Profiles

LAURA PAGE (Interview by Josh Medsker)

I’ve known Laura for many years, via literary adventures, and have long been fascinated by her work. Laura, I’d like to welcome you as the very first poet in the Twenty-Four Hours Poetry + Interview chapbook series, which I’m publishing in June.

Thank you!

So, to start, I want to talk about your literary magazine, Virga. What was the inspiration behind it? What made you decide to undertake this crazy endeavor?

In 2015, I saw that a small press, Anchor & Plume, was looking for readers for their lit journal Kindred. I applied, was accepted, and began reading LOTS of poetry, essays, and short stories, and comparing notes with the founding editor, Amanda. It was an exhilarating process and it exposed me to so much that I would not have read otherwise. I noticed as I read that I gravitated toward a certain voice, a certain quality of imagination. Amanda’s and my own aesthetic overlapped very frequently, of course. But while I greatly admired Amanda’s vision for Kindred and Anchor & Plume, which is unfortunately no longer operational, I found myself envisioning space that could foster a more experimental, more lyrical voice. The observations and experiences with A&P were little seeds sown, and Virga grew from that.

Are there any literary magazines that you always come back to… ones that you just thoroughly enjoy?

There are! I’m very happy about so much that I’ve read from a journal, The Bennington Review, that went on a very long hiatus—30 years in fact—and is back in full force as of March of 2016. Benjamin Friedlander, the editor of Robert Creeley’s selected poems, 1945-2005, once said that poetry involves a “zeroing in on those points where particularity gives access to the common and commonalities take particular shape.” I think Bennington is doing this beautifully.

I also love Salt Hill. They just produce, invariably, issues that are full of artistry. The introduced me to writers like Nick Greer and Pilar Fraile Amador.

Some of my favorite new kids on the block, include Human/Kind, which is doing great things with short form poetry, especially the Japanese forms, haiku, tanka, cherita, etc, The Hunger, whose editors, Lena and Erin, curate issues full of pure music, and the Indianapolis Review, which is creating a real space for poets AND visual artists, one that, I think, is focused, more intentionally, on the poetry community, and on being a resource for poets.

What was the impetus to start writing poetry? Had you written in any other genre before poetry?

From a pretty young age, it just delighted me that language had such power to transform, that it seemed like a means of access. I wrote poems very privately as a teenager, but didn’t really begin intentionally developing this passion until later, as a freshman in college, after reading some critiques of Adrienne Rich’s poetry. Rich, and Theodore Roethke were influences that sort of ushered me in, you might say.

How do you know when a poem is working? What is your process like?

For me, a poem is working when the emotional kernel that prompts it can land on an image that soothes me, that validates the feeling, somehow. Or it’s working when the image or subject I’ve landed on can escape, through a trapdoor, maybe – a hidden passage – and emerge somewhere else without its clothes on. In other words, the image or the subject is stripped down and the result is some new insight.

I used to overthink process, used to feel a bit of anxiety about producing “work.” Lately, for better or worse, my process relies on writing very fast, in a very “un-thinking” way. I’ll often abandon these sorts of skeletal things for days or weeks, before returning to them and putting some flesh on the bones.

How often do you write? I know some people have bursts of inspiration… some write every day…

I’ve never been able to regiment my writing. I know it works for some, but I am at the mercy of those “bursts” of insight or inspiration. This has always been the case.

Who are some of your favorite poets? Both established and up-and-coming? Have you noticed any aesthetic/content-based connections between them?

Well, first, I love so many dead poets. Rilke, William Carlos Williams, Ann Sexton, just off the top of my head there. But contemporary established poets would include Norman Dubie, Robert Hass, Sharon Olds, Ada Limon. Favorite newer poets include Danez Smith, Paige M. Lewis.

Connections…that’s a good question. I gravitate toward Rilke and Dubie for their distinct spirituality. Esoteric, I’d call it, sometimes with sexual undertones. Sexuality and Spirituality are, for me, really never divorced in poetry. The other names I’ve listed, I think, combine a confessional aspect with just this thing I can only call wisdom. It’s delightful, because some of them, like Smith and Lewis, are young and just beginning their careers, but the wisdom contained in much of their work can be as grave or mirthful as Olds or Hass.

If you had to pick ONE poet who informed your work more than any other, who would it be?

How dare you. Rather than answer that nearly impossible question, I’ll tell you the name of a poet who has been heavily influencing my recent work. I bought Paul Celan’s collected work, Breathturn Into Timestead, a couple years ago, and was impressed with how much he could pack into such very brief poems. His work relies on what I’d call “impressions.” I just love his idiosyncrasies, the playfulness and innovation in language.

You are also a painter. When you have an idea, a spark brewing… how do you know you have to paint, versus make a poem?

I think I paint when no image or subject is forthcoming for a poem. I don’t plan paintings; I just start painting as a sort of investigatory impulse.

A similar question to number six… what visual artist would you say has influenced you more than any other?

Oh boy, I’m a little obsessed, currently, with the work of a Chicago-based abstract artist, Shar Coulson. She explores the interconnection between humanity and nature, particularly the repetitions of each, over time, and the conceptual movement between reality and perception.

 What is the purpose of art, in your opinion?

I would say that human consciousness always, inevitably wants to push against the limits the natural world imposes. But not just the natural world. Really, it pushes against anything that is said to be “known” about our experience as humans. Art, I think, is a big what-if? What if this or that or the other so-called limit were not present? The purpose of art is to challenge or subvert the grooves we wear in our minds just by living on this planet. I’m kind of obsessed, sometimes, with the idea of collective consciousness, and believe that art is doing something on that level– all these humans, making it, looking at it—and I like to try to imagine what that will enact in the future.

*****

Laura Page is a poet and visual artist from the Pacific Northwest. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including: Rust + Moth, Crab Creek Review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The Fanzine, Maudlin House, and TINGE.

Darren C. Demarree selected her chapbook, epithalamium, as the winner of Sundress Publications’ 2017 chapbook contest. Laura is founding editor of the poetry journal, Virga. (www.virgamagazine.com)

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