Colorado Poets Center E-Words Issue #8
Inside issue #8:
Holding: An Interview with Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer
Trommer’s book, Holding Three Things at Once, was one of three finalists for the 209 Colorado Book Award in Poetry.
The following is an email interview in October of 2009.
BK: Your work as a writer certainly ranges widely. You’re a poet but have also done newspaper columns, on-line columns on parenting (www.parentingsquad.com), a free lance writer for consumer magazines and you’ve given workshops and sessions for groups like the Montrose Hospice, Craig Hospital and the American Business Women’s Association. How do you keep these various creative projects separate? Or are they all combined somehow?
RWT: All writing that has resonance will, in some way, answer this question: What does it mean to be alive? I remember reading something along these lines about 10 years ago in “Writing Naturally” by David Peterson. And I realized he’d identified what thrills me in the writing of a poem, the researching for an essay, or the creation of a workshop. Regardless of what I’m writing, I love the way language allows us to engage with the world around us—how it gives us a path, though no answers, for engaging with what it means to be human.
But meaning is always in flux. The signifier always trips somewhere on its way to the signified. So we traverse with our words, circling, spiraling. “My business,” says Emily Dickenson, “is circumference.” Or as Robert Frost writes in “The Secret Sits,”
We dance round in a ring and suppose
but the secret sits in the middle and knows.
We never get to the secret. But every once in a while, while writing, I think I touch it ever so briefly. Huzzah! And oh the pleasure in the dance, the supposing! The bottom line answer to your question is that they are all combined.
BK: Many of the poems in your latest book deal with your experience as a woman, wife, mother, and fruit-grower. Is this a conscious choice or are these simply things in your life that make you respond poetically? I note that you’ve said one of your objectives is “to help people find the poetry in their lives”.
RWT: I used to beat myself up for not writing with a wider lens. One of my poetic heroes is my close friend and partner in performance Art Goodtimes. His frame is so vast! And mine, as you mention, is so close to home. It was only this year while reading The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp that I made peace with the way different artists embrace what Tharp calls different focal lengths. “It’s one facet out of many that makes up an artist’s creative identity,” she writes. “Yet once you see it, you begin to notice how it defines all the artists you admire. The sweeping themes of Mahler’s symphonies are the work of a composer with a wide vision. … Contrast that with a miniaturist like Satie, whose delicate compositions reveal a man in love with detail.” Like Satie, I’m in love with detail. And I find my particulars in my roles as a woman, mother, organic fruit grower and wife.
For me, poetry is as much about a way of moving through the world as it is a writing practice. Because I read and write poetry, I pay better attention. I challenge myself to rub the mundane till I find where it shines. Having said that, I’m great at putting on “busy blinders”: I can drive a half hour along the San Miguel River and never notice the color of the water because I’m rehashing my to-do list. Consciously adopting a poetic lens puts me in the here and now—whether I’m driving, playing blocks, or canning pears. As the Mad Hatter says to Alice: “You’re not paying attention. And if you don’t pay him, you know he won’t perform.”
BK: You have a number of sonnets in this book, mainly the Italian form. What attracts you to that structure?
RWT: Ah, the sonnet. My enthusiasm for the form began in college when I fell in love with the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins. I was so enthralled with his use of sound that I’d rewrite his poems in the phonetic alphabet to better decipher his patterns. But beyond sound, I marveled at his poetic structures, including many Italian sonnets. Hopkins was drawn, as I am, to the turn. He took many liberties with the form, creating truncated “curtal” sonnets and elongated double sonnets, insisting that what was most important about the form was not the number of lines, but the turn and the 8:6 ratio. There’s something addictive about that turn. It’s so satisfying to twist the first part of the poem and see what wrings out.
Additionally, I enjoy pushing against the confines of meter and rhyme. It’s chaos theory: infinite complexity within a finite space. The rigor of iambic pentameter will often suggest a new word. The struggle to find a welcome rhyme leads the poem in surprising directions … and that surprise is one of the true highs of writing. Then there’s my personal delight in making the form invisible enough that on first or second reading someone might not notice it were a sonnet at all.
