Part 2 of the Q&A with poet Lynne Burnett:
Would you offer up some of your influences – poetic and otherwise. What draws you to that work?
Well, I’d have to start with the Romantic Poets (Shelley, Keats, Blake) and William Wordsworth, whose lines “To me, the meanest flower that blows/Can give thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears” are engraved in my mind. Then there’s Walt Whitman (the music of his lines!), Emily Dickinson (nutshells bursting with meaning), Rilke (“Again and again, even though we know love’s landscape”…), Rumi (words that dance with beauty, love and ecstasy) and a host of others. More currently, Jane Hirshfield for her image windows and language depth, Billy Collins for his ease of expression and accessibility, George Bilgere for his wry humour, Stephen Dunn for the contemplative mind journeys he takes me on, Tony Hoagland for his wit and great intellect in both poems and essays, Mary Oliver for her simple praise of the natural world, David Whyte for poems that immerse me in the soul’s callings. There are many more – I’m a wide reader and everything I read exerts its influence – but these are the ones that immediately come to mind. I am drawn to work that praises both the extraordinary and ordinary aspects of a life, to the grounded ecstatics, to poems so deep they are bottomless – that reward over and over and feed a hungry mind, questing heart. I’m also drawn to haiku for its succinctness.
And to art, especially paintings: I’ve written a sequence of 17 poems based on one artist’s “Time” sequence of 17 abstract paintings, which resulted in the two of us finally meeting face to face and me being able to see those paintings firsthand. I guess that makes me an ekphrastic poet!
What themes or traits will readers find in your work? What will they not find?
Because of the brevity of life, it’s precious to me. So, the themes of time and death and why are we here, what does it all mean. Readers will find praise, love, ecstasy, humour, irony, an articulation of ideas and ponderings, joy and innate spirituality in my work. I’ll work a theme from every angle over the course of many poems – which I hope I’ve done successfully with this chapbook. You’re unlikely to find swearing or really long poems (yet) or long wordy narratives. I like compression. I try to present different facets of a subject in a poem rather than take a specific stand for or against something. Although I initially worked toward a resolution in my poems, now you’ll find less of that, more of a door for the reader to go through and take what s/he will. Animals and nature abound in my writing. The “aum” of life too.
And your creative process? Could you offer us a glimpse into how your poems develop from first glimmer to fully realized piece? Do you follow a regular writing routine? Do you listen to music while writing? Write in public or in solitude?
I have so many folders jammed with notes on odd pieces of paper, and little memo pads in every bathroom of the house! Any phrase that comes to mind or overheard and of interest, any incident read or seen that grabs me or gives me pause or makes me think – all get jotted down for later development. An observed image can tunnel through me to unexpected places. Occasionally I’ll use a random group of words and this will result in some of my best poems. Most of the time I start with a memory or something seen or read that I want to make sense of or settle emotionally. I sit at my desk some portion of every day (and thankfully have a large den with a door) but the real writing happens either first thing (before checking emails etc.) or mid-late afternoon. I LOVE this time of day, after I’ve meditated, and can write freshly or look with more objective eyes at something already begun. When I begin a poem, it lives with me – usually for days and weeks – until it amasses enough energy and coherence to be considered a poem and at that point I’ll type it on the computer, print it and then also put a handwritten copy into a binder. Every poem I’ve ever written, and every revision, they’re all dated, signed and noted in these binders. Anyway, this fledgling poem that finally got printed will have had a rocky start and almost always reach a point where it’s not working, I can’t find a satisfactory end or smooth transition between stanzas or the tone or point of view aren’t right and I get stuck – for days. It’s a part of my process I’m familiar and increasingly comfortable with. I’ll go for a walk or iron and the physical motion does some magic. As uncomfortable as this part is, it ALWAYS resolves itself if I just surrender to what wants to be said, not what I think wants to be said. Often I’ll end up with an opposite point of view as a result. The completion of the poem after this tipping point happens quickly: I get an image of sewing, a tactile sensation of words being stitched together, that is strong and stretchy and hole-proof. This doesn’t mean my opinion of the poem doesn’t change over ensuing days/months/years – it certainly does and most of my poems are revised. However, the core energy of the poem – hopefully – stays intact (I believe poems are energetic structures). I’ve learned to always sleep on my “latest, greatest” drafts (what was I thinking?) which turn out to be in the new day’s light – if not “it” then a necessary step to get there. On occasion I’ve written to music (always instrumental) and found it quite freeing! Usually though I work in quiet solitude. Now that I have a much larger den with a fabulous sound system I think I’ll experiment more with that.
List three favorite poets, an admirable animal, and your go-to beverage.
Only three!!! This moment it’s Stephen Dunn, Jane Hirshfield and Dorianne Laux. Ask me again and my answer might be different (isn’t it wonderful to have a Poet Bank to draw from?). An admirable animal would be my totem, the black panther: about ten years ago I dreamed one picked me up in its mouth and half-carried half-dragged me to a path I was supposed to be on, before letting me go, mission accomplished. Shortly after, I was in Mexico and a beach vendor walked by, hawking, among other stone sculptures, a foot long black panther. Yes! Of course I ran after him and this big boy has stalked a corner of my desk ever since. If it’s first thing in the morning, my go-to beverage is a strong cup of coffee but later in the day some coconut water does the trick!
See Part 1 here.