Updated: Sep 23, 2020
Interview with ANNE WHITEHOUSE one of the featured poets in our newest collection of poetry, "The Very Edge," released this August 2020
The Very Edge is an intense collection of urgent and inspiring poetry that brings together writers in English, Spanish, and French. Co-edited by Polly Alice McCann and Araceli Esparza, it celebrates thirty-six contemporary poets such as New York poet, Anne Whitehouse, and Kansas Poet Laureate, Huascar Medina. Let them take you on a journey across border towns and prairies to the top of the Swiss Alps; fly from the waters of the Amazon to Manhattan rooftops into an arid land where you can sit at the table and hear stories woven from the frayed edges of our hope.
Anne, we are so glad you were an early part of this project. Tell us a little bit about where to find your latest work besides The Very Edge? What books of yours should we read right away and what is another author you are reading now?
We are looking forward to reading it! Tell us one of your earliest memories about wanting to become a writer.
Before I was a writer, I was a reader. I wanted to write because I love to read. I come from a family of readers, and during the summers when I was a child, my mother used to take us on weekly trips to the public library. I would scan the shelves in the children’s section, making my selections, and imagine a child in the future, scanning a library shelf and finding a book written by me.
Would you share with our readers? What are some things unique to your writing process and the writing life. What works for you?
When I was a high school student trying to solve a difficult math problem, I would meditate on it before I went to sleep, and sometimes when I woke up, I would know the answer. Now I apply the same process to writing. If I am
having trouble while writing fiction, I picture my character in the scene I am writing and put myself in my character’s mind. If it is nonfiction, I focus on the idea and where I am going with it. Have I turned down the wrong path? As I fall asleep, I concentrate my thoughts on the scene, the idea, the problem—whatever it is. Hopefully, when I wake up the next morning, it will all become clearer.
With poetry, I concentrate on the desire to write a poem and will myself to be attentive to the life around and within me, so that I will recognize my subject when it appears to me.
I once heard Stephen King and John Irving discuss their different writing processes at a public reading. John Irving plans everything out in advance and knows exactly where he is going. His intricate plotting in advance of writing is his process. Stephen King, on the other hand, follows his instincts and trusts that one thing will lead to another.
I am a writer like Stephen King. I am incapable of planning in advance. I have tried, but it seems random, dead, and inauthentic. For me, it’s about energy and suspense. Energy and suspense may mean different things to me than to someone else. Readers come from different backgrounds, with different tastes and expectations. You can’t please everyone, but if you can please yourself, you stand a chance of pleasing someone else.
If you could enter into another author's prose or poetry who would it be? Or if you could meet an author from history what would you ask them?
I would like to meet the author of Shakespeare’s plays and poems. I believe that Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, was the true author of the works that we attribute to William Shakespeare. I would like to know for sure and share in the secret.
We know you are a prolific long time poet, what advice would you give a new poet starting out?
My advice is expressed in one of my poems, Blessing XIII from Blessings and Curses:
When inspiration comes, attend to it.
Drop everything else. Listen carefully.
You get one chance and one chance only.
To receive the blessing,
you must be prepared to receive it.
Let yourself be its instrument.
The intention and expression are up to you.
Thank you. That's so fun to have the advice in a lyrical way. What about your writing environment?
I don’t have a single writing space. I move around the house or outdoors if the weather is nice. I compose on the computer and I also compose by hand. What is important to me is to feel I am alone and not being watched. In order to write, I need to lose a sense of self so I can immerse myself in my writing. If I am being watched, I am too aware of myself and too self-conscious to write. Usually, I like to be alone in a space by myself, but I can also write in a public space like a café or a library if no one is paying attention to me.
I know each of us struggles with the writing life as it's divided up into days. Finding that daily moment to write. What is the most fav
orite part of your best days?
I love early mornings, when the day to come is still a promise.
So many writers struggle with change and balance but we are also doing some of our best work because of it. When has your creative work helped you through new experience and hard journey's? What was it about your writing that helped you at that time?
