When I heard that my friend from college days, Lynne Viti, would soon be publishing a collection of poems – Baltimore Girls – I couldn’t wait to read them and to talk to her about how, how on earth, you write a poem.
Welcome to Jungle Red, Lynne… congratulations! And please, share where does this collection of poems spring from?
LYNNE S. VITI: In Baltimore Girls I reach back into my memories of growing up in the ‘Fifties and ‘Sixties in the city of Baltimore, at a time when that very segregated northernmost Southern city was on the cusp of social and political change, and then became swept up in that chaotic time.
Memories of family— of the city itself, its factories and churches, public swimming pools, taverns, buses and trolleys, churches— blend with my imagined journey, through poetry, back to my adolescence: an all-girls Catholic school, coming of age, the fascination with music, from James Brown to the Beatles to the Rolling Stones, our rebellion against our parents’ tastes and mores. We thought we were so cool, that our parents knew next to nothing, relics from the Depression and the World War II era that they were.
HALLIE: Such a perfect way of framing the first poem in the collection, “Salad Days.” It includes this:
Our mothers thought our world was crazy.What’s so cool about this is that you’re both looking both ways, both back to when you were a teenager but from the perspective of a mother of two grown sons.
Too much Orbison and Presley, then in a whirr,
James Brown, the man in the orange cape, and
the Beatles, who made us scream, or the
Subversive Dylan, who questioned us,
How does it feel, to be on your own? --when our mothers wanted us to be safe--
Take the bus to school, be home on time.
No drinking, no smoking, study hard,
Go to college. Find a nice boy. Get
married, stay in town. Our town, which
changed and burned, changed and burned again.
LYNNE: I began to see all of our shared history through the eyes of a mature woman who now found herself on the other end of it, dealing with two sons and seeing them through their adolescence–out of “adultescence” and into adulthood, in the new millennium.
HALLIE: What else did you find yourself writing about?
LYNNE: Several of the poems focus on the loss of friendships, whether by neglect or attrition, geographical distance, or death. This preoccupation with loss is something that has always been part of my psychological makeup. But it has grown more intense, and more poignant, in my late sixties.
Thinking about these losses and working towards the insights that come from meditating on one’s own mortality, have, I think, made my poetry deeper and more universal. I hope that a reader need not have grown up as a Baltimore girl in my era, for the poems to resonate with her or him.
HALLIE: Do you think poetry needs to be heard (as opposed to silently read)? I often find myself reading a poem aloud to myself, just because the spoken word seems to carry more meaning. And then I need to repeat it so I can hear it again.
LYNNE: Something I feel quite strongly about is the need for poetry to be out there in the world, as a spoken art, a text read aloud, not merely lines in a printed book that no one borrows from the library. For me, this means doing readings everywhere I can get my foot in the door—public libraries, writing workshops, open mics, bookstores, churches, community centers. I use social media like Facebook and Twitter, as well as my blog, to get my poetry in front of people who would not normally buy poetry books, or borrow them from the library.
HALLIE: So will you be giving readings? Where? When??
April 2, 2017, Westwood Public Library, Westwood, MA 3-5 PM
May 6, 2017 Massachusetts Poetry Festival, reading Salem, MA
October 19, 2017 Featured poet, Gallery 55, Natick, MA
January 13, 2017 Florida Center for the Book, Fort Lauderdale, FL
HALLIE: What’s your writing process? Do you workshop the poems with other writers or is it a solitary effort? Does a poem flow out or come in spurts?
LYNNE: I start by writing alone. I write on foolscap, those yellow lined legal pads. Sometimes I start a poem in a notebook, but those big tablets are my favorite. I revise right on the first draft, until it gets too messy, then I get it down on the computer. I save every version of a poem, because sometimes I've revised it, but haven''t made it better, and I go back to an earlier version to get it right.
I have a poetry writing group of two, actually. As well, I participate on and off in Danielle Legros Georges (Poet Laureate of Boston)'s poetry workshops, and for three years --up until 2014, I was a regular member of poetry workshops that the previous Boston Poet Laureate, Sam Cornish. Getting feedback from a variety of workshop participants is daunting, but also very useful.
I put myself on a schedule. I try to write a poem, or part of one, each day. Sometimes I get stuck, but usually, I start a poem and finish it, revise it, revise it again, and then show it to one of my first readers for feedback. Then I revise.
If I submit a poem over and over again and receive rejections from all sides, I look at it with a cold critical eye and work on it some more. I hate to give up on a poem.
HALLIE: This is making me want to go back and revisit the many books of poetry we have, slow down, and read aloud to myself.
Today's question: Is there a place for poetry in your life, and which poets (or lyricists) have spoken to you and for you?
Baltimore Girls is a brief collection of poems that examines the poet’s early life in the 1960s and the culture in which she grew up. It is personal history — tales of a small group of young women who lived in the segregated city of my youth. The poems are mini-memoirs, snapshots of young women who had determined they were bound for greater things: “we were in a hurry to get out of town, out of state, through school, to a job…”
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Lynne Viti is a senior lecturer in the Writing Program at Wellesley College, where she teaches writing-intensive courses in bioethics, legal studies, media studies, and journalism. Her poetry, nonfiction and fiction has appeared in over forty online and print journals and anthologies, including The Wire: Urban Decay and American Television (2009), The Baltimore Sun, Amuse-Bouche, The Paterson Review, The Little Patuxent Review, Drunk Monkeys, Cultured Vultures, Incandescent Mind, and Right Hand Pointing. She won an Honorable Mention in the 2015 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Contest, and the summer 2015 music poetry contest at The Song Is. She blogs at stillinschool.wordpress.com.