Poetry Santa Cruz
Poetry Santa Cruz

Tilly Washburn Shaw

An Interview by Dennis Morton with poet Tilly Washburn Shaw

Dennis Morton:  You've been a fine poet for a long time.  Why have you waited 'til now to publish your first book?

Tilly Washburn Shaw:  I just did nothing.   I said yes when people wanted to print a poem, but wasn't active myself.   Publishing is a lot of work, and it involves rejection, too.   But then along came Hummingbird Press, which was planned for people like me, who're uncomfortable with self-promotion.   They asked me to do a book, and here it is!   I didn't publish because I couldn't think of myself as a poet.   Or because I was terribly shy but with a layer of unexplored exhibitionism underneath.   Or again, because it's just plain easier not to.

DM:  What advice would you give to older writers who have aspirations for a first book?

TWS:  It's a chance to finish things off that are left undone or long resistant and find a place to settle them, find them context.   It helps clear up pervasive writing clutter that's been getting you down.   It involves intense retrospect, a clarifying akin to readying for death, what you want to pass on to others.   I found myself repeatedly fighting with people, especially with old friends, as if I myself were emergent, were personally being published and not my poems.   It's like taking broader giant steps out into the world, giving up covers, exposing yourself, stripping down, but so what.  And too bad for them, if it doesn't suit.   It's really a lot of work, too, constant learning on the job which you might not use again, but exhilarating, worthwhile, an adventure.

DM:  Aside from poets in your writers' group and poets in your local circle of friends, what poets are you reading these days, and why?

TWS:  Right now I'm reading Ruth Stone.  When she won the National Book Award it drew me back to her.   She's such a fine poet, very satisfying for someone my age.   Dennis, you're always sniffing out new poets, too, which is wonderful, and in your case brings great new voices to our community.   But generally I'm slow to absorb new work. A little is a lot.  I can sustain myself on 1-2 poets for quite a while, just taking the poems in and getting to know them and possess them.

DM:  Many of your poems elevate everyday experiences into small feats of survival.   You transform the quotidian into the noble.  It's an elegant trick because it ennobles the reader, too.  It's almost a signature.  If you accept my description, how did this type of poem come to be 'second nature' with you?

TWS:  My favorite thing is not exceptional events but the everyday, things that are done many times over and become instinctive, practiced, acquire patina, are quasi-anonymous or worn from use.  I like things that are lived, and I'm a real democrat.   I live alone and think all the time about everything.   It's ridiculous, but I enjoy it, one of the ways I entertain myself.   So these are natural materials for me, like making spiderwebs, everywhere.

DM:  What's the most important thing you've learned about writing poetry?

TWS:  You're writing for a reason and it's worth staying with it to find out what it is--but that's usually not easy.

Tilly Washburn Shaw is celebrating the publication of her first book, Swimming Closer To Shore, Hummingbird Press, 2002. She read with the poet Robert Sward on Tuesday, December 10, 2002 at 7:30 pm at the Veterans Memorial Hall in downtown Santa Cruz.

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