Sunday, April 19, 2009

Your Own Voice: An Interview with Bernadette Geyer

How did your interest in poetry begin?

I specifically remember becoming interested in poetry in high school. I had a great English teacher who encouraged my writing and suggested I submit a poem to a small local newsletter, which they accepted and published. I have a diary from that time which includes various short poems I liked, including Résumé, by Dorothy Parker. I wrote some poetry within the context of English classes in college, but never thought of poetry as a serious vocation until I participated in a poetry workshop, sponsored by a local bookstore, back in 1996. Now it’s hard for me to remember what it was like to NOT feel the need and/or urge to write.

You’re widely published in a number of literary journals, and your manuscript The Inheritance was a finalist for two prizes. What literary journals should young or unpublished poets be reading? And should they worry about prizes?

Young or unpublished poets should be reading any journal they can get their hands on, and any journal they come across on the Internet. Even when I read something that doesn’t necessarily rock my world, I come away with a better idea of what types of poems do blow the top of my head off. Reading a wide variety of publications (both print and online) will introduce you to kindred spirits, and will also help you figure out where are the markets in which your poems may be best suited.

As for prizes, poets should never worry about prizes. Sure, it’s great to win one and pay off your debt to the post office, but it’s completely unproductive and harmful to your psyche to “worry” about winning. It’s far better to worry about whether you’re being true to your poems and your own voice. I’m more concerned with finding connections with readers. When you find a connection, publication will come.

In the age of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Good Reads and all the rest--a glance at your Web site suggests just how involved you are with the Internet—what must a poet do to market him or herself?

I think poets should find their niche, their community. The people whose poetry speaks to them and to whom they want to speak through their poetry. Where do they hang out? Which journals, which presses, which online forums or conferences? No poet can be everything to everyone. You’ll drive yourself crazy if you try. With the other web sites I manage, I saw gaps I thought should be filled. My Resources for Poets site grew out of my own need for a way to continue my education in poetry/poetics when I was trying to hold down a very stressful, full-time job that didn’t allow me to take one month off to go to Greece or Russia – or even Vermont – to take workshops. The web site began as a list of resource links I could use for myself, but I realized it might be valuable to others in the same situation.

I think the best way for a poet to “stand out” is to find his/her voice and nurture it. You are the only person who thinks and writes like you. Don’t try to be like “so and so famous poet X”… just be who you are with your unique perspective and way of writing. If you just try to write like everyone else or do things the way everyone else does them, you’ll sound just like everyone else.

How do you manage it all—being a mom, poet, and literary promoter?

I work a lot. I probably push myself to do too much. I also have a few regular proofreading and writing gigs that bring in a modest income. I watch less than an hour of TV a day, on average. And, thankfully, I have a husband who understands how important my own writing is to me and helps me carve out time for my writing. I also don’t really think I “manage it all.” At least not all at once. I don’t consider myself to be a very prolific poet, but I feel if I can write a few really good poems each year (and maybe a couple of pretty good ones as well), then it’s been a good year. Since my daughter started preschool a few mornings a week last fall, I’ve been able to say “I’m not going to work on weekends or after 10pm during the week” and pretty much stick to it (though I am writing this at 10:50pm, so it’s not a hard-and-fast rule).

Last year, you and Sandra Beasley participated in a 32 Poems reading featuring a live musical performance by the local band The Caribbean. What is it about poetry and music that works so well together? Would you do it again?

I would definitely do it again! That event was a lot of fun. As for why poetry and music work well together I think perhaps it is because they stem from the same roots. Before writing, cultures were purely oral. History was passed on from generation to generation in song and story. The songs were the stories. It’s just a shame that so much contemporary music seems to be generated by a cliché-compilation machine. That’s why I appreciate bands like The Caribbean…you’re not simply hearing something written to purposely tug at heartstrings or to be sung drunk in a bar at 2am. I appreciate music where the lyrics are a little more complex and unique. I think it all goes back to not trying to sound like everyone else. I appreciate bands that have their own unique perspective and sound, just as I am drawn to poets whose work exemplifies distinct perspectives.

About Bernadette Geyer:
BERNADETTE GEYER is a poet and freelance writer/editor in the Washington, DC, area.
Her poetry chapbook, What Remains, was published in 2001 by Argonne House Press. Her full-length manuscript, The Inheritance, was a finalist for the Ohio State University Press/The Journal Poetry Prize and for the Richard Snyder Memorial Publication Prize from Ashland Poetry Press. Geyer's poetry has recently appeared in Hotel Amerika, The Marlboro Review, South Dakota Review, The Midwest Quarterly, 32 Poems, The Evansville Review, and other literary journals. Geyer's non-fiction has appeared in, Sustainble Development International, The Montserrat Review, World Energy Review, and Marco Polo Magazine.

You can read another interview with her at

1 comment:

Serena said...

Great interview! I also interviewed Bernadette here: