The Colorado Poet, #25, Winter 2013-2014

Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer
The Less I Hold

Bob King: Rosemerry, you use a John Ciardi quote as epigraph for one of your poems, “Doubt all else. But praise.”  It seems to me that your poems could all be called “praise” in one way or another. How does that word strike you and how do you see it in your poetry and perhaps your life?

Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer: When I first read this quote, I remember the way my heart leapt up to meet it. I suppose I am coming to believe in the value of all of our experiences. As Rumi would say, “There is not one thought, not one feeling, not any act I would not bow to.” That is a radical kind of praise, one I aspire to.

BK: There are a couple of nods to Buddhism in this book and a poem called “Prayer,” which it certainly is, and a pervasive sense of what some call ‘spirituality’ or the path of wisdom. Your book’s title is part of a line in “What Isn’t Mine” in which you talk about all the things you don’t own: “The less I hold the more I feel / whatever owns the trees is living me.” As a student I called this The Mystical Experience (my Master’s thesis was on Walt Whitman). Now that seems too big and mysterious a phrase for feeling a part of the Larger Life, even in small things. Is this spiritual, or mysticism, or openness to the world on your part, or what? And, I should ask, how does this connect to your work on Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet?

I am not a Buddhist though I play one on TV. Actually, I don’t have a TV.

RMT: I am not a Buddhist, though I play one on TV. Actually, I don’t have a TV. Nor do I have a formal spiritual practice other than inquiry—the art of asking “Who am I.” But as Ramana Maharshi would say, “The purpose of asking who am I is not to arrive at an answer but to dissolve the questioner.” I guess that is part of what the poetry practice does for me—it provides an opportunity to practice getting out of the way, to be lit by the same force “that through the green fuse drives the flower.”

I know that the poems I most admire are the ones in which I can feel that the poets have put themselves in service to the poem, allowing themselves to be wrestled instead of pinning the words into submission. I know when I am writing, I feel the difference in my body when I manipulate a poem instead of flowing and being surprised with it. There is also craft, perspective, education and balance, of course. And they get to dance with intuition and abandon.

And you are right, Bob, to suggest I have been wildly influenced by Rumi. Two years ago, Liquid Light Press published “The Miracle Already Happening: Every Day Life with Rumi,” a collection of poems that have discussions with the mystic and his poems. In the book, Rumi appears in a variety of locales—my kitchen, the beach, the Walmart parking lot. And everywhere he appears, he is making fun of me, or the character in the book who is a lot like me, and pointing out the places where I am holding on, causing my own suffering. For years I studied Rumi’s life and read his poems, and it just so happened to coincide with a time in my life where most things that I thought I knew about the world crumbled. Perfect timing for a mystic to step in and suggest things like, “Be nothing,” and “Be a fool,” and “Why look like a dead fish in this sea of god?”

BK: When I interviewed Wendy Videlock in issue 17 (http://www. issue17/ wendy.html) I asked about the poems about her children and her own motherhood. She replied “I suppose for me the question is why aren’t there more poems about motherhood and fatherhood out there in the world?” I think of that because you have several involving your children, things that happened, birth, joyous moments, sicknesses, and the like but also learning language. “Vivian Learns the First Person Possessive” shows us your child learning mine, and “Vivian Learns the Present Progressive” as in “Mama chasing me.” What is it for you in your poetry about children and learning language in particular?

RWT: Wendy and I often talk about this. Why aren’t there more poems about childbirth and parenting? I am drawn to Galway Kinnell’s poems about his children, how they serve us small miracles found in daily interactions. And also to Jack Mueller’s honoring of his daughter and the things she said when she was young.

Wendy Videlock and I often talk about this. Why aren’t there more poems about childbirth and parenting?

In fact years ago, Jack urged me to write sensually about my children. It’s a taboo, he lamented, and these are some of the most sensual relationships we have. But I would be lying if I said that I make a conscious choice to write about my kids. I have been writing a poem a day for eight years, and I have been a mom for nine, so it is not too surprising that interactions with the kids are featured frequently in my poetry.