I heard an interview with James Merrill on Poets in Person in which he said he would never build his own house—rather to receive a space and design the rooms within it. He likened that to why he appreciated writing in forms. I agree. Though I like to build my own house, too.
BK: The titles for the four sections of the book are lines from a poem within the section. I may have missed it but I couldn’t find a line about “holding three things at once”. Where did the title come from?
RWT: The title came from a phone conversation with my friend Amy Irvine, in which we were laughing about how we were both trying to “hold three things at once” with as much grace as we could. We both felt we were failing.
I have many ideas about what those three things could be for me. My three children. Or work, family and private time. In the book, I sense that the main juggling act is parenting, orcharding, and being in a long marriage. We’re all juggling something. Sometimes I think I’m lucky if it’s only three things and not seventeen!
BK: What can you say about your writing process for poetry?
RWT: About four years ago, my friend Jude Janett challenged a room of poets to choose two other people and write a poem a day for 30 days, emailing our work to each other. Ellen Marie Metrick, Barbara Ford and I immediately said yes to each other and began our regimen on the spring equinox. After a month we were hooked and signed on till the solstice. Though our threesome comes and goes seasonally, I’ve held on to the daily practice—writing almost exclusively at night after the kids are asleep. Now I have six or seven people around the state who share their daily poems with me and vice versa. I love how in this way poetry goes from being a solitary act to a big conversation, a communal affair, or as Lewis Hyde would say, “a gift economy” in which we all give, receive and reciprocate.
Writing a poem a day turns out to be liberating for me. I have a perfectionist streak, which can lead to the blank page blues. But if you write a poem a day, you don’t expect to write a masterpiece every day. I ease up on my expectations. Conversely, when we’re writing every day, chances are sometimes we’ll get a keeper. “If you sit in the aviary long enough,” Billy Collins says, “sooner or later a bird will land on your head.” Ahh! Though as my friend Karen Bellerose responds, “Yeah, and in the meantime you get a lot of poop on your feet.”
BK: You’re a singer and musician as well as your other talents. How does this co-exist with your writing life?
RWT: Perhaps my love of music explains my fascination with poetry as a sonic art. I hear more than see poems on the page. And I care as much about sound as I do about meaning. I think that’s true. I heard an interview with Auden once, in which he said something like, “If you have a choice between a word that means the right thing and a word that sounds better, choose the word that sounds better.” That resonates with my style.
Having written poetry with musicality in mind, it increases the satisfaction of performing, letting the voice and ear really participate in the art, bowing to poetry’s oral and aural roots. Also, I think that years of singing on stage prepared me to be a very comfortable presenter. I like engaging with an audience, often memorizing so that I can have no paper between us. For me, poetry is an exploration of our connections to the world and each other, and the reading is one place where the poet really gets to personalize that connection.
BK: You’ve been named the Poet Laureate of San Miguel County. What does that entail and how do you feel about that?
RWT: I’m a little embarrassed about this. When I was appointed three years ago, I had been director of the Telluride Writers Guild for nearly 10 years and had a very active literary life in the community: bringing writers into the schools every month, running two festivals and three contests, sponsoring workshops and writing circles and performances. And then my husband and I bought a 70-acre orchard north of Delta, which means we live there half the year. And then I had my second child. I retired from the Writer’s Guild and gave up most of my public poetic presence.
As poet laureate, they don’t ask anything of me. There’s no stipend. No expectations. I still go into the schools to visit classrooms and do local readings and signings, but I don’t have a grand laureate project as I would like to. Then I’d have to title my book, Holding Four Things at Once.
BK: What’s a question I should ask?
RWT: Well, there’s one other thing. I have a new book out this week! Intimate Landscape: The Four Corners in Poetry and Photography published by Durango Herald Small Press with photographer Claude Steelman. It’s a gift book, lovely. Wow, did the designer do a great job. Small—8 x 8. Cloth cover (new leaf green) and stunning color photographs. You can check it out at durangoheraldsmallpress.com. I had written it all before the second baby. In fact, it was with the publisher before I ever dreamed of doing Holding Three Things at Once which, incidentally, was also all written before the second baby. I put my poem-a-day practice on hold for seven months after Vivian came along
BK: Thanks, Rosemerry, for taking time now for even one more thing.