Interview with Poet Sandra Hochman, author of Loving Robert Lowell

Poets are often an intriguing bunch, and Sandra Hochman is no exception.  She was on the front lines of the women’s movement and even interviewed Gloria Steinem.  She also directed 1973 documentary Year of the Woman.

Her first book in 40 years is a memoir, Loving Robert Lowell (Turner Publishing, June 27, 2017).  Lowell also was a poet and a married man.  The book description says, “Sandra Hochman was 25 when she received a journalism assignment that changed her life: interview Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Lowell. She called him to set a time to speak and he suggested they meet immediately at the Russian Tea Room in New York. There, he confessed he had just left his wife. Many martinis later, they began a heady and disorienting affair with more heat than city asphalt baking in the sun.”

I was lucky enough to send her a few interview questions.  Please give her a warm welcome.

How did you begin as a writer? What inspired you to write, how did you keep going, and what stumbling blocks did you face and overcome?

My parents hated each other. They got divorced when I was young and they sent me to boarding school. In boarding school, I was lucky. God blessed me. I had a great teacher who took an interest in me and encouraged my writing. I was so lonely. His encouragement meant everything to me. I kept writing to get his attention. I found that by writing I was able to get a lot of attention.

Later, having a child of my own was a stumbling block to my writing career because it was expensive to support her. Because her father didn’t support her, I had to write to make money, rather than write for pleasure.

I wrote novels to make money to send my daughter to private school and pay for her nanny. With every book, I got paid. Jogging was Ariel’s 6th grade payment. Happiness Is Too Much Trouble paid for her 10th grade. Each book represented 2 years of her private school. Only my poetry I wrote for pleasure.

You’ve interviewed a number of famous celebrities and feminists in the past, particularly as part of the Year of the Woman documentary.  How did that experience influence or not influence your writing?

Making Year of the Woman with the producer Porter Bibb was the most fun I ever had in my life. I was the co-producer, director, and star. Art Buchwald plays the chauvinist pig and I play the revolutionary feminist.

I had an all-woman crew long before that was a fashionable thing to do. The difference between making a documentary and writing is the difference between going to Pittsburgh or to Paris. Making a film is Paris. It’s so much fun. Especially when you are in charge. Porter let me call the shots.

I also learned the unglamorous parts of making a film: hiring lawyers, making contracts. I loved it all. Movie making made me feel good. It was a boost to my ego, and when you feel good it’s easier to write. When you feel like shit it’s hard to write.

Your memoir, Loving Robert Lowell, will be published this month, what should readers take away from it about being a poet and how the relationship shaped your future?

Robert Lowell gave me wonderful advice. He said, “Sandra, never compete with your peers. Take your poem and float it down the stream of history. The greatest poets don’t compare their work to their peers’.  They compare it to the greatest poets of all time.” It was interesting advice and an important takeaway for me.

The other thing I learned from him is how he framed his problems as “grist for the mill.” He joked that the problem was the mill itself (his mind).

After our affair ended, I was very depressed. Then a few years after Robert Lowell and I broke up, I realized I could not have handled the problems of his illness. I was glad that I was no longer with him. But it took a few years. I never was as happy with any man as I was with Robert Lowell. It was the only time in my life when I had a really great relationship. I admired him more than any other man on earth.

Thank you so much, Sandra, for answering my questions.  I have so many more!

About the Poet:

Sandra Hochman is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet with six volumes of poetry. She also authored two nonfiction books and directed a 1973 documentary, Year of the Woman, currently enjoying a renaissance. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker and she was a columnist for Harper’s Bazaar.

Mailbox Monday #431

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog. To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links. Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Martha, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

Loving Robert Lowell by Sandra Hochman

Turner Publishing proudly presents the first of three new literary works by Sandra Hochman, author of Walking Papers. When asked in 1976 by a reporter from People Magazine if her first two novels were autobiographical, Sandra Hochman replied, “My real life is much more fabulous than the books. One day I plan to write about it–men, Paris and women’s liberation. It will probably be called Unreal Life.”

Hochman first met Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Robert Lowell in 1961 at the Russian Tea Room in New York. She was to interview him for Encounter magazine. Hochman was twenty-five and had recently returned from Paris where she had lived with her husband for four years. They were now separated. Lowell was forty-three with plans to leave his wife. Hochman remembers it as the day that changed her life. The two poets fell in love instantly, and before the night was over, they had vowed to stay together forever. In Hochman’s first literary work in almost forty years, she writes in startling detail about the torrid and ultimately doomed affair that would follow.

Modern Persuasion by Sara Marks, a giveaway win from Diary of an Eccentric.

Which would you pick: the person you love or your own dreams?
What would you do if given a second chance at that decision?

Eight years ago Emma Shaw picked her career and family over the man she loved, Fredrick Wentworth. Since then she has built a career in publishing and spends her free time making sure her father and sisters are taken care of. Fredrick has spent the same years building his career as a screenwriter under increasing public scrutiny as a celebrity. When the editor of Fredrick’s first book is injured, Emma is forced to travel with Fredrick on his book tour.

Tension builds for the two former lovers over the course of the tour. Emma and Fredrick must face their emotional baggage and their misunderstanding about how their break-up impacted the other. Will they be able to find their way back together for a second chance at love?

Tell the Truth. Make It Matter: A Memoir Writing Workbook by Beth Kephart, which I purchased the minute she announced it.

What are we supposed to do with that lovely, infuriating, instigating, mischievous blank page? Who are we, when we’re being uncommonly honest? Where do we stand, in the landscape of truth? How do we discover and profess the story of our life when lives are such strange and messy things? Frankly, why bother?

In Tell the Truth. Make It Matter. Beth Kephart offers an insider’s look at the making of true tales-and an illustrated workbook to guide the wild ride. Combining smartly selected samples with abundantly fresh ideas, dozens of original exercises with cautions, questions with answers, Kephart inspires, encourages, and persistently believes in those with a story to tell. Write this, Truth says. Read this. Consider this. Discover who you are. Have some honest fun with words.

Truth could not come from a more authoritative source-Beth Kephart, who, as an award-winning writer of 22 books, an award-winning teacher at the University of Pennsylvania, a winner of the 2013 Books for a Better Life Award (motivational category) for Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir, a nationally renowned speaker, and a partner in Juncture Writing Workshops, has mastered the art of leading readers and writers toward the stories of themselves. Truth should find a home among high school teachers, college professors, workshop leaders, autodidacts, secret writers and public ones. It is the perfect (graduation, birthday, holiday, friendship) gift-to others, and to oneself.

Dunkirk by Joshua Levine for review for TLC Book Tours.

The epic history of Dunkirk, May 1940: when more than 300,000 trapped Allied troops were dramatically rescued from destruction at the hands of Nazi Germany by an extraordinary seaborne evacuation.

The true history of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and civilians involved in the evacuation during the nine days from 27 May–4 June 1940 has passed into legend.

Now the subject of an epic motion picture from director Christopher Nolan, starring Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy and Mark Rylance – the story Winston Churchill described as a ‘miracle’ is narrated by bestselling author Joshua Levine in its full, sweeping context.

Including new interviews with veterans and survivors, this book goes behind the scenes to explore the real lives of those soldiers, bombed and strafed on the beaches for days on end, without food and ammunition; the civilians whose boats were overloaded; the airmen who risked their lives to buy their companions on the ground precious time; and those who did not escape.

Told from the viewpoints of land, sea and air, Joshua Levine’s Dunkirk is a dramatic account of this glorious defeat.

What did you receive?