Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts, Poetry

5 Questions for Connie Voisine, Poet and Author of The Bower

In honor of National Poetry Month, we sent Phoenix Poet Connie Voisine a few questions to delve into her writing and reading life and her thoughts on poetry today.

Describe your ideal reader.

My ideal reader never changes (ideal is ideal), but the person I write to is quite specific and variable. My old mentor, James McMichael, recommended directing a poem to a specific person, to make it rhetorically focused, urgent. I have some writer friends who represent the best of poetry with their rigor, intelligence, wit, and devotion to craft, and to each I have addressed poems and whole books to. My last book, however, was for the reader my daughter will be some day . . . to thank her.

Do you see poetry as having a “moment” right now? And if so, why?

I can’t answer that question. Probably. But I am more curious about what the moment produces than what generated it. I used to teach a group of women writers whose average age was perhaps 80. Those women could really read poems because they had done it all their lives. I could throw anything at them—language poetry, conceptual poetry, spoken word, as well as John Donne’s poems, and we would have a great conversation. I would hope the moment means that our parents, teachers, and school kids could find for themselves a new ease, depth of understanding and fluidity as readers and writers of poetry.

How does your current book relate to or depart from your previous works?

My recent book, The Bower, is unlike anything I’ve written—a single long poem that feels at times essayistic, at other times narrative, with lyricism cracking it open. I have come to love Belfast, Northern Ireland, its musicians, poets, humans. I saw in it a people who had been through some rough, sectarian times and chose peace. The recent murder of writer Lyra McKee in Derry coincided with the actions of a militia (not far from my house) capturing migrants at gunpoint in the desert by the border. At the time that I lived in Belfast, I felt my way through learning how something like the Troubles could happen (is it starting now, here in America?), could haunt a place and its people. Explaining such a world to my young daughter became the task of these poems.

Where do you usually write? What is your work space like?

I write when I have time and on the fly. There is an office in my house dedicated to my writing and it contains a desk and chair, a typewriter, printer, a sewing machine, some rocks and ribbons, a lot of office supplies, tax information, a window with a jagged crack, lots of bills, books, and a view of the kitchen.

What’s the best book you’ve read lately, poetry or other?

I recently reread 2666 by Roberto Bolano. It’s a 1000-page novel that connects WWII to recent violence on the US/Mexico border to literary scholarship. I am planning to reread it again.

The Boweris available now! Find it on our website, online at any major booksellers, or your local bookstore.

Photo by Linda Pinto

Connie Voisine is professor of English at New Mexico State University. She is the author of three previous books of poems, most recently, Calle Florista, also published by the University of Chicago Press.