Colorado Poets Center E-Words Issue #13

What's that Supposed to Mean? An Interview with Wendy Videlock


Wendy Videlock’s first chapbook, What’s That Supposed to Mean? may be ordered at http://www.exot. typepad. com/exotbooks for $12.

Bob King: First, I have to ask about the title, which really made me smile. It has the ring of having been spoken a number of times by a number of people, though not about your work, I’d imagine. How did you come up with the title? I note there’s no question mark at the end.

WendyWendy Videlock: Yes, there’s some part of me that’s just a perennial wise-acre. I suppose I’m poking fun of  our modern need for endless conversation, therapy, opinion, deconstruction, interpretation, trivialization.  Our peculiar desire to graffiti the face of mystery.   I suppose those five little words mean to point up the difference between intuition and information, explanation and sensation, exploitation and restoration.  Keats’ negative capability and the irritable reach for facts and reason come to mind. I find myself returning to these themes, extolling the virtues of silence, reception, intuition--all those lovely things which cannot be measured, bought, or proven. 

BK: Many of these poems are relatively short, less than a page, sometime 25-30 words. What is there about the short poem that attracts you (or attracts us in your work)? Does it entail a different mind-set or subject or what?

I suspect…that the more we carry on about a subject, the more likely we are to lose its essence.

WV: Sometimes I think the short poem is just a balance to my own propensity to talk too much.  It’s probably also in response to the endless scrolls of language and information we all sift through every day.  There seems to be an assumption that the more a person has to say on a subject, the more they know about it. I suspect we’ve got that all wrong, and that the more we carry on about a subject, the more likely we are to lose its essence.  

BK: I don’t think you’ll be surprised if I say I’m reminded of Emily Dickinson regarding some of your work. I mean phrases like “a sever in a field of wheat” or lines like “lovely enough/ to light a song / or implicate // a sea of wrongs.” And, of course, your use of iambic rhythms along with a crisp diction.  What connection do you have with Dickinson? And: there’s certainly a difference between her poems and yours—what do you think is the biggest difference?

WV: The difference between Emily’s work and mine:  she’s a genius, and I’m a hack. The similarities:  brevity,  touches of severity, maybe even temerity.   But only because it rhymes. 

BK: You seem to have a deft sense of rhythm. How conscious are you about that? Is that more or less your ‘natural’ style or do you work a lot at it?

The biggest misconception about the meters is that they are monotone and predictable.

WV: I think of rhythm as the most natural and abundant thing in the world. The iamb is really just another of the many natural pulsings of the earth. That said, it probably doesn’t hurt to listen with intention: to the river, the ocean, the forest’s hum, the eagle’s scree, the beating of one’s own astonished heart.  And of course the masters in the art.  All these things contribute to that one rhythmic center we all move to -- with endless skips and downbeats and fluctuations.  It is these fluctuations that make the iamb, the trochee, and the anapest so exciting. The biggest misconception about the meters is that they are monotone and predictable.  They are only so if we treat them as rules rather than the murmurs of guidance that they are. 

BK: In one way your work seems a kind of wisdom poetry which is to say truth—again, presented at a slant. I’m thinking of poetically declarative lines like “”We can’t divorce the voice / from choice / or style” or “As knowledge comes / by way of ghost, so time/ is wan, and taken.” There’s an authority to these lines that some truth is being delivered.

WV: I think it was Yeats who said ‘The singer makes the singer wise/ but only when she’s singing’.  Yes, I really do prefer reading a poetry whose primary interest is wisdom and wonder.   We seem to have fallen into a perverse love affair with confusion, obscurity, paradox, psychology, and when it comes to the big themes, irony.   So I suppose I do dip my modern toes in those older metaphysical waters and wiggle them round a little. 

BK: You gave a  workshop in Grand Junction recently on “The Mystic Poets: An Introduction.” Does this study relate to the previous question? Has mystic poetry inspired or lured you in to some perspective? Do you have favorite poets in that regard?

WV: Oh, yes, the lure is intense, and life-long.  I love the mystics and the devotionals:  Yeats, Blake, Rilke, Coleridge, Basho, Emily, Hopkins, Goethe, Rumi, etc.  All of these poets were deadly serious -- but also communicated that little cosmic twinkle in the eye. Ironically, all of these wildly creative and fearless souls also utilized some sort of system  -- created or inherited -- prosodic or metaphysical --  in order to call forth their demons and angels.  I imagine there is something to be learned from this.  It doesn’t seem a stretch to  say that spirit craves form and form craves spirit. 

BK: I believe that you saw an actual owl’s nest to write “The Owl” with its opening inventory of concrete objects, but, for example, the first line of “Myth of Innocence”--“Starving spirits, bring your toys in”--seems to come out of some poetic source that’s not anecdotal or narrative or descriptive. What is that source in your mind? Are you conscious of working in a genre that seems not to be the norm these days? Or is that accurate?

WV: What a great question.  And thank you for such a lovely compliment.  I imagine the source is love, but that sounds a little esoteric and obvious all at once, so  I’ll just avoid the question with diversionary tactics and hope you don’t notice. 

“The Owl” was indeed based upon actual observations, and actually began as a very lengthy, scattered poem.  Many months later it dawned on me that the owl, being swift and immediate, certain and mysterious, had something to say about the superfluous.  Those many pages of poetic owl-speculation and nervous throat-clearing became eight or nine ruthless dimeter lines.  So in this case,  the owl taught the poem and the poem taught the poet -- for a moment at least.  By plucking out those few lines and disregarding the rest, I felt somehow that the owl would’ve approved. 

On the Innocent Myths, yes,  a different kind of influence simmers there.  I did have Blake’s Songs of Innocence in the back of my mind, but  I’ve also been greatly seduced by the traditions of faery tale, nursery rhyme, mythology.  These things seem to draw their waters from the deep wells of intimacy and knowledge, universal sorrow and joy, and often sound as though they’ve been issued from across the flames of a fire, and from the lips of an elder.   I think of Kipling and his repetitions, or de la Mare and his many seekers, or Yeats and his prophesies.   Invocation is the word I’m looking for.  

BK: When working with people working on their poetry, or just beginning, what kinds of advice do you find yourself giving?

WV: I am terribly full of bad advice, though as I grow older I have learned to say less and less.  To the beginning poet I sometimes find myself saying silly thing like, Your best teachers are the elements, and all your best mentors are dead.   Honor them well. 
Then they go running for the hills and I never hear from them again.

More seriously, the greatest gift any poet can give another is to read their work carefully and, if requested, respond from the gut.   But only for a very limited time.   Finding one’s own thirst, one’s own song, and one’s own inner critic is way too much fun and far too private for delegation. 

BK: What are you working on now?

WV: Well, my first full-length book of poems has just been picked up for publication, and will be out next year by Able Muse Press.  Preparing the manuscript and letting loose the work as a whole has left me floundering a little.   I can’t imagine simply writing more lyrical poems in the same register.   I might give up the word altogether and focus more seriously on painting, folk art, photography.  If that doesn’t spring forth I hope to receive the inspiration to write more children’s poems -- children’s stories, parables, and myth in verse, that is.   I’ve been playing around in versified social satire, and I have some motley ideas about  putting down a modern day pilgrim tale in verse.   Well, of course I’m dreaming.  But shouldn’t we all ?