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"Twisting and Turning"*

Caroline Gill from Swansea, hometown of Dylan Thomas in Wales, interviews Kay Weeks from Glendale, California, then Whidbey Island, Washington, and now, Ellicott City (a historic district), Maryland, about her writing, with special reference to "Clothes from the Dryer" and "Camilla" (A Sonnet). Weeks’ poems appear at the end of the interview, with photos. Note: Visuals are included to illustrate Ekphrastic poetry, and are integrally related to one of the interview questions.

Photo of Kay Weeks: Doreen Starling

1.) "Cold craftsmanship is the best container of fire." Vernon Watkins (1906-1967).

Q: These words by Vernon Watkins, Swansea poet and friend of Dylan Thomas, ring true for me. I know that you like to experiment with traditional forms, too, as in "Camilla" (A Sonnet). Why do you feel that form still has a place in contemporary poetry? Perhaps you could explain why poems like "The Waking", a Villanelle by Roethke, have been a positive influence in the development of your own poetic style.

A: First, my emotions seem contained—to a certain degree—by traditional forms. They are not lessened, but I know what is expected of me; I tend to write very quickly, as if it is coming from somewhere else, at times, and form is very grounding. We don't want to float off into the clouds. An aside: I have written another book for a younger audience, Dragoncloud, and my protagonist—Sarah—wants to write a poem. She is filled with doubt and fear precisely because she soars too high, and then crashes with her emotions. In order to create, she has to learn to focus. So, without knowing the outcome, she uses photographs she has taken of clouds as a starting point. (Clouds that look like other things, such as an animal, an old man, etc.)

Second, my Father, Julian Davidson, was a professional guitarist, so I grew up around music; my Mother, Lucille Scott Davidson, often wrote the lyrics. Julian played in London, Chicago (during the gangster era), and I cite a couple of big bands—Ben Bernie (Julian wrote his gags at times) and Paul Ash. Later, in the 50s, he was on an LP with Kid Ory, a Black Dixieland musician. He was staff musician for several years in Hollywood with CBS, the KNX affiliate, and I would go into the sound-proof recording studio and sit within the band, always next to the drummer, Johnny Jacobs. My early love of rhythm, or more than that, obsession with it, translated into the poetry.

It is the rhythm I am most comfortable with, the beat, and it changes depending upon the poem. I even write rap poetry and have recently performed a piece called "The Hot Shower" to a group of intrigued and somewhat baffled seniors. That brings me to your question about one of my favorite poets, Theodore Roethke. He has the emotional content I most admire, the view of life and its power and meaning, as well as his haunting rhythms; in fact, some of his poems are more like chants, in a three-beat rhythm, such as "the twiney winders wind" and so on—it is difficult to emulate that.

"The Waking" has not really influenced my writing as a whole, but when I start to write a Villanelle, it is a reference point. Dylan Thomas affects me much the same way with his powerful rhythms and words that are totally in synch, such as: "And Death shall have no dominion" and "Do not go gentle into that good night." Both of these poets, and I add James Wright, whose last line of a poem, "St. Judas", woke me up one night: "I held the man for nothing in my arms." I got on the computer to research the line, thinking it was out of Jesus Christ Superstar!

In any case, you can tell I answer in a train-of-thought fashion. Roethke and Thomas and Wright make me FEEL, while T.S. Eliot tends to make me stay more in my brain with his ideas. I tend to write with my feelings on a blood level; and since I come from an artistic, but scientific background, my consistent view that we are animals who are aware of their own death, has shaped all my poetry, from childhood on. Coming full circle to your question, then, conventional poetic forms tend to contain my blood-level writing, and keep me from letting out a Munch-scream at times. I believe that every poet should be encouraged to write to "the form" even as an exercise—alone or in workshops with others. I do it because I know when to start and stop and can work within those boundaries.

2.) "Out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry." W.B. Yeats (1865-1939).

Q: I see that you were chosen as the Q and P featured poet for February 2009, when your theme was the poetry of love, loss and desire. This same theme is embedded deeply in the fabric of your poignant free verse poem, "Clothes from the Dryer". It also emerges powerfully in your poem about Camilla the cat. Would you like to respond to the statement by Yeats, explaining whether you feel the sentiment expressed rings true for you in your work? Do you feel that we use our words in an attempt to resolve or to work through life issues (real or imagined)? Should we be attempting to produce "art for art’s sake"?

A: This is a really good question, Caroline, and I jump to your word "poignant" to explain. A couple years ago, a great friend, Lora Robertson (artist and poet), and I held a Women's Poetry Workshop here in Ellicott City. She was the lead since she has taught many classes and had created a wonderful syllabus. Still, I did some research on themes in order to help shape the meeting.

One book of poetry, in particular, was broken up into about 25 parts or themes, you know, women, love, marriage, war, friendship, seasons...on and on. I thought about it and said to myself, "no, it is all about love," then thought some more and added, "no, love and death (when you take out all the sub-themes)", and finally, "no, it is really all about our passion, always within the mortality container." Whatever we write about, in my view, is ultimately challenged by the knowledge of time, loss, e.g. death; so love, beauty, a cloud, sunset, our cats etc. all have that sadness built in to joy. There is always at least a momentary pull downward to my poetry, but then, as in "Clothes from the Dryer", I punch myself, figuratively speaking, and say, "OK, enough now, just get on with your wonderful day and make the most of it!!" For me, it is all about transformation, transforming our deep understanding of our inevitable demise into something meaningful and enduring.

Now, within the mortality container, we do quarrel with ourselves to find meaning, have relationships, create, hope our creations are remembered in time, and keep up the strength to endure without falling into negativity. The answer to your question is, of course, YES. I talk to myself and to Camilla, my British short-hair, about most everything. But no, I don't think of poetry as therapy, nor do I believe we should be producing "art for art's sake". We write to communicate with others, in some intensity at times. When people want to know what generated my joy or sorrow, I don't like to talk about my personal life; it isn't relevant and many people, who want to pith the frog, i.e. get into a poet's love life, just like the gossip of it. I always say, "If you read it and it made you think of a feeling you have had, then I have done my job as poet."

3.) "One showing is better than one hundred sayings." Old Chinese saying.

Q: Ekphrastic poetry is popular at present. I love the way in which you allow a visual photographic image to fuse with the text of a poem in a symbiotic relationship. Please can you try to explain something about your aims in achieving this dynamic of "Photoetry", a useful term used in the (UK) Poetry Book Society bulletin for Summer 2009. What extra element, in your opinion, is added by the photograph? My favorite ekphrastic collections at present are Recollections by Maureen Almond (Flambard Press) and Batu-Angas by Anne Cluysenaar (Seren). Do you have a favorite ekphrastic poet-artist? What is the appeal for you of ekphrastic poetry?

A: Caroline, I am essentially a visual person; I think visually and remember things, visually. The reason I draw many mornings is precisely to stay out of my head and feelings and just relax. Writing is different; it is much more intense, focused, and draining. So my own use of visuals is nothing intellectual and is not tied to a movement in any sense.

I add photos or other visuals to my poetry AFTER I have written the poem, probably more for joy than anything else—sometimes humor. Recently, I worked on developing an exhibit in nearby Catonsville, Maryland, with Hiroshi Kimura, a NYC artist and friend. First, I asked him to create paintings to accompany two of my poems; then I turned it around, with his approval, and wrote poems to accompany drawings that I have in my apartment. It worked well, and I would do this again with another painter.

For the viewer of such a combo, I think the visuals provide more of a link to the language, and vice-versa. Your question also makes me realize that our culture—at least here in fast-paced America—is now so visual that many people need a pictorial leg-up, just to be able to focus long enough on words to try to understand them. My sense is that people don't read much, can't focus very long except on what they are saying. We are hooked on snippets of communication, what I call our Facebook isolation...and how we communicate with others today. No, sorry, I don't have any favorite ekphrastic poets, but will take a look at yours!

4.) Nature, "a metaphor of the human mind." Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882).

Q: Metaphor is a popular—some would say "fundamental"—element of contemporary British poetry. You may know "The Thought-Fox" (not quoted due to copyright restrictions), a metaphorical poem by Ted Hughes, British Poet Laureate 1984-1998, in which a fox becomes the poet’s picture for the poem he is trying to write as he watches it from his window. I sense that Camilla the cat features in your work as a kind of Leitmotif. Would you agree, and if so, why? What is it about a cat that is so irresistible to some poets (e.g. T.S. Eliot, and his Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats)? Are you aware of other themes or Leitmotifs that recur in your work e.g. particular colors or seasons?

A: Oh, Camilla! First, her form delights me and I have photographed and drawn her many times. She is simply a series of ovals. Then, her quiet personality is so engaging. In fact, she is downstairs now and I feel the guilt rising up. I go back to her for comfort, joy, peace. She makes coming home alone from travel, well, more than bearable; she is a grounding point. But I am also feeding three outdoor cats, which show up routinely, and when all of these natural predators are in harmony, I can relax and just be myself. Loving Camilla and holding her is not tied to any other poets, although I have read many cat poems and wished I had written them! We animals are jealous creatures, not to make a fine point of it, but just absorb what we have read, and move forward with our own unique voices.

5.) "Between two worlds life hovers like a star, twixt night and morn, upon the horizon's verge." Lord Byron (1788-1824).

Q: Please would you be kind enough to share some of your poetic hopes, dreams and resolutions for 2010. I realize, of course, that you may not wish to disclose specific ideas at this stage! Do you have a reading list for the New Year? What advice would you give to a person turning to poetry or joining a poetry workshop for the first time?

A: I just had a Chapbook rejected by Dancing Girl Press (online), but received a letter of encouragement, so that was ultimately positive. My view is that as a writer you must be your own best friend and just "put it out there" every day, one way or other. Share it. Don't keep it in the closet. It helps one feel connected to others without going out to lunch and using up precious words that float off into the air. Yes, the main goal is to publish, one way or other, Dragoncloud.

Caroline, I wish I had your organized mind, reading THIS question. No, I don't have a reading list. I keep taking an online poetry course taught by Melody Gough, a published poet I admire, and she is a wonderful reader of my poetry, both past and present. That helps me keep up a skill level. I read many novels, other poets, the NY Times online, and am a junkie correspondent with friends through e-mail. Then, I also take photographs with my digital camera and share...the grandchild, Ariella, and the cat, Camilla, are recurring subjects. On this note, I will go downstairs to Camilla, and go to coffee with a friend.

Kay Weeks has two children by Dennis C. Weeks: Alison (Portland, OR) and David (Ellicott City, Maryland) and one grandchild, Ariella Maria Parsons-Weeks, who is 16 months old.

* The title of this interview is from "Clothes from the Dryer".

Clothes from the Dryer
by Kay Weeks

Warm, giving, forgiving,
I eagerly haul you out,
No, paw you out,
One sheet, two towels,
Three socks:

Pull you to my breast
Like some long-ago baby—
To hold, nuzzle, swivel, and hold.

We are attached in time
—You and I—
Like the thin fabric of family:
Here a tear,
There a patch—

I watch you, wet and tangled,
Disappear, then re-appear
Like lost loved ones
Who held me tenderly,
Too passionately at times,
Squeezing me dry.

Then, twisting and turning,
Until one single line
Was forged in the small white
Crucible of domestic fire—

No, I cannot stay.

So I let you all go
To find myself alone,
Naked with a soft gray cat—

Not one more word.
Just embrace your choice,
Sit down, and fold
That pile of nice clean clothes—
And hear your own voice.

Camilla (A Sonnet)
by Kay Weeks

At dawn, a stretch that makes me gaze her way.
Does she have bones? She seems to be all form!
Soft grayness simply takes my breath away—
I think if I were “God,” she’d be the norm.

She shows me what she needs and I comply.
For food, the comb, or watching squirrels play.
I hate to leave—but must—yet don’t know why,
So when I hold this cat, I want to stay.

Dear sweetness, time removes the things we love,
But having, holding tight lets us survive.
I always seem to lose that one gray glove—
It’s meant, I think, to dull the final knife.

She’s with me now, at one with singing birds
Yet I continue with these grasping words.

Caroline Gill and Kay Weeks 2009


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