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An Interview With Poet Terri Witek

Poet Terri Witek

This week at the Poetry Blog of 32 Poems Magazine my interview with poet Terri Witek was posted. She’s a contributor to the magazine and was a delight to interview, especially since she’s got some interesting things to say about Brazil and Elizabeth Bishop.

First, let me tantalize you with a bit from the interview, and then you can go on over and check the rest out for yourself.

Without further ado, here’s the interview.

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 love ephemeral creations, and as I have been working with Brazilian new media artist Cyriaco Lopes since 2005, have become more and more enamored of doing things that disappear—words and images (he uses photographs and video), sound pieces. We did some ipod voice pieces for an installation and I loved that…watching people lean into the rooms to catch fragments, etc. Of course I still love words on the page. But I really like staging “events” with him where we switch out—it feels unexpected, even when I know what’s going to happen, as I do now with the day you left, a 50-minute piece we’ve done several times. Actually, I find collaboration deeply mysterious and satisfying. I make no larger claims for it except that it puts you right into someone else’s technical stuff in a way that seems pretty magic. Is this equalizing? More that to play together in the same space feels temporary and precious. Maybe world peace would feel just like this.

When writing poetry, prose, essays, and other works do you listen to music, do you have a particular playlist for each genre you work in or does the playlist stay the same? What are the top 5 songs on that playlist? If you don’t listen to music while writing, do you have any other routines or habits?

I listen to music in the car and in the cardio room—usually only playlist rule is that it has to be in Portuguese. But my husband Rusty made a playlist of R&B hits from the year of the Civil Rights Act (1964) that Cyriaco and I used in an installation, and that’s now completely internalized.

But not when I work—I get the rhythms mixed up. My husband works with music, so I hear it in the distance during the day and evening. But I write early—before 9am—so it’s bird cacaphonics for the most part. School busses. Trash pick-up. The girl who crosses the lawn to the bus stop talking to friends on her phone.

Do you have any favorite foods or foods that you find keep you inspired? What are the ways in which you pump yourself up to keep writing and overcome writer’s block?

You sound like a gym rat yourself—and maybe a CSA member! Rusty is a great cook and as one or another of our kids is usually a vegetarian he’s very resourceful and skilled. Loves doing it, thanks goodness, as I’m impatient and inattentive (bad kitchen combo). Ost of our local friends are foodies so I just let them do it. My contribution is putting fruit in different colored Pyrex bowls

(Unfortunately, I’m not a gym rat, so much as an outdoor hiker and walker, but I do love food.)

Do you have any obsessions that you would like to share?

Well, I’m completely enthralled by museums, galleries, and contemporary art sites. I now go to Miami Art Basel every year. I have had some of my very best moments in the presence of great art—-sometimes even not great art that just catches me in a certain way. Fill in your own amazing experiences with such things here.

But mostly something just sorts of presents itself and then I follow it without trying to think too much. For example, last summer in Brazil I slept in a pouso in Ouro Preto where it turns out Elizabeth Bishop had stayed. I felt such a hit from that room I’m going back alone this year to try to write in the room. We’ll see what this is about—I have a few mini-stirrings, but am ignoring them, as it’s early days. But I have the plane ticket, and a folder that says “Ouro Preto.”

She also included a poem for readers to check out:

Ale’m

q. Where am I?
a. Ale’m (Beyond)
q. What am I tripping over when I try to wake up?
a. Rock underwater
a. Rock awash at any stage of the tide

Given that one eye, the forgetting one, plays it close to the vest, stays small. Given that from here no mar with its fault line horizon, no broken tide of the mouth.

No greeting but green. Fanned (given) but no veil, no dingy velvet curtain yanked to burlesque in a banana hat, Tem Banana na Banda. The ship depends on frapping line, flares, buoys, subjected people. Today’s left eye, opening first, depends on palmetto, the understory, what can be eaten without collapsing into some telenovela loop of how the bus left Arlington without her. How the man said my puppy’s in the car. A palmetto, one or more handed, fibers by the brown millions curled at the base. Green motionless wavings. The lid palpitating a little–not in memory’s exhaustive enumerations (palmetto), not in surprised-in-sand lanterns (palmetto), but in green (verde, verdade) the truth.

About the Poet:

Terri Witeks books include The Shipwreck Dress (Orchises Press, 2008), Carnal World (Story Line Press, 2006), Fools and Crows (Orchises Press, 2003) , Courting Couples (Winner of the 2000 Center for Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Contest) and  Robert Lowell and LIFE STUDIES: Revising the Self (University of Missouri Press, 1993).  A native of northern Ohio, she holds the Art and Melissa Sullivan Chair in Creative Writing at Stetson University, where she teaches both literature and poetry workshops.

Please check out the rest of the interview on 32 Poems Blog.

  • Beth Hoffman

    I really enjoyed this interview, and the poem is fascinating!

  • Interesting interview, and I like the unique structure of the poem. It’s definitely one that I’d have to revisit numerous times to gain some understanding.
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