Friday, October 26, 2007

Steven Ratiner’s book a window into the soul of poets like Donald Hall

I recently had the pleasure of doing an interview with former U.S. poet laureate Donald Hall for The Writer. In the preliminary stages of setting up my questions, I searched for books and articles about Hall, who happens to be one of my favorite writers. I came across the book ‘Giving Their Word, Conversations with Contemporary Poets,’ by Steven Ratiner. In addition to interviews with Hall, Ratiner includes interviews with Mary Oliver, Charles Simic, Seamus Heaney, Marge Piercy and a number of other poets. Ratiner’s methods of questioning enable the reader to feel as though you’re sitting on a sofa watching an incredible conversation take place.

I’ve added this book to a small list of works I recommend to aspiring writers. Although the focus is on poetry and poetics, the insight inherent in each article is applicable to good writing in general. One of my favorite responses came from poet Mary Oliver. Ratiner asked her about a person who may be a “pivotal figure” a writer remembers.
“No,” Oliver responded, “I truly feel that the pivotal moments for me were reading poems. I can remember the original excitement when I read poems and thought, my goodness, these are not chronological—these do not happen on Wednesday and finish on Thursday. These happen over and over…And I want to do this too.”

Oliver says she didn’t even publish until her late 20s.

I’d highly recommend this book for writers at all levels. It’s perfect for teaching creative writing in the classroom. Ratiner seems to know exactly what to ask these accomplished writers in order to elicit the best, most helpful responses. The answers aren’t just great; the questions are as well.

Note: Read my interview with Donald Hall in the December issue of The Writer.

Join me and other poets including Bonny Barry Sanders, Dr. Sharon Scholl, Michele Leavitt and others for "Meet the Poets" at the Jacksonville Public Library, Southeast Regional branch in Deerwood Park on Tuesday, November 6, at 7:30 p.m.


Cheryl said...

That book sounds like a valuable resource, Kay. Thanks for the tip!

Kay Day said...

Cheryl, it's phenomenal. I've re-read so many different parts. The Writer is using Ratiner's incredible photograph of Donald Hall for my magazine piece. Great to see you 'round here!--best, Kay