INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTINE POTTER
Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: We like how your poem, “As If We Were Anything But,” begins with the speaker’s acknowledgment in defying her family’s credo. How often do you feature themes of defiance in your writing?
Christine Potter: I think the fact that I write about my family at all is a sort of defiance. Let me be clear at the outset: I really, really loved and love my family. I come from a line of smart people who devoted themselves to learning, music, and the arts. But the dark side of that was the period in which I grew up: the 50s and 60s. An amazing time, but not a time when you could easily talk about the emotional struggles you saw happening in your family or (God forbid) write it down and show it to a teacher or friend. We were big “this doesn’t leave this dinner table, do you understand?” types. I also have some poems about aging and sexism that are pretty defiant. So I guess it’s both a big (not obvious) theme, and a lesser (more obvious) one.
RR: The structure combines a litany form with quatrain stanzas. Compared to alternate ways, does this organization impact how you hope readers connect with the piece?
CP: I write a kind of shaped free verse. And I like litanies. I spent many years of my life working in my husband’s church music programs as a singer and sometimes a sound producer. A litany is something that gets into your bones as you repeat it, and I hoped that the poem’s main idea—that my family’s fear of exposure was based on their belief that there was something different and hence shameful about them—would be amplified by the repetition. There was nothing to be ashamed of! And no one should need permission to say that. I think I use the shapes (but not the meter or regular rhyme, usually) of formal poetry as kind of a potholder when I’m writing about “hot” issues. I don’t write about stuff that’s not emotionally important to me.
RR: We’ve noticed your poems tend to focus on the speaker’s reflections of familial dynamics. Are there other themes that you frequently explore in your writing?
CP: I write about current events a fair amount. I’m a bit of a politico. I’ve written about the war in Ukraine frequently (had two poems in Rattle Poets Respond about it). I’m fascinated by big weather, and I write about storms. I write about my husband, who seems very exotic to me; I was raised near New York City, and he came out of a family farm in Southern Indiana. Like most poets, I wrote my share of Covid laments. I write about God, too. I’m a lefty-Christian. If you know me well, you’ll probably show up in a poem. I write pretty much daily.
RR: You’ve published work in several genres, ranging from poetry to young adult books. Is there a genre you prefer to write in more than others?
CP: Right now, the poetry feels the best. I have written a young adult time travel series called The Bean Books—a five-book set. Writing time travel is absolutely the 3-D chess cliché. It makes your brain hurt, but it’s really fun. I like writing paranormal fiction—big plots, wild stories. It’s escapist fun. I’ve written a couple of mildly naughty romances under the name Aletta Thorne (my great-grandma’s name and isn’t it a great romance nom de plume?) But I turned seventy last fall and it occurred to me that I should go with my first love for a while and focus on the poems. I think I wrote my first poetry when I was around seven.
RR: If you could read any book again for the first time, which book would it be and why?
CP: Oh, wow. Hmmm. Anne Sexton’s Live or Die blew me away when I first read it as a kid, but that’s not the answer. And Marie Howe’s What The Living Do blew me away as a grownup, but that’s not the answer, either. This is going to sound odd, but I think the answer is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. That’s because everything is in that book. Twain’s nature descriptions, written in Huck’s voice, are as good as any poetry I’ve read. The theme of the book (or what I think the theme is this week) is as sure an indictment of the worst of capitalism and racism as anything. It’s by turns horrifying and hilarious. Seeing that for the first time and knowing everything else I know now as an old lady—that would be pretty great.
Read “As If We Were Anything But” by Christine Potter.