Juliet P. Howard Interview, with Nicelle Davis
I love how your line breaks enact the subject of the poem "Heart Break." What role do you think the shape of a poem plays in conveying its message?
Thank you! I think that the shape of a poem can play a significant role in conveying its message. It can add an additional layer to the poem for the reader to unravel or it can help guide or suggest to the reader what direction the poet wants to take you. Of course, the beauty of poetry is that the reader may completely read something into the shape of the poem that wasn't "consciously" intended by the poet, and that reading and/or interpretation is just as valid or authentic. While I wanted the lines of “Heart Break” to enact the topic of the poem, I also liked that the final draft allowed for the poem to be read either from beginning to end or end to beginning and that the stanzas could be read as either two distinct stanzas or could be read together from left to right across the length of the page. Like the blood vessels that pump blood into and away from the heart, the poem was ultimately able to flow in a variety of directions across the page. I really enjoyed playing with how the poem looked and read on the page. I also think the use of white/blank space coupled with the placement of words on a page and the use of line breaks, allow a poem to evolve to its fullest potential.
You create a lush sensory world in your poem "summer night in greenwich village." What might a new poet gain from implementing this technique in their own work--or what do people mean by the statement "show, don’t tell"?
Again, thank you! I think a new or emerging poet has much to gain from implementing this technique of exploring the sensory world and integrating the senses into their work. The inclusion of the sensory world in a poem allows the poet to explore sensual, often tactile images that serve to "open up a poem". By this I mean, if a poet allows his or her connection to the senses to guide the poem, the poem can potentially take on a very organic form. I was conscious of trying to include various senses when I wrote “summer night” – specifically, I wanted to explore touch, taste and of course, sight. I wanted to capture the conflict between being acutely aware of and connected to one's senses, including the power and sensuality associated with the sensory world as contrasted against the inability to satisfy or quench those sensory desires.
"Show, don’t tell" reminds me of advice Professors sometimes gave in my MFA program. Let the poem speak for itself through words/images/voice; essentially, if the poet has to tell the reader what the poem is about, then maybe the poet should rethink that poem. I think the goal poets aim for is that we seek to have our poems speak for themselves through language, images, and often times, by what goes unsaid in the poem. Sometimes the most powerful/evocative poems "show, don’t tell" through brevity of language.
Do you write for a specific reader in mind? If so, how does this change the voice and tone of your poems?
Generally, I don't write for a specific reader in mind. When I am writing a poem, I do ask myself whether I think the poem is accessible to folks from all walks of life. I think that's the best a poet hopes for, that our poems resonate with readers regardless of their background, education, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion or even age. While I am conscious of the voice and tone I use in my poetry, I only change the voice and/or tone to fit the poem. Once I've found my way into the voice of the poem, I'm just hopeful that the reader will embrace that voice once (s)he steps into the poem. I recently ended a poem I wrote with the line "Poem thank you for choosing me." I do truly believe that poems choose poets and once our creations are out in the world, we as poets are hopeful that our poems can stand on their own.