Poetry Santa Cruz
Poetry Santa Cruz

Terry Ehret
An Interview with Poet Terry Ehret by Dennis Morton

Dennis Morton:  Why do you write poetry?

Terry Ehret:  Someone once asked me if poetry was the center of my life, and I hesitated just long enough to embarrass myself.  I realized then that poetry isn't the center of my life (my life has many centers), but it does center my life.  I write to keep my balance.

DM:  What's the biggest mistake a poet can make?

TE:  Not writing.  It's the only way a writer can fail.  Second to that is waiting for inspiration.  The trouble with thinking a poem has to be inspired is that this assumes every poem will be a success.  But in fact, if you're serious about writing, you'll produce more bad poems than good.  A writer needs to be comfortable with this kind of failure rate.

DM:  What do you do to get over writer's block?

TE:  I do what William Stafford recommended:  "Lower your standards." I try to stay patient and playful and improvise with whatever or whoever's at hand.  Those blocked times are often when an old style isn't working anymore, and something new is about to happen in your work.  Just let go of the reins.

DM:  Is poetry "physical" for you?  Can you "feel" a poem coming on, kicking to be born?

TE:  Sometimes I can feel myself coming down with a poem.  But as a writer with three children and a full time job, I rarely have the luxury of waiting for a poem to come to me.  I write in whatever time I can find.   But even then, the writing has to begin in my body as a rhythm and breath, sound shaping itself toward image and idea.  I don't compose on the computer.  I can edit and revise there, but composing is still a manual and physical activity: "breath sculpture," Bob Hass calls it.

DM:  There's a lot of room at poetry's table, but if suddenly there weren't, which 'school' would you send to the back room?

TE:  I might have said Hallmark verse, till they hired Maya Angelou.  Truth is, there are bad poets in every school, and terrific poets where you least expect them.  And I've often discovered I can learn more about writing from what I don't like than from what I love.  If the table's too small, I'd say we better move the party outdoors.

Terry Ehret read with Valerie Berry at 7:30 pm on February 12 at Bookshop Santa Cruz.

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