Interview: Beth Gordon

Beth Gordon is a poet, mother and grandmother, currently landlocked in St. Louis, MO. Her poems have been published in numerous journals including Into the Void, Noble/Gas, Five:2:One, SWWIM, Verity La, Califragile, Pretty Owl Poetry and Yes Poetry. She is also the Poetry Editor of Gone Lawn

What is your favorite creative medium?

Poetry

What do you love about that medium (i.e. why do you create that way)?

I’ve been drawn to poetry since I was a child. I love being able to create whole emotional landscapes in a relatively compact form.

How do you begin your creative process? For instance, if you are a writer, how do you get into a writing session?

I have both a formal and informal process. The formal process is writing with my friend/fellow writer almost every Friday night. My informal process is that I’m almost always tuned into things I hear, see, read, experience and I take notes on paper, cell phone, computer, backs of receipts … and save those ideas for later. I tend to see my poems as puzzles. I have gathered the pieces and I know these random ideas and images are connected, I just have to figure it out and convince the reader of that larger connection.

Do you have a particular place where you collect these images? Like your phone or a notebook? Or do you just keep them in your head?  

I collect my ideas on my phone and computer, mostly.  I then have to be disciplined to return to those ideas and see what I can create from them.  

Also, what kind of images have you been finding more generative recently? Particularly for your most recent chapbooks? 

So it might be easier to give you an example because the variety of things that “spark” an idea from me range from something I see in my neighborhood (dead possum) to a headline I read to a movie I’m watching to a conversation.  A great example in my new chapbook is the poem, “During the Battle of Gettysburg the Union Band Played Polkas”.  The title of the poem was actually something I heard when watching a documentary about the Civil War.  And I had recently read the book, Endurance, about Shackleton’s expedition to the South Pole…and there was this banjo that the men carried with them through this entire arduous journey in which they had to repeatedly leave things behind.  But they never left the banjo behind.  I started thinking about that juxtaposition between violence and music, or tragedy and music.  I chewed on that idea for a long time and after my grandson was born I kept thinking how I don’t want him to be a violent man, I want him to care more about music than war, and so I took all these ideas and snippets and put the puzzle together.

Where is your favorite place to write?

At my friend’s kitchen table in Highland, IL which we have dubbed the “magic kitchen table” because we have written so much poetry there. I think it’s Pavlovian at this point. I can be struggling all week to write, but when I sit down at that table…the “magic” begins.

It’s really interesting to me that you primarily write around others. Do you find that your writing is collaborative by nature? What is the biggest benefit you get from working around others?

I also find it interesting that I mostly write with another person.  That’s not something I was doing five years ago.  I thought of writing as a solitary activity.  When I started writing with my friend, JD, it was usually because we had a writing assignment for a writer’s guild that we are both members of.  The meetings are Saturday mornings so we would get together on Friday night to work on that assignment.  Then we started sharing other poems we were writing with each other.  We do not collaborate, i.e. we have not co-authored anything, but we often write about the same topic.  What we’ve learned is that it is SO important to read your poetry out loud. It’s now part of my editing process.  I hear things when I read the poem to another person that I would not hear just reading it in my head.   Also, when one of us is not feeling very motivated, we will challenge each other.  The closest comparison I can make is that we are like a garage band.  We get together every Friday night and practice.  And after five years, the practice has paid off.  Our writing is better (I hope) and we are both getting published frequently.  

What is your favorite music to create to and why?

Too many to name.  Sorry this was such a boring answer. I listen to rock, pop, Americana and some country from the 1960’s through today.  No surprise that I like lyrically driven songs.  

What piece of literature (i.e. CNF, poetry, short story, novel, collection, etc.) set you on fire most recently and why?

I heard Alicia Mountain read at AWP in Portland. Her book, High Ground Coward, is amazing. I’m also loving The Mobius Strip Club of Grief by Bianca Stone.

What literature or art magazines get you excited and why?

I don’t think I can do justice to all the wonderful literature journals that are out there. Returning to the poetry community after 15 years has been an amazing experience. I love the variety, diversity and inclusiveness.

Where is one place that every person who considers themselves a “creative type” needs to travel to and why?

I don’t think I can choose one place that would apply to every creative type. Instead I will say that it is so important to get out of your daily routine and environment. Not everyone has the means to travel, so even if it’s just going for a walk to a local park or going to a landmark in your city/town that you’ve never visited.

What advice would you give to your younger self about the creative process?

My advice to my younger self is very simple: Don’t stop writing! And also, read more poetry!

What are you currently working on?

My first chapbook, Morning Walk with Dead Possum, Breakfast and Parallel Universe was released on May 1st by Animal Heart Press. I also have a chapbook coming out later this year titled Particularly Dangerous Situation. It is being published by Clare Songbird Publishing House.

Where can we get updates about your newest projects (i.e. do you have a blog/website/twitter?)

I’m on Twitter.  @bethgordonpoet

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