November 20, 2009
Inscape: Who are some of your favorite poets?
Annelise Duerden: I’m a little old fashioned in that I read the metaphysical poets pretty heavily. So my favorite poets include people like John Donne, George Herbert, Andrew Marvell, Henry Vaughan. More contemporary writers include Elizabeth Bishop or Li Young Lee.
Inscape: Would you say that your writing is a response to things you’ve read? How is your work responding to a tradition that you’re interested in?
AD: I often find that my poetry is in conversation with John Donne, whether I intended it to be or not. I think it’s because I read his work so often. But my poetry responds not only to texts but also to what I experience in the world, whether that’s the natural world or other people.
Inscape: What qualifies your poems as being “complete”?
AD: I never feel that a poem is complete. I’m one of those obsessive revisers. After a certain point I feel that I’ve given a poem all that I can and I have to move on for a while. But then I’ll come back and continue to revise it. I never feel like a poem is completely done. I’m going to be one of those poets like Yeats who is still revising poems fifty years later.
Inscape: When you look back on poetry you’ve written do you sense a change in your emotion or a reaction to your poems as your life continues to change?
AD: I think at different times I’m engaging with different ideas and different theories of writing, so I have a different focus. Sometimes I’ll come back to something and feel like I’ve moved on to thinking in a different way about both poetry and the subject matter. So yes, I have a different experience with a poem over time.
Inscape: Why, of all the literary genres, do you choose to write poetry? It’s a genre that seems to be less and less appreciated and overlooked. So why write poems?
AD: Well, it’s the thing that I find most interesting to read and I think it’s just the way that my brain works. I’ve tried writing fiction before and the comment I usually get is “This is beautiful language, but I have no idea what’s going on.” I’m not the kind of writer who thinks in a narrative. I’m really interested in the function of language itself and I think poetry is the best genre to explore that.
Inscape: When others have read your poems, what’s the most surprising reaction or interpretation you have heard of your poetry?
AD: I think one of my favorite comments I ever got in a workshop was “You need to get Christ out of your poem,” which really surprised me. I write a lot about my experiences in the Middle East because I lived there for a few months and, just kind of, without thinking about it, it sounded like I was talking about a sort of Christology instead of about contemporary Palestine. So that’s what comes to mind as maybe the most surprising comment that I’ve ever gotten. It’s a funny idea of excising the divine out of your poetry.
Inscape: Your work seems to be concerned with the spiritual, and some of your poems even read like prayers. What’s the value of poetry for you? Does it serve a prayer-like function?
AD: I do have some poems that I feel function very much as prayer. I feel like poetry brings us outside of ourselves into consideration of the rest of the world, other people, and in turn, that leads us to an exploration of the divine. So I do see poetry very much as an act of communion, whether that’s with God or with the reader.
Inscape: What advice would you give to beginning poets who find themselves being turned down or are just trying to get a foothold in the world of poetry?
AD: I would tell them to just keep writing. I think the more you write the more success you have. Also not to get discouraged if your first attempts get turned down because you’ll get better. And you’ll develop thicker skin. Just keep writing.