Robin Stratton has the privilege of granting me my first ever poetry rejection. Editor of Boston Literary Magazine, she has exacting criteria for the poems and flashes she runs every season. She also granted me one of my first story acceptances, a drabble (100 words) relating to my father's battle with the big third letter of the alphabet. She exudes enthusiasm and compassion, in her work and in her dealings with other writers. I adore -- and respect -- this woman.
We grabbed a couple of ice cream cones from Steve's and walk around Harvard Square, poking into Grolier's and chatting about how young the undergraduates looked, about how grand her upcoming debut novel will look on the shelves of the Harvard Book Store, and snuck in a few words about her poem and the writing collaboration...
As far as I was concerned it was just one more day
in that summer of gloom & bitchiness
The stores were filled with the same old new so we
took ourselves out to the bright old
Parking lot where we tossed mirrored balls in the fire
Pit & they shattered in glistening silence
We didn't plan to cut and bleed onto someone else's
ashes. But the pressured heat of the sun told us to try.
So we secreted ourselves and our thin skin behind cotton
too long, and fed dandelions poking between upheaved asphalt
To tiny chameleons who roared in approval
their tales shimmering neon
Heat rose from the asphalt and clung to our ankles so
We ran and stirred dust that lay dormant for millennia
Lungs bursting, full hallucinogenic dust
Dust of our ancestors, I know them now.
You write poetry and prose - which calls to you more, and why?I've always been a novelist, nothing else, never dabbled in poetry at all... but when I started Boston Literary Magazine, dammit, I had to try... I always admired poets... my first poems were free verse, but timidly structured, with lines ending on a natural pause. As I watched other (much better poets) end lines where it would never occur to me, I liked it and started doing it myself... I like the result a lot.
How would you characterize your poetry voice? your prose voice? Extremely narrative... I am not much into descriptive poetry... I always feature a character doing something ordinary but with a universal result; I like to write something that I think people - women mostly - can relate to and say, OMG, I do that too!
What inspired the first lines of your poem? I borrowed the tone from the first line of Kerouac's On the Road (which is my second favorite line in the book) something about him being down and out on account of a bad split with his ex or something... I wanted to see where that energy would go.
When you wrote the first line(s), did you have a preconceived idea of how your poem would shape and form? If yes, what was that vision? Yes, I thought people would stay with the character, and they didn't.
What surprised you about the final version? I was surprised by the power and finesse of the writing, but personally would like to have gotten to know my "I" character a bit more.
What are you working on now? Three chapbooks - Interference from an Unwitting Species (poetry), Some Anniversary Dinner! (based upon an idea that Doug had... half the book is one story and you turn it over and the other half is another story) and a chapbook about the Beat Generation (About the Beats - Who They Were, What They Said & Why.) I also just received very exciting news - that my novel Of Zen and Men will be published by a brand new publishing company based in San Fran... wicked wicked cool!!
I didn't touch the poem - the end result really fascinated me... I loved the image of "tiny chameleons who roared in approval, their tales shimmering neon..." damn, I oughta steal that sometime..... and the sense that "They" were running away from their desperation... and you got the sense that maybe they could find escape... and then Doug's line snatched that away and the tone turned so melancholy... which was how the poem began. I was just really super impressed by everyone's writing! I think that every single one of you captured that Beat energy, maybe without even realizing it!
Bio: Robin Stratton is a writing coach in the Boston area, director of The Newton Writers and Poets Center, editor of Boston Literary Magazine, and author of Dealing With Men and The Revision Process – A Guide for Those Weeks, Months or Years Between Your First Draft and Your Last. Her fiction has appeared in Word Riot, Poor Richard's Almanac(k), Antithesis Common, Chick Flicks, 63 Channels, Blink-Ink, Pig in a Poke, Shoots and Vines and many others. Visit her at Robin Stratton.