Writing is a solace. Writing is a way I hold onto parts of myself that would otherwise be lost, a record of internal thoughts and feelings and external circumstances. This can be true for anyone. It is one of the reasons why more people are keeping journals these days. Writing can lead the way to acceptance when there is no other choice.
IN THE NECROPOLIS
In the cemetery of Beit She’arim
inside a tomb from the third century
paved with mosaic
and decorated with wildlife reliefs
is carved an inscription
commemorating a local resident.
The author, though Jewish, had a Greek style:
I lie, son of Leontius dead, son of Sappho,
who after having gathered of the fruit
of all wisdom left the light.
Woe is me, in my Beit She’arim.
After having gone to Hades,
I, Justus, lie here with many of my relatives
for that is what powerful fate has decreed.
Be consoled, Justus. No one is immortal.
Dark is the house without windows.
Dust is the only weather in the tomb.
Indifferent as a reflecting moon,
a green moth flitted over the stone,
then lay for a long moment on the ground.
Oh, thank you for sharing with us. What else can you share with us about your work?!
These are my previous books:
Meteor Shower, Dos Madres Press, 2016.
The Refrain, Dos Madres Press, 2012.
Blessings and Curses, Poetic Matrix Press, 2009
The Surveyor's Hand, Compton Press, 1981
Fall Love, Xlibris,
And in Spanish translation as Amigos y amantes.
Stories, articles, videos, audio readings, and links to online publications are available on my website, www.annewhitehouse.com
I am in the process of working on a manuscript about Longfellow and Poe, which I hope will become a book. A lot of my current reading is research for this project. The first two chapters have been published:
“Poe vs Himself” (hard copy only) in New England Review vol. 39, no. 1 (2018).
I lectured on the subject at Longfellow House Washington Headquarters in 2018.
I wrote a long poem about Leonora Carrington, “Surrealist Muse,” that is forthcoming, and I hope to write about other women artists.
What other creative art or artist inspires your work besides writers and authors?
The visual arts were perhaps my first influence. I used to take art lessons as a child, and I love to paint, although these days my painting is mainly decorative. The first poems of mine to receive recognition were The Fogg Poems, about works of art in the Fogg Art Museum. Art continues to inspire my poetry and fiction. Two short stories of mine, “Child of Unreason” and “A Visit to the Stock Exchange” are about art and artists. Music and dance are other important influences. Two characters in my novel, Fall Love, are a dancer and a visual artist, and a third character makes her living in the theater. There is a lot about the performing arts in the novel. Music is the most emotional of the arts., and music has inspired a number of my poems, including “One Summer Day on the Number One Train,” in The Very Edge. “Dancing in Water,” also in The Very Edge, is about the Japanese dance form, Butoh, as practiced by Eiko and Koma. "Calligraphies" is a persona poem in the voice of fireworks artist, Cai Guo-Qiang.
What is one quote you have saved somewhere to inspire and encourage your life?
I keep in mind a quote from a junior high school textbook that the purpose of fiction—and, I would argue,--of all literature—is “to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange.” The uncanny is the sensation aroused in us by finding either the strange within the familiar or the familiar within the strange. According to
Freud, in his famous essay on “The Uncanny.”
The uncanny, as it is depicted in literature… is a much more fertile province than the uncanny in real life, for it contains the whole of the latter and something more besides, something that cannot be found in real life…The realm of fantasy depends for its very existence on the fact that its content is not submitted to the reality-testing faculty. The somewhat paradoxical result is that in the first place a great deal that is not uncanny in fiction would be so if it happened in real life; and in the second place that there are many more means of creating uncanny effects in fiction than there are in real life.
Thanks, Anne! We so appreciate you being a part of The Very Edge. You were the first to celebrate the idea of the book and worked with us over the year-long process to develop the themes for the book! We are so glad to see this work come to fruition.