Friday, April 12, 2013

Friday's at the Piedmont Grille

On Today's Menu -- Laurel Garver

Because April is National Poetry Month, I thought it might be nice to have a real live poet here at the Piedmont Grille and Laurel has graciously agreed to sit down and chat. For those of you who don't know Laurel, she writes prolific blog posts on the craft of writing and editing.
 You can find her here at Laurel's Leaves.

Let's jump in.

1) As an editor, you've likely seen all kinds of crazy writing. What's the one thing you see over and over again and wish writers would stop doing?

Apostrophe abuse makes me cranky. The craziest thing I deal with is editing non-native English speakers, who carry over quirks from their native languages. For example, some eastern European languages don’t have possessives (they’d say “the truck of Bob”) and some Asian ones don’t have articles (a, an, the), so making the English sound natural is very tedious.

Some days, my English is very tedious. lol Although, I do like the sound of "the truck of Bob". Harkens back to the romance languages.

2) Poetry (to me) is a somewhat exotic form of writing. Simple words and phrases are turned into something else entirely. Take your poem “Affliction” for instance.


In the decade between

dawn and alarm sound,

a new story swells

like a sprained ankle.

It pains you to wakefulness.

Dough-rising, volume-doubling,

pressing ever outward,

it stretches the sorry sock

that deigns to contain it.

Huge and purple it emerges,

in every sense an enormity.

The only medicine for it

is bloodletting, bard-style:

pen, paper, patient play.

© Laurel Garver, 2013.

Writer's angst is now turned into a sprained ankle. How do you do that? Is it another way of thinking entirely? Or do you just "see" it?

Poetry writing involves making intuitive connections between things. It’s looking at clouds and seeing fantastical shapes rather than just water molecules gathered in the atmosphere. Most everyone has the ability to do that (especially when we’re young). It’s really a matter of cultivating it rather than letting conventional ways of viewing the world quash it.

Peter Mayle, one of my favorite writer's, can do this as well, although I don't think he writes poetry.

3) I believe poetry is undervalued in this country unless it rhymes and we learned it as a kid. Why do you think that is?

I think there are forms of poetry that are valued today. They take poetry back to its oral-tradition roots and tend to have a performance element--song lyrics, spoken word, slam poetry, rap. Take apart just about anything Eminem has written, and you’ll see a poetic that draws on the Beats (1950s-60s counterculture)--the intricate sound play, the satire, and interest in the urban poor and social justice.

Sometime in the last century, poetry became increasingly by and for people with advanced degrees. Because of that, the average reader believes all poems are difficult to understand.

Apart from the mean streets or a classroom, most Americans only encounter poems in greeting cards. Those sentimental, one-note pieces aren’t really representative of what good poetry is or can be. Yet there are hundreds of journals publishing quality, accessible poems. I suspect we could see a renaissance if a few film and TV stars talked up loving poetry. Hey, it worked for knitting and veganism.

Very true.

4) I used to read poetry when I was a teenager. Rod McKuen was one of my favorite "modern" poets, and I don't think there has been another of his caliber for quite some time. Can you share your favorites?

Some contemporary favorites are Annie Dillard, Scott Cairns, David Citino, Denise Levertov, Geoffrey Hill. I’m oddly fond of the Beatnik poets Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti--their use of soundplay, their often weird subject matter, their emotional intensity. Going even earlier, I love the work of Dylan Thomas and Gerard Manley Hopkins.

On my quest to read more this summer, some of these authors will definitely be on my list.

5) Writing poetry takes a certain amount of discipline, more so, I think, than any other writing. I grapple with my writing angst all the time. Does it make sense? Is it too much conflict? Is it not enough? etc. etc. Do you "fight" the same way with a poem as you would a novel?

Poetry is far more condensed than other forms of writing, so it takes patience to tinker until the rhythm and word choices work. I find writing poetry less difficult than fiction writing, though. Poems are by nature short and very focused, which to me is easier than weaving the many threads of fiction over many pages and incidents. Like any genre, if you read it a lot, you become steeped in that way of thinking.