About language in particular, well, on top of being a poet, I’m a linguist, and it was thrilling to watch the kids learn to speak, and to watch how it changed the way that they engaged with the world. So much more exciting to observe language acquisition in real life than to read about it in a textbook.

BK: When we last talked in 2009, http://www.coloradopoetscenter. org/ eWords/issue8/trommer.html you’d gotten going on writing a poem a day. Do you still try for that frequency? Has your practice changed in the last several years?

RWT: Still practicing daily. I really like that word, practice. It takes away the expectation that I will ever “get it right.” If anything, years of poem-a-day-ing has relaxed me a lot about writing, and I think that shows in my poems. They don’t try as hard as they used to. What hasn’t changed, though, is the delight in sitting down to a blank page with no idea what will come. And the pleasure in being part of the creative process. I am ever amazed that the words show up when I am willing to show up.

BK: Final lines of poems are always important and yours do have that final authentic ring. I’m going to cite a few at random: “the loneliness, the light,” “Something permanent. Like love, perhaps,” “Hush dear, now leap,” “the hands so full, so empty.” What for you is a satisfactory ending for a poem or how do you know when you’ve found it or some other question about ending a poem?

RWT: Hey, I love this question. I take a lot of interest in a poem’s ending. Once, years ago, Kathryn Bass mentioned to me her theory of how poets create “emergency exits” in our poems … places where we can eject safely from the poem. Though they often have a nice ring to them, these preplanned endings often are not in service to the poem. She points to the possibility that we might let the poem lead us to a satisfying ending. I love when I am able to surrender to this.

There is more to this answer, of course. One dictum seems fairly obvious: The poem must feel finished, even if it doesn’t arrive at any conclusions. I learned this at readings. We all know what it is like to stand there and wait for the audience to know that we are done. Oops. That is an ending that did not work. There is real pleasure to be found in endings, and conversely, confusion or let down resulting from poems that piddle out.

We all know what it is like to stand there and wait for the audience to know that we are done. Oops. That is an ending that did not work.

Some of the how to: Of course there’s the rhyme, either exact or slant, that helps the poem to “click closed,” as Emily D would say. And then there’s the satisfaction that comes from an “open door” ending, which I think one can achieve by ending on an image. Jude Janett talks about how a poem can end with a punch line, and these can be fun, but not every time. I don’t much like ending on a question, but I love ending with paradox. How do I know I have found the ending? I imagine other poets know what I mean when I say I just feel it. And then there is the fact that no other words will come.

BK: “All in an Effort to Not Think About” is, you say, one of many poems you’ve written in response to the death of Karen Chamberlain and you mention her influence on your thinking about poetry “and the poetry community.” What do you mean by poetry community and what do you find important in it?

RWT: Years ago I heard a poet say tha,t from the outside, the poetry world seemed inaccessible. And then, she says, the closer into it you get, the more inaccessible and exclusive you realize it really is.

It does not have to be that way.

I didn’t understand what a poetry community was until I moved to Telluride in 1994. That was when I met Art Goodtimes, who actively was nurturing a poetry community on the Western Slope through the Talking Gourds festival and the Telluride Writers Guild. He was working with a much different kind of model than the other poet mentioned … the “let’s make a bigger pie so everyone can eat pie” model. There are other great role models for how to create nurturing, engaged, fun, supportive poetry communities: Jude Janett, who founded the Sparrows festival in Salida, and Jim Tipton, who used to run open mics and discussions in Fruita and Grand Junction and still encourages poets from his new roost in Mexico.

I add Karen Chamberlain to this list of poetry champions—people who are invested in the creative potential of poetry and how the practice of it, both writing and reading, can move people.

I add Karen Chamberlain to this list of poetry champions—people who are invested in the creative potential of poetry and how the practice of it, both writing and reading, can move people.

What is important in it? Gosh. Sharing our own voices and then listening to others knowing that they are the other voices of ourselves speaking … Is it too sappy to say that this kind of communion is the stuff that makes life worth living? Well. This is the stuff that makes life worth living. There. I said it.