The Colorado Poet, #17, Winter 2012

Interview: Wendy Videlock

Wendy Videlock’s Nevertheless appeared from Able Muse Press in 2011.

Bob King: When I talked to you in Issue #13 of The Colorado Poet about your chapbook, What’s That Supposed to Mean? you told me about the book you were working on which has now come out, Nevertheless. You spoke then about preparing the manuscript and letting loose the work as a whole. What was your general process in “preparing the manuscript?”

Wendy Videlock: Well, I suppose I just had to be pretty ruthless.  The difficulty was in removing the poems which didn’t feel true to the root of the book. 

BK: The sections are titled Coin,” “Cup,” “Sword,” and “Flame.” which remind me of the suits in Tarot cards representing the four elements. Can you say something about your use of these as an organizing device for the book?

WV: Yes, earth, water, air, fire, or body, soul, mind, desire, east, west, north, south, winter, spring, summer fall, or even Whitman, Rilke, Stevens, Millay ...I could go on and on. Of course my underlying sense is that these things blend in and out of one another, but I’d hoped the sections would provide a little balance. I’m surprised that more poets don’t study the tarotic system.  It’s a rich text full of history, legend, myth, and magic -- all presented in image and symbol, which is of course the poet’s language.  One has to wade through the  superficial uses, the charlatans and modern applications of the text to find the serious scholarship, but it’s there.  I’ve come to believe the text was not originally used for divination, but as a wisdom tool, much like alchemy or ancient astrology, etc.

BK: You include a half dozen or so sonnets in this book, most of them three quatrains and a couplet. What’s the attraction with this form and how did you strive to make it new, as the man says?

WV: The sonnet is an interesting little creature, isn’t it ?  It seems to me more natural and organic than many of the other received forms. If you poke around in the forest where it might be hiding, it jumps out just long enough to knock you down and flee.  It seems to enjoy being disturbed.  Most of the sonnets I write are in tet [tetrameter] lines, and I think most are trochaic, with oddly patterned rhyme, but the spirit of the form doesn’t seem to mind.  There’s a history and a tension there that is resilient, and a lot of fun to play with. Young poets often become distracted by the mechanical aspects of the sonnet, which are of course important, but it’s the turn that is the key. 

BK: You make use of the “list” form, for lack of a better word, in several of your poems. I’m thinking of “The Various Ways Oh My Can be Said,” “Charge” which is a list of 24 verbs, “What Humans Do” which describes something like 21 types of intercourse, and “Some Sounds I Couldn’t Do Without.”  There are several others with a parallel structure and I should say these are not “mere” lists—there’s a definite use of sound and sense that make these dynamic poems with a sharp point at the end. How did you come to explore that form and what have you found out?

Poetry is as much about removing distractions as it is about creative attractions.

WV: I suspect that those particular poems use silence in a way that none of the others do.  This makes me believe that poetry is as much about removing distractions as it is about creating attractions.  I’ve often heard it said that a poem is much like a spell, which I never much questioned until I read somewhere that a poem is not a spell; it is a spell breaker.  I very much like that.  At any rate,  with these list-y poems, more than any other, the poems tend to arrive in a state of completion, with very little need for revision.   It’s only later I come to see how syntax is strangely connected to sound, how they seem to slither around underneath, pushing words up out of the subconscious, reminding us that a single word, carefully placed, can call up entire worlds of association, memory, and inquiry.  In this way, the poems are instructive about the nature of language, for me, at least.  There’s something wonderful about believing that language is not just alive, but imbued with something -- is even capable of something we can’t ever really understand. 

BK: In “Poem for Dee” you also use a parallel structure. Let me quote it in its entirety: “I’ve grown attached, / said the lichen / to the stone, / said the speckle / to the roan, / said the sand / to the foam, / said the flesh / to the bone.” It might be poems like this that caused David Mason in his blurb to begin: “Mother Goose jacked up on something barely legal? No, it’s Wendy Videlock, bewitching poet of the West.” What is it about nursery rhymes and other incantations that attract you and that can make a point in the 21st century?

WV: I would say that nursery rhyme and incantation return us to states of innocence, and by that I mean we are returned to mystery, wonder, and fear.  In these states, we are not  just attentive, we’re invested.   I think the human need for this state of consciousness is innate and intuitive, whether of ancient or modern times.

BK: You use rhyme inventively and insistently. Many current poets find that difficult or abjure it completely. What was or is the attraction in rhyme for you? And how do you ‘come up’ with them? That is, your rhymes are not just there because you murmur the alphabet--‘bone, cone, dome, phone, gnome”--until you hit something. You make the rhyme echo, or create, a deeper meaning somehow.

WV: That’s a lovely compliment. I think it was Valery who said, The chief pleasure of rhyme is the anger it inspires in its opponents.  To which I would add, but/be kind;/there’s nothing worse/than bad rhyme.

I think the work is so full of assonance the rhymes have no choice but just sort of find themselves.  And I tend toward internal and slant rhymes, so I like to think there’s perhaps less room for predictability.  Was it Frost who said, No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader ...

We witness rhyme, rhythm, and patterning in Nature all the time, so to strike these things from poetry seems to me odd practice indeed. 

BK: In our last interview you said you were floundering a bit after doing the work on this book and you couldn’t imagine “simply writing more lyrical poems in the same register.” So, two last questions. Were these poems, or this register, part of a poetic project you were working on? A lot of poets don’t mind a second book in the same register as the first, you know. And, secondly, have you found another direction you want to move in or toward?

WV: Well, I haven’t been able to stop writing the lyric, and I’m glad for that, though I like to think the angle is a little bit changed in recent months.  I’ve  also recently written a couple of children’s stories in verse, and that’s been very instructive.  Narrative is a lot of fun, and requires a different kind of discipline.  I doubt I’ll ever find publishers for them, but I hope to write a series of faery-tale-ish stories.   And I’m working on a rant about the imagination and contemporary  verse ...that too is an instructive undertaking. 

Prose is not a strong suit of mine. And finally, if I can continue my studies in Spanish, I hope to eventually do some translation. For now, I’m just grateful the work keeps on coming.