Across Water

Canoeing to fetch briquettes, you rest
your paddle on the gunwales,
a small hollow clunk.
Listening still
as the lake locks glances with
its bank.
Across the water, almost
a mile off there, your neighbour’s screen door
slaps shut.

Questions and Answers

Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?

Not especially, but any given moment certainly provides me with a sense of what’s important while I’m waiting for the poem to declare itself. I’ve written for as long as I can remember. In the beginning, poetry slowed me down enough to pay attention, to start listening to my own listening. As I gained more experience, I got better at listening to the listening of others. Then I started to notice that often the really important things are the ones people leave unsaid. In my professional life as a radio producer, I spent a lot of time editing playwrights, helping them to get their characters’ voices off the page. In those days, writing poems late at night helped me to hang on to my own identity as a writer. Now it’s an ingrained habit.

How/where do you find inspiration today?

Something will grab my attention.  A phrase, a moment in a conversation, a shift on someone’s face. Almost always it’s real experience, and the poem becomes its grounding. Then the given poem grows out of my attempt to depict it. So the event becomes the rendering of the given moment, and the best of this is beyond self-consciousness. I open myself up completely, becoming the eyes, ears and heart of the poem, letting it speak. When it works best, it feels like the piece is writing itself.

What inspired or motivated you to write this poem?

Re “Across Water” I remembered that actual moment: the errand, the lake, the canoe, and the screen door. The challenge was to keep the poem tight. For example, I decided against embellishing by describing the water as “rusty”, although in fact it was. The poem just didn’t need it. I established the here/there contrast with the paddle clunk, pushed the shoreline out to a tacit glimpse, then simply let the reader catch that unoiled hinge. You get to imagine the specific sound yourself: the sound of summer. I like to imagine the neighbour in the poem is William Carlos Williams.

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