Interview With Rose Maria Woodson
Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: We picked “Saganaki” as the opening piece of Issue 10.1 because of the joy it exudes, while also containing nostalgia. How did you approach balancing those two tones as you were writing?
Rose Maria Woodson: I think it helped that this was an actual event. Sometimes my poems are flights of fancy, events I stage or present as a foundation for theme. Not this time. “Saganaki” refers to the time my mom and sisters took me out for my birthday. Many moons ago. And that memory just came to me. I think I wrote the poem sometime back around March, this year. The balancing act of joy and nostalgia was a function of the process of remembering. And that process worked its way throughout the poem itself.
Also, there’s this thing about light. At first, it’s fire. Fire in someone else’s hands. Then the moon. Reflected light. Past light. Green light. And then there’s this stubborn sun in spite of everything and we finally see the light.
RR: We were intrigued by the metaphors in your poem, especially the description of memory as a curtain and the way people “ribbon” into the restaurant. How do you generate images and decide which to use in a poem?
RMW: Sometimes I write a poem. Sometimes the poem writes me. I floated on the river of the poem in “Saganaki.” The whole thing about being taken out for my birthday. That’s love. Gift-wrapped in love is an easy jump from there. And of course, when a group goes to a crowded restaurant, they usually single-file when shown to their table. They “ribbon” which ties into the gift motif.
I like curtains in windows. Even if the window is closed. Still a statement. And if the window is open, the image is so kinetic, so evocative. Moving. Staying in place.
I think poems are organic. I start with an idea, an image, a word. And step stone forward. If you listen, the poem will klieg light the right images.
RR: We love how you employ parataxis, internal rhyme, and alliteration to create a unique rhythm. How do you think about sonics and other devices when writing a poem?
RMW: Sound is very important. As I’m writing, I’m reading what I’ve just written. Rereading. Revising. When I find a clunk of words, words that don’t flow (unless I need a clunk for thematic impact) I try and discern what to remove or add, for better rhythm and rhyme.
RR: We understand you hold an M.A. in Creative Writing from Northwestern. How has your writing practice diverged from when you were a graduate student, and what skills do you still use today?
RMW: It’s always hard for me to comment on my own writing. But…I think when I was at Northwestern, I was more prose than poem. Now I think I’m more concise, more bare-bones metaphors with a slice of similes thrown in. Also, back then, I didn’t give importance to titles. Reg Gibbons got me away from that. Now I try to give a title to all my poems and I think carefully about that title. Now I kill more of my darlings. One skill that I still use: enjambment. I was married to enjambment then. Still going strong even now.
RR: Your poem introduced us to Chicagohenge, which occurs when the street grid of Chicago lines up with the sun’s path across the sky around the spring and fall equinoxes. How did you first encounter Chicagohenge?
RMW: It’s so cool that my little poem introduced you to Chicagohenge. Like a lot of people, I first encountered Chicagohenge on TV, the news. Which was probably the best viewing experience. I mean, people line up for Chicagohenge. All the cameras. All that excitement. You can see it on their faces. So there’s this really cool phenomenon of the sun threading its determined way and there’s this human heart phenomenon, hearts all atwitter. We live in dark times. It’s always good to have something bigger, brighter than yourself to look up to.
Rose Maria Woodson’s work appears in Issue 10.1 here.