th, 2017 at 02:46 PM.


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