Poetry Santa Cruz
Poetry Santa Cruz

Lola Haskins

An Interview by Dennis Morton with poet Lola Haskins

Dennis Morton:  Why do you write poetry?

Lola Haskins:  I write because it makes me feel alive.  And because I can't help it.   Poetry's my drug.  There's no high like finding a line I love.  Yet most of what I write isn't poetry at all; it's awful stuff.   So why do I bother?  Well, that's what the theory of intermittent reinforcement is all about.   Give the pigeon food every time and she'll get bored.   Give her food once every unpredictable number of times and she'll keep pecking forever.

DM:  Tell us a bit about the connection between music and poetry in your work.

LH:  I've written a lot of poems directly about music--in fact, a whole book--Forty-Four Ambitions for the Piano, which started because I began taking piano very late--I was 40.   And it turned out that my teacher couldn't communicate except with her hands,and that I couldn't understand except in words.  Finally, I figured out that if I were going to make my hands work at all, I was going to have to translate.

Independently of that, I try hard to listen when I write so that the sounds of my poems interweave.  In fact, one of my longest-standing ambitions is to give a reading in a country where no one speaks English and have the listeners hear music.

DM:  What's the best advice you've received from a mentor about poetry?

LH:  I didn't study poetry and didn't meet many poets until I was quite middle-aged so I've never had a mentor in the usual sense.   On the other hand, I think it would be fair to say that the poets I've read were my mentors.   So, if you'll grant me that, I think one piece of advice which hit home for me, being a perfectionist by nature, came through Merwin, who said that Berryman told him that if you had to be sure what you wrote was any good, don't write.

DM:  How do you deal with writer's block in your own work?

LH:  The main thing I think about when I'm blocked is how important it is to keep going.   And I remember the times I was certain that I'd written the last poem I'd ever care about, and how every time I felt that way, I was wrong.

DM:  Have you been writing poetry all your life?

LH:  No.  When I was a child, I drew and painted all the time.   When I got older, I did nothing but study.  But, no matter what, I was reading--poetry and plays and novels.   When I got out of college, I went to Greece because I loved Greek drama and wanted to see where it came from.   I lived in Athens and waited on tables, and generally found Greece so inspiring that I started to write truly terrible poetry.   Eventually, it got a little better.

DM:  You've often worked with dancers and composers and visual artists.   Can you talk a little about what those experiences were like?

LH:  My favorite thing about collaboration is the sense of family and the whole product not being about me.  I also loved finding out that all artists generate their ideas in more or less that same way regardless of art form.   Knowing we're the same gives me such a lovely and reassuring sense of community.   I've also been lucky to have been able to work with so many creative, inspiring people.  And on such entertaining projects.  For example, most recently I wrote a libretto for a ballet about Mata Hari.   Then someone wrote music, someone else did the choreography, someone else did the sets (all three were women), and then there were the dancers, so my part was really just the tiniest germ of what happened.   In this case, though, I got to see the fruition of my ideas because I played Mata Hari myself (not my idea, but apparently what the choreographer had had in mind all along.   That was truly thrilling, I have to say.

On another occasion, a photographer did pictures inspired by a story/poem of mine about a Japanese folk hero, and we had a show at a gallery.   A different photographer has done a series of wild computer-generated photographs to illustrate my manuscript called Solutions Beginning with A, which is fell-swoop prose poems about women.   On a number of occasions, too, composers have set my work--twice for ensemble, singers, and dance.

My favorite collaboration, though, has to be performing Forty-Four Ambitions as a concert with a composer, who did electronic settings for some of the pieces, and a classical pianist (one of my best friends, Kevin Sharpe, a from-the-soul interpreter).  We've done it several times and our NPR station has a CD of it which it airs every so often.

DM:  Is there anything special for you about reading in Santa Cruz?

LH:  There really is. I went to Stanford, but haven't been back to California since the late sixties except to visit family--and those visits were brief.   And I've never read here.  In a way, I see this trip as a kind of coming home after thirty years of working away.

Lola Haskins reads with Mary Lou Taylor at 7:30 pm on November 26, 2002 in the Capitloa Book Cafe.

Events | Authors | Interviews | Books | Resources | About PSC
© Copyright 2001 | Poetry Santa Cruz | (831) 429-2399