Interview with Poet Barbara Orton

I’ve been working on a interview project with Deborah at 32 Poems magazine, and she kindly allowed me to interview past contributors to the magazine. We will be posting the interviews throughout the coming months, and our fifth interview posted on Deborah’s Poetry Blog of 32 Poems on Feb. 24.

I’m going to provide you with a snippet from the interview, but if you want to read the entire interview, I’ll provide you a link for that as well.

For now, let me introduce to you 32 Poems contributor, Barbara Orton:

1. You are a contributor to 32 Poems. What do you find most challenging about your writing practices and why? Would you have any advice to amateur poets?

Even though I’ve written for publication for 18 years, my writing practice is still erratic. I admire those writers who get up and write for an hour or two every morning, but I’ve never been one of them. In a productive year, I might finish ten or fifteen publishable poems; in a dry year, maybe one or two.

Right now, my biggest challenge is balancing my writing with my academic schedule. A year ago, I moved away from Washington, D.C., where I worked as a freelance editor, to enroll in the PhD program in English at Tufts. I love being a graduate student, but it sucks away my time and energy in a way that editing never did.

My advice to a beginning poet would be to find or create an ongoing writing group, and to take classes whenever you can. The criticism, friendship, and support can be invaluable, and so can the regular deadlines.

2. Do you see spoken word, performance, or written poetry as more powerful or powerful in different ways and why? Also, do you believe that writing can be an equalizer to help humanity become more tolerant or collaborative? Why or why not?

I don’t feel qualified to comment on spoken word or performance poetry because my exposure to it has been limited, and, honestly, what I’ve encountered hasn’t been very much to my taste. I don’t mean to dismiss its value or interest to other people; I just don’t think I can make a judgment on its importance. I do enjoy reading my own poems out loud, though, and listening to other poets read their work.

I’d like to believe that writing can help people become more tolerant, and possibly more collaborative, but I don’t necessarily aspire to that in my own work. I just try to write good poems–emotionally powerful, formally successful, surprising. I love lyric poetry, but I don’t think it’s the genre I’d choose if I were trying to make the world a better place.

3. Most writers will read inspirational/how-to manuals, take workshops, or belong to writing groups. Did you subscribe to any of these aids and if so which did you find most helpful? Please feel free to name any “writing” books you enjoyed most (i.e. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott).

I always write more and better when I’m in a workshop. Over the past few years, I’ve taken classes at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Md., and I’m still in touch with the ongoing poetry group that developed out of one of those classes five years ago. I’ve also taken summer workshops at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

About the Poet:

Barbara J. Orton’s poems appear in four anthologies, The New Young American Poets (Southern Illinois University Press), New Voices (Academy of American Poets), Under the Rock Umbrella (Mercer University Press), and In Our Own Words: A Generation Defining Itself, Volume 7 (MW Enterprises). Her work also appears in journals including Ploughshares, Pleiades, and (most recently) The Yale Review, and in a Web chapbook published by The Literary Review and Web del Sol . She is currently seeking a publisher for her first two book manuscripts, Stealing the Silver and What I Did Instead of Love. She can be reached at [email protected].

Want to find out what Barbara’s writing space looks like? What music she listens to while she writes? Find out what she’s working on now, her obsessions, and much more. Check out the rest of my interview with Barbara here. Please feel free to comment on the 32 Poems blog and Savvy Verse & Wit.