Laurel, thanks so much for being here today. It's been a real treat having you.

Laurel Garver is a magazine editor, poet, and writer of faith-based fiction. She enjoys quirky independent films, British TV, and geeking out about Harry Potter and Dr. Who. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter.

About Muddy-Fingered Midnights

This thirty-poem collection is an eclectic mix of light and dark, playful and spiritual, lyric and narrative free verse. In an intricate dance of sound play, it explores how our perceptions shape our interactions with the world. Here child heroes emerge on playgrounds and in chicken coops, teens grapple with grief and taste first love, adults waver between isolation and engaged connection. It is a book about creative life, our capacity to wound and heal, and the unlikely places we find love, beauty, and grace.

Buy Links: $1.99 e-book

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all other ereaders (;

$6.50 paperback (


Linda G. said...

Muddy-Fingered Midnights sounds like a lovely read. Great title, too!

Anne Gallagher said...

Linda -- I love this title, and from roaming around the blogs and reading about this fantastic book, has made me realize I miss reading poetry. I can't wait to dive into this.

Laurel Garver said...

Linda: Thanks. Glad you like the title. It's taken from the final piece in the collection, "A Writer's Parable," which explores fear in the creative process.

Anne: Thanks so much for having me today. It has been a blast talking about poetry with you and your readers. Such great questions!

Anne Gallagher said...

Laurel -- Thank you for being here. Poetry has always been a favorite of mine and I feel it's gotten a bad rap over the years by people who don't understand it.

Just trying to spread the love.

~Sia McKye~ said...

I enjoyed reading this.

I've always written poetry-in one form or another. It's always been a kind of therapy. Great for distilling emotions. I think the sound of it has always drawn me.

There are quite a few from Dylan Thomas' time I do like.

I think what I like about Hopkins is his word choices (considering when he wrote they were rather unique) painted against his imagery. Something observed and then the connections he sees beyond that. I've read a lot of his nature poems which, most of the time, had overtones of his beliefs. Interesting man.

"Poetry is far more condensed than other forms of writing, so it takes patience to tinker until the rhythm and word choices work."

It does take patience to get the feel and rhythm down. For me it's in layers. I get the essence down and let it percolate--a lot of tinkering.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

The bit about the sprained ankle made me cringe. I don't get "sprains" per se but I do occasionally suffer from gout that attacks my ankle. It can happen in the middle of the night so I go to bed fine and wake up with it aching in the morning. It's an awful feeling and spot on with what the poem says.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Love the interview! Makes me want to take another poetry class. The Beat poets are some of my favorites, I love the passion, weird subject matter, and, as Laura says, the emotional intensity. That is what poetry is all about. And a good poem has universal appeal, everyone relates. Thanks for a wonderful interview, Anne!

Yvonne Osborne said...

Sorry....I meant Laurel. Hi Laurel!

Laurel Garver said...

Sia: Hopkins was a man before his time, really. His unusual rhythms and soundplay were atypical of his era. I believe none of his work was published during his lifetime, but he's hugely influential to poets after him, especially many modernists.

Your description of the composition process for poems sounds like mine. It's often many drafts or tinkering sessions from first germ of an idea to submittable.

Laurel Garver said...

Michael: You're intimately aware of the kind of pain I try to capture in the poem--and compare to having an idea that wants to be written.

Laurel Garver said...

Yvonne: Glad to have stirred your passion for poetry again. The Beats proved to me that poetry can have grit and spine, a wonderful contrast to some of the very soft, contained, stuffy verse that makes up so much of the English canon.

jabblog said...

For me 'difficult' poetry isn't good poetry. I don't mind having to think hard but I don't like having to search for the key.

Deniz Bevan said...

Great interview Anne and Laurel! It's always exciting to see others talking about poetry.