Interview with Joanne Bodin

Kenneth P. Gurney. What got you started into poetry? What age?

Joanne Bodin: I began writing poetry in 2nd grade at age seven.  I still remember the poem I wrote.  Our teacher taught us that all poetry had to rhyme.  At the time we lived in Venice, California near the ocean and I could hear the fog horns at night and see the beams of light from the light house signaling approaching planes. Here is what I wrote:

Last night as I lay down to sleep
I pulled the blinds way above my sheets
I looked at the stars way up so high
And the beam of light that streaked  the sky
No birds or bees, just plain dark blue
And the little white stars that glowed like dew
That night our neighbor’s lights were still on
It was twelve o’clock, five hours till dawn
But since my head lay down so low
All I could see were the stars aglow

KPG. What was your first pet as a kid and the pet’s name?

JB: My first pet was a beagle named Spotty. My father worked with people in the movie industry in Los Angeles and one of his friends, an actor (can’t remember his name) gave us a puppy for Hanukkah. Spotty was wild, and jumped into a can of silver paint that my dad was using to paint the swing set in our Venice, California back yard. I remember my mother taking the dog, covered in silver paint, wrapped in a towel, to the doctor, who shaved all of his fir.  The paint was toxic.  When she brought Spotty home, he had no hair, only pink skin, like a rat.  We got rid of Spotty the next summer.

KPG. How much influence does your university degree(s) have on your writing of poetry and how?

JB: My Ph.D., from the University of New Mexico was in Multicultural Teacher Education.  It basically has no influence on my poetry, or on my poetic view of the world. The degree is linked to my career and my poetry is linked to my soul.

KPG. Who is your hero and why?

JB: I do not have one particular hero.  Most of the people I look up to are people who are outliers, who have broken with traditional societal norms, and who have managed to find their own path. At a young age, I realized that the world I lived in seemed more like a dream, and that my dream world was more authentic to me. I went through the motions of growing up but my internal  life was what sustained me, thus the title of “melancholy” was given to me in 3rd grade when my teacher called in my mother for a conference because I wouldn’t play with the other kids at recess. Instead, I would sit on the asphalt playground staring at the clouds and finding castles, dragons, turtles, snakes, and other images. Out of concern, the teacher told my mother that she would put me as a teacher’s helper with the kindergarten kids at recess,  to bring me out of myself.  It worked. But, by the age of 10, I’d  stopped living in my dream world and never even  noticed the white billowy clouds until I was an adult.

KPG. Tell us about your favorite poetry experience.

JB: Perhaps my favorite poetry experience was when I lived in West Hollywood and I became a member of the Los Angeles Poets.  We met each other through a UCLA poetry class and decided to form the LA Poets.  We  did readings at libraries throughout Los Angeles. At that time, I was putting some of my poems to music as I was developing my improv skills on the piano. Three of my poems ended up being read aloud at one of the library readings while I played improv on a piano in the library. We also had an improv dancer who danced to the music while my poetry was being read.  Then, years later when I moved to New Mexico, I was invited to participate in a women’s artist showcase at UNM and I recreated the Los Angeles event with me playing the piano, someone reading my poems, and a dancer.  The event was video-taped.  This would have been back in 1988.

KPG. If you could wave a magic wand and place a poetry book into every high school english classroom as required reading, which one would it be and why?

JB:  The one book I would place into every high school English classroom would be, Rose, where did you get that red? :Teaching Great Poetry to Children by Kenneth Koch, Vintage Books, 1974. The book covers an array of poets from Shakespeare, to Chinese poets, African poets, Japanese poets, Native American poets and gives a basic classical background that serves as a foundation for contemporary poetry.

KPG. What is your favorite National Park?

JB: My favorite National Park is Yosemite because as a child, my family used to go to “family camp” during summers where we’d sleep in canvas tents, participate in ranger talks at night, watch the hot embers being tossed over high cliffs for the “firefalls” event, listen to ghost stories told by park rangers, and of course, the best memory of all; watching my father freak-out when he realized that a black bear was rubbing along his back outside the canvas tent one night as we slept on metal cots, supposedly safe inside.

KPG. For you, how is writing poetry different than writing prose?

JB: Writing poetry is quite different for me than writing prose, yet there are some intersecting aspects as well. When I write poetry I usually let go off preconceived ideas and thoughts and go into another “zone,” where words just come out and hopefully begin to make sense as I continue.  If I am writing a poem for a specific purpose, then it is more like prose writing where I need to use conceptualization, structure my thoughts, stop and reflect, re-write over and over until the concept is how I had intended.  However, when I write “true poetry,” I let go completely, like when I play jazz improvisation on the piano, or when one “has sex.” Obviously, I prefer the latter, however, when I wrote both of my novels, Walking Fish and Shadow Dreamer, I used some of the techniques in what I call, “true poetry.”   I needed a back story for both novels and I used dream sequences as well as non-linear thought to create a type of poetic narrative to add depth and dimension to the characters.  It is a convention used in literary fiction, one that I particularly liked in Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Blind AssassinDavid Guterson also uses this type of poetic narrative in his novel, Snow Falling on Cedars.  And Richard Russo, in his book Empire Falls uses this as well. In the novel, The Lover, by Marguerite Duras, she  uses almost stream of consciousness to tell the story, so these are possible examples of where writing poetry and prose intersect.

KPG. If you could be present at any moment in history as a safe observer or unsafe participant, what event would you visit and why?

JB: I would have liked to have witnessed, first hand, our first moon landing. I remember watching it on TV and realizing for the first time how expansive our universe was, and how humans on earth were but a mere speck in the vastness of creation. It certainly humbled me and helped me to appreciate life more, and to not take myself so seriously.

KPG. In regard to food, what is your favorite indulgence?

JB: Probably a Dairy Queen hot fudge sundae.

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