The poetry editors, Rappahannock Review: For many, writing can be a means to cope with the uncertainties and tragedies occurring in the world. In what particular way(s) has writing poetry served you?
Patricia Budd: I have been writing poems since 1948 through wars, 22 school changes, deaths and other losses. Writing clarifies these passages and provides street lamps on paths out of chaos. Poetry lights the way.
RR: Inferring from the dedication, the events in “Kiss” occurred over 60 years ago. What inspired you to write this poem so many years later? Did the time gap make it challenging for you to draw back the emotions shown in this piece?
PB: It is not a recent poem. It has been in several drawers for 12 years. It is the first poem I ever wrote about the death of my mother. The question might be: Why did I now choose to submit it for publication? I’ve been reading several poets recently who have lit some side roads and highway connectors I had not traveled before. Their poetry made the elapsed time seem inconsequential, led me both backward and forward emotionally. That is, after all, a primary job of poetry.
RR: Having worked as a professional engineer, how has your career experience influenced your perspectives towards writing?
PB: Ah, science. Science uses tools like metaphor too in the service of clarity. Especially when writing and talking about abstract ideas. Poets tend toward the same thing, using metaphor to illuminate abstractions like love and grief. It’s okay, it works. Like scientists, I prefer writing that uses common language, words and phrasing with which most readers can identify and follow. Poems and scientific writing that obscures the meaning, makes the readers work overtime, does a disservice. I prefer everyday images with which readers can form an emotional connection. Perhaps that comes from the engineering part of my soul.
RR: As someone who has been writing for many years, do you have any advice for newer writers just starting out?
PB: Read. Read. Then read some more. Read poetry, history, essays, fiction, the newspaper, the ads in the subway, the street signs. Find your community, befriend the ideas of those whom you admire and even those you find difficult. And practice. Take pen (or iPAD or whatever) in hand and WRITE. When you get a sense that you have finally caught why you have written this poem, give it away, send it in, it’s a gift to yourself and to your (mostly anonymous) readers.
RR: Writing from one’s memories is always a tricky balance between being true to what happened and true to how you feel about what happened; in your experience, either with this particular poem or any other you’ve written, how does the genre of poetry simplify or complicate this delicate process?
PB: If you feel you must choose, always choose your current emotional reason for writing about any subject, past or present or imagined future. Poetry requires that you clarify your emotional responses to experiences, real or imagined. Poetry in some ways simplifies this complicated process. You can choose to use or omit details as you build to the emotional “truth” you wish to convey. This is true for any kind of writing. Check your facts, sure – but you are not a court reporter at a life-or-death trial. Your tools reside right there in your own flesh. The brain is a flesh and blood filing cabinet. It stores reams of memories and imagined things and indexes them in flesh pathways. But flesh deteriorates with age. Thus specific memories may become lost, unreachable or confused as paths tangle. This is true for all matter – even the car you so enjoy driving rusts and your favorite sit-by-the-ocean rock erodes and the tears you shed when your first puppy got lost dry. The joy of the wind in your hair and the annoyance of that same hair blown in your face as you drove or sat by the ocean remains. The tears you cried when the puppy was lost may have dried but the warmth of the love of that puppy is with you for a lifetime. It’s as simple and as complex as that.
Patricia Budd’s work in Issue 4.1: