What I Meant to Say

Wendy Babiak's Visions and Revisions


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From Nature’s Patient Hands: For Couplets, Elizabeth Barrette

Elizabeth Barrette is the author of the poetry collection From Nature’s Patient Hands (Diminuendo Press, 2010). She’s an astute observer of nature and delights in the details she finds there, relating both those details and her delight to her readers. Here’s the title poem from her book:

From Nature’s Patient Hands

The water in Greece is the color
of turquoise, of verdigris,
of bottle glass in August sunlight.
It sends shadows rippling and twisting
in moiré patterns on the sand below.

The cliffs rise above the sea
in slanted layers of yellow and brown,
their tops scraped smooth by the wind.
In sheltered clefts grow the green sprigs
of wild rosemary and oregano.

Long ago, these cliffs and this sea
saw the launching of the long sleek ships,
the pride of Greece. Today, they are just
a vacation place in the lazy summer months.
But they remain the same, indifferent to us.

Before we came, the melissae buzzed
from bloom to bloom with their buckets of honey,
and after we leave, they will still dance
in their palaces of pale gold wax.
Our ruins are busy with their minute industry.

The ants in the soft sand of the beaches
and the scattered gravel of the Parthenon
continue building their hidden cities.
The sea, the cliffs, the plants and insects remain –
only we and our history disappear,

brushed like dust from Nature’s patient hands.

1. What’s your favorite poetic form? I enjoyed “Tidepiece,” your Sicilian sonnet, very much.
I love interlocking/repeating forms, especially the villanelle and sestina. I do write a fair number of sonnets, though; that’s another form I really like. Much of what I write is free verse but I enjoy form poetry in general, because of all the variety.

I like forms that do specific things — so for instance, if I have a handful of key words, I’ll write a sestina, whereas if I have a pair of really good lines, I’ll write a villanelle. A thoughtful topic that breaks into parallel pieces works well in a sonnet.

2. Is there a form that resists you, that you’ve tried but not managed?

Not really. I think the most challenging forms I’ve tried so far have been Welsh ones,
which rely on features of the Welsh language that English doesn’t support as well. I wrote a
whole set of those for a competition once, spanning a couple dozen different forms.

3. Your book is long, for a poetry collection. I know you published late for a debut. From how big a pile of poems did you select these?

Thousands. Currently I write between two and three hundred poems a year. I’ve
been selling my writing for about 24 years now, and had poetry printed in nonpaying markets
before that. It just took a while to find a publisher who both liked my poetry *and* had money
to spend on publishing a book of it.

4. Anyone looking as closely at nature as you do can’t help but notice its degradation at human hands; your concerns regarding what we’re doing as a species bubbles up here and there in the poems (as in the aforementioned sonnet), but mostly you seem intent on communicating your enjoyment of nature’s beauty. How significant is your concern that we’re tampering with the life systems that support us and the rest of the planet?

Very. I’m painfully aware that humanity has wiped out a number of species, causes  more extinctions all the time, destroys whole sections of environment, generally tends to poison the air and water, is altering the very climate in destructive ways, and has a dangerously short attention span. The biosphere will almost certainly survive, but a great deal of the diversity will be lost in the process. I’m a hobby-scientist and an activist as well as a poet; I always keep an eye on this kind of news.

Sometimes I do write about the dire things going on. I’m perfectly capable of shaping words into weapons and harpooning people. But if folks realize that you do that, they tend to avoid you, which is counterproductive to communication and change alike. So most of what I write takes a different approach.

I write about the beauty of nature because I want people to love nature. I want them to understand it. Then they will want to protect it without being told; it will be their own idea and they will cling to it fiercely. If I can describe nature in terms they already know, it will seem familiar and not like something “out there.” If I can show them how all things are connected, they will get a feel for nature being part of them as well as them being part of nature. They’ll act to protect it when others threaten it, because that’s an attack on them too. One air, one water, one earth, one biosphere — everything is connected. And that’s the common thread running through everything I write, really.

5. What sort of person do you imagine as your ideal reader?

Someone who loves exploring nature, whether to study it or save it or just admire it. Someone smart and curious, who is looking for a different kind of writing because they don’t see themselves or their worldview reflected much in the mainstream. Someone who gets tired of waiting for muses to inspire writers and editors to pick out pieces to be published, and wants to try doing those things personally so as to have more influence on what kind of poems emerge.

This is part of Couplet Blog Tour, organized by Upper Rubber Boot Books. Be sure to check out the rest of the entries, for interviews with and posts by a plethora of poets.



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For Couplets Blog Tour, Joanne Merriam Asks Me Some Questions

It’s National Poetry Month, and I’ve been busy writing poems, adding to the manuscript for my second book, as well as writing new Wonder Woman sonnets. I also had a chance to answer some questions for Joanne Merriam (yes, she’s a descendant of THAT Mr. Merriam, which is pretty dang cool for a writer, if you ask me). Here’s that interview, which is part of a humongous blog tour she’s organized as editor for Upper Rubber Boot Books.