Welcome to our continuing blog series here on Poetry Fridays, Dodge Poet Spotlight. We are turning the focus over to the individuals who make our programming what it is in the schools, with teachers in Spring & Fountain, and on the ground at the Dodge Poetry Festival — the Dodge Poets.
Each week, a Dodge Poet answers some questions about themselves and provides a selected poem of their own work. We hope that this will be a way for you to get to know the Dodge Poets a little better, and you can get an idea of why we love working with them so much.
We are first featuring leaders of our Spring & Fountain sessions.
Without further ado, today’s Dodge Poet is Christine Salvatore.
What are you reading?
I am rereading Fred Marchant’s Tipping Point in it’s 20th Anniversary edition, as well as his newer book, Looking House. He has made me a believer that the personal can be political, and also that we are still at a loss in what to do about war.
When did you first discover poetry?
My mother read me children’s books of poetry, as well as all of the Grimm’s Fairytales, when I was young. I believe those readings were the springboard for my imagination, which led me to writing my own poems. Also my father was an occasional painter, and I felt something brewing in me when I’d watch him work. I can’t paint worth a lick, but I learned to write.
What great poem are you proud of having “written?”
Anne Sexton’s “Her Kind” has been a home for me since I was a teenager. She was the first poet I read that was female, smart, and a little wild. “Her Kind” showed me that women like her (and me, as I see it) are misunderstood but still amazing. My mother and sisters were so prim and quiet when I was growing up. I felt like a caged lion among them. Even now, when I’m feeling a little out of control, I recite the poem to myself. It gives me permission to honor who I am, in my entirety.
How do you make time for poetry?
Among my friends and family, I am infamous for working too much. I have to try very hard to make time for writing, and I find it easiest to do that by going on writing trips. I go away in the summer, when I’m not teaching, and take workshops and write everyday. I’ve been to France, Wales, and soon, Scotland in the most recent years to write. I find it very hard to write between the grading and the laundry, in stolen moments like some poets do. I need to give myself over to it and not worry about coming back for a bit.
Tell us about any personal habits, rituals, ceremonies, superstitions that are part of your writing practice.
I almost always start a writing session by reading books of poetry first. That way, it feels like I am in conversation with other poets. I read a poem and I think, I have something to say about that, too, or something like that. I need coffee to write, and, like my reading habits, a view out of a window.
What was your favorite experience reading to an audience?
How about my most terrifying experience reading for an audience? I was seventeen years old and asked to read with other teenagers at the 1992 Dodge Poetry Festival. We were on the big stage and, in an attempt to garner a bigger audience, the directors had interspersed big name poets to read in between the high schoolers. We didn’t know the reading order until we were called, and, as luck would have it, my name was called… after Lucille Clifton. I was stuck to my seat. She was so amazing, on the page and even more in person, that I decided right then and there I couldn’t read next. I stayed put. They had to call my name twice before I managed to stand up.
What was the funniest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?
Oh, I’m still terrified to tell people I’m a poet. Almost as much as I’m sometimes scared to say I am a teacher in today’s climate. But the funniest moment was probably when I visited a classroom of second graders and the teacher, a friend of mine, told the students I was a poet. A little girl in the front row raised her hand and said, “What does that mean?” I still don’t know how to answer her.
These days she can’t discern
if she is moving toward something
or away. Airline itineraries
don’t help: To go north, sometimes,
she must first travel west.
And all the time she feels lost
on arrival. When one home replaces
another, does the body ever find rest?
Accustomed to being just gone,
she has forgotten the solid strain
of being present and at every gate
her greeters wait for her absence.
She likes it best in the air–
going anywhere–the checkerboard
pattern of the earth shifting
slowly beneath her. North, East,
South and West, she would smash
the compass glass if she could.
How wonderful to be just leaving,
always about to arrive.
Published in Mead Magazine, Volume 4, Fall 2012