3 Questions for Karla Linn Merrified

Interview with Karla Linn Merrifield

1. What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.?
First, in my mind, the basic unit of a line is a breath. There can always be two breaths in a line, if there’s a caesura, or several breaths with additional commas or semicolons, which can create a sensation that the line is panting, propelling the reader toward the line break.
Second, many poetic forms dictate the length of a line, as with traditional sonnets, villanelles, sestinas, pantoums and Japanese forms such as tanka and haiku/senryu. But rules are meant to be broken sometimes, right? My most recent pantoum’s lines nearly extend from left to right margin.
With free verse, almost anything goes, and that’s where I am deeply attuned to the lines’ enjambments. If a line doesn’t close with end-stop punctuation, I seek the most powerful word to create the strongest line end that urges the reader to the following line. I want that voltage! That tension!
Enjambment is so critical to a poem’s success. When I was assistant editor at The Centrifugal Eye (now defunct, but still available online), a gig that lasted ten years, one of the most annoying failures I encountered among the 300-400 poems I reviewed for each issue, was flabby enjambment—lines that end with articles, prepositions or conjunctions—all down-right lame end-words. Hence my annoyance. Why would the poet waste the opportunity for a far more muscular end-word?
2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?
All poems begin in the body. An idea or a line or a stanza arises in our brains, traveling at lightning speed across countless neurons. Then, with a hand we take up the pen and scribble. Or with two hands tap away at our computer keyboard. Naturally, our eyes and ears become involved as we scan our lines and listen to the rhythm, hear the alliteration and assonance…. Even when we read a poem, brain, eyes, ears, and the hands holding the book or moving the mouse to scroll are involved. Tear ducts may activate. Or our brow as it furrows when we encounter something disturbing in the lines.
Although I write most of my prose pieces such as book reviews (and this interview) from scratch on my laptop, for poetry almost always I turn to the back pages of my Moleskine journal to create the poem through to a first draft.
When I move my felt-tip pen on the page, my ears hear each letter. In the act of writing, for example, the lower-case letter ƒ, with its elegantly balanced ascender and descender, I feel the ƒ, and instantly I hear the fricative ƒ sound. Hand-writing poems makes me so much more aware of both sonics and rhythm.

Also, despite the fine-ruled lines, when handwriting, I feel freer to capture snippets of my poem-to-be as they arise, often in a controlled jumble. Some lines or fragments may well end up in the middle or towards the end of the poem as in the above photo. I draw on those to assemble a rough draft, after which I move to my laptop to polish through many more drafts.
The relationship between my body and my writing came to the fore in my newest book, My Body the Guitar, where the body-writing dialectic emerges as a theme throughout the book. I found 72 references to “body” and its close relatives (e.g., embodiment) versus 209 references for “guitar,” the book’s most frequent noun. In one of my favorite poems in the book, as happens frequently, “body” and “guitar” are paired:

Étude 4-23: Embodiment on the Day I Changed
Strings for a Second Time

I want to hold somebody
I want to hold somebody
I want to hold some body

I want to kiss somebody
I want to kiss somebody
I want to kiss some body

I want to breathe on somebody
I want to breathe on somebody
I want my breath on some body
I want my sweat on somebody’s hands
I want my tears on somebody’s brow
I want my dew on some body

—and his on mine—but—
but it shall not be now
no matter my wants   his    yours

so I want my fingers rippling somebody
so I want my thighs cradling somebody
so my heart’s wants lift now some body: my guitar.

3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?
Tough question! I wracked my brain on this one. Getting rejections? Nah. Goes with the territory. The editing process? Nope. Ditto. Besides, I truly enjoy editing; it’s fun, like doing the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle. If anything, I don’t enjoy the frustration (low-grade, mind you) that there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done I want to accomplish. But, then, that’s part of the human condition, not for poets alone. Bottom line: There’s really not anything I dislike about my poetic calling.

My Body the Guitar

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About Miriam Sagan

I'm blogging about poetry, land art, haiku, women artists, road trips, and Baba Yaga at Miriam's Well (https://miriamswell.wordpress.com). The well is ALWAYS looking to publish poetry on our themes, sudden fiction, and guest bloggers and musers.

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