Dodge Poet Spotlight: Betty Lies

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 Betty Lies.

Photo Credit: Karen Mancinelli

When did you first discover poetry?  What poets made you want to write poetry?
I can’t really say when I discovered poetry. My mother loved it and read it to me from the time I first remember. She also encouraged me to write as a very young child (my first “real” poem was at age 6.) Then in grade school and junior high (as middle school was called in my day) I loved the narrative poems we read: Browning, Tennyson, Longfellow, I can still quote long passages: “This is the forest primeval, the murmuring pines and the hemlocks…” ad nauseum. The Idylls of the King in tenth grade absolutely knocked me out, and the Rubaiyat, which somebody gave me as a high school graduation present, first made me realize the impact of imagery. In college, I learned about modern poetry, and Eliot was both my idol and the reason I stopped writing poetry for 30 years. I couldn’t write like him, so why write at all?

Richard Hugo said we’ve written every poem we ever loved.  He was particularly proud of having written Yeats’ “Easter, 1916.”  What great poem are you proud of having written?
The poem I am most proud of having written is Nazim Hikmet’s On Living. The spirit of that poem is what I want always to emulate. One of my greatest poetic experiences was on a trip to Turkey four years ago, when the leader of our small group asked us to say what we’d like to do if we had a chance. I said I’d like to read On Living to the group, and one night after dinner, on our small boat on the Turquoise Coast, I read the poem in English and she read it in Turkish. Wow.

With all the other demands and distractions in life, how do you make time for poetry?
I don’t always make time for poetry, and that shames me. I’m lucky to have some good poet and poetry group contacts that keep me more alert. But I’ve always felt that we can make time for what is important to us. I have friends who say “I just don’t have time to read,” and I try not to say that there is always time to read. If something has to go, it’s the housework, not the reading. Stick to the essentials!

What are your favorite writing tools?
I love pencils, long sharpened pencils. My students used to tease me that I couldn’t teach without a pencil in my hand. I much prefer pencil to pen, though I do like certain ink pens (not ballpoints, which I hate). I usually start writing poems in pencil on odd bits of paper, whatever is at hand when an idea starts, then put the bits together on computer and go from there through final copy and revision. Prose (like this) I always compose on the computer.

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?
I guess the response that most tickles me is when people’s jaws drop, and then they stammer about how hard poetry has always been for them, but they know it’s such a great thing. It’s like when you say you’re an English teacher, and they say “oh, I’d better watch my grammar when I talk to you.” As if there’s some huge gap there.

Nowhere to Hide

Unpredictable, the winds that feed
those fires devouring Santa Barbara:

the anchor on the nightly news reports
erotic winds drive flames

every which way,
without warning or sense,

and I so understand:

when those erotic winds begin to blow,

you have to know it’s inescapable: it’s
unaccountable, it’s

fire, fire, fire, it’s just

one conflagration
piled up on another.

-Betty Lies

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2 Responses to Dodge Poet Spotlight: Betty Lies

  1. Michael Redmond says:

    I just love Betty Lies’ work and I think the lady’s pretty OK, too . NOWHERE TO HIDE is wonderful.

  2. Hi Betty,

    We’ve never met, but as it turns out, you and I both wrote Nazim Hikmet’s poem, “On Living”, I’ve loved that poem since we first met some years ago in a place and manner no longer remembered.

    You are the first person I’ve known who puts “On Living” at the head of the queue… which makes you a very remarkable person in my book! Kudos for that, and kudos for your wonderful poem, “Nowhere to Hide”. I shared “On Living” with our Clearing the Spring session this year. For those not familiar with “On Living”, the images are powerful, haunting, comical, despairing. I’ve posted the final images below.

    What a glorious tragedy… this thing called life!:

    “This earth will grow cold,
    a star among stars
    and one of the smallest,
    a gilded mote on blue velvet–
    I mean this, our great earth.
    This earth will grow cold one day,
    not like a block of ice
    or a dead cloud even
    but like an empty walnut it will roll along
    in pitch-black space …
    You must grieve for this right now
    –you have to feel this sorrow now–
    for the world must be loved this much
    if you’re going to say ‘I lived’ …”

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