Tuesday 5 November 2013

Interview with Joneve McCormick


Joneve McCormick’s poems have been published in a wide variety of hard copy and online literary and art periodicals and in several poetry anthologies.  She has two solo collections: Small Bird Bones and The Visitor. Joneve hosts the international online poetry journals, Poets International, Poetry Soul to Soul and The Peregrine Muse. She is the editor of World's Strand, an anthology of  contemporary poetry.

1. Given the ways contemporary authors have been trying to compose all kinds of poetry, how would you define ‘poetry’?

I like these words by John Keats:

"No one was ever yet a great poet, without being at the same time a profound philosopher. For poetry is the blossom and the fragrancy of all human knowledge, human thoughts, human passions, emotions, language."

Today, feeling in poetry is perhaps more important than thought and there is more experimentation for its own sake, but poetry is still poetry -- or not.  We like newness; it is exciting when it works, but too much originality can prevent communication, at least for awhile.  All true art has distinctiveness and originality, however subtle; artists create the forms of the future.

An audience expects poetry to affect and influence it, whatever its "kind"; and it wants to be moved in satisfying ways.  Art has been aptly described as "the quality of communication"; poetry is using language to create a quality effect. It does or it doesn't.

2. Many people say poetry is dying. Do you agree or disagree with this statement, and why?

Unless humanity is dying, poetry isn't dying.  It is inherent in the human psyche, in languages and their rhythms, in all art, in life itself.  Most (if not all) great spiritual leaders and teachers have been poets;  poetry is a high road to knowledge, essential to civilization. Its pinnacles coincide with those of great civilizations and religions.  For example, Homer's Odyssey, which was required reading for a time, especially for children (who learned it by heart and could recite it), to inspire courage and upright behavior. 

Poets today are motivated and challenged by diversity and globalization, yet the universal principles remain and poetry, whatever its culture, is easily recognizable.

People can lose courage, civilizations can decay, and it can look like poetry is dying.  That doesn't mean it is.

3. What defining features do you think ‘best’ poetry should possess? In other words, what is your personal or working definition of ‘best’ poetry?
T.S. Eliot said "Poetry can communicate before it is understood." I think this is a good working definition of "best".

When I choose poems for publication I look for what is distinctive, impresses me, leaves dents.  "Best" poetry lives beyond words and lines in the ways it interrelates feelings, thoughts, rhythms and images to take readers into their own hearts and minds.  It creates an effect and metaphor is seldom, if ever, missing.

4. Who are the 3 most important or noteworthy contemporary poets according to your personal/working criteria.

Koon Kau Woon, Craig Raine and Matthea Harvey are the first three who come to mind -- I have been reading their poems recently. There are many noteworthy contemporary poets. And too many are relatively unknown. 

I have the privilege of presenting some noteworthies here:

Poets International:  http://www.theperegrinemuse.com/PoetsInternational/
The Peregrine Muse:  http://www.theperegrinemuse.com/Whos_here.html
Poetry Soul to Soul:  http://www.theperegrinemuse.com/poetrysoultosoul/
Joneve & Friends:  http://www.theperegrinemuse.com/joneve&friends/intro.html

5. Considering the contemporary poetry writing/publishing reality, what are the most important changes that you think should be made to promote poetry as a worthy cause?

I don't know if any important changes should be made; we may be in a slump that has to run its course.  Those who want to, though, can do much more to promote poetry.  Academics are important disseminators, but tend to favor the work of other academics who write.  Decades ago in the 50's and 60's "the beats" outshone "the academics"; those poets who drew the most attention to poetry were part of a larger movement in the culture and the arts.  The academic world, except for "poets in residence" and other exceptions was behind the times then, often using selection criteria which competed with quality.  Today, technology offers many new possibilities for innovative promotors.  A lot is already being done, but much more is possible. 

Sensitive readers hear words, but many readers "look at" them.  Poetry should be read out loud more, sung and chanted, as it has been in the past; the sounds and rhythms of poetry are essential to its very existence.

6. Which 3 poetry editors or magazines would you like to recommend to all poetry lovers? Or, which 3 are your most favorite poetry editors/journals?

This is difficult, as I like many journals and editors, but if I had to select three editors, based entirely on who I would want to edit my own work, then yourself (Changming Yuan), Gabriel Rosenstock and Lisa Zaran come first to mind.  All of you are gifted with the intuitive language capability, talent and integrity to do a really first-rate job.

7. What are the most important or interesting things that you have learned about poetry writing/publishing as a poetry editor?

The most important thing is to make only changes and tweaks which bring out a poem as it is, as though an editor hasn't been there -- unless otherwise requested by the author. There are poets whose "cultural voices" are easily diminished in the editing process and that changes the quality of their poems; I've learned ways to sacrifice correctness to keep original qualities, and still do a professional job.

It is important to be able to say "no" to a poet or a poem when I am making selections for publication. Poor choices can pull down a site, or a page of otherwise beautiful work.  It is important to offer one's viewpoints honestly, to say what doesn't work and why -- and, especially, to acknowledge quality.  If a poet does his best he will find, or make, a place to present his work.

8. What is the most or least enjoyable part of being a poetry editor?

The most enjoyable part is reading wonderful poems and being able to dust off a poem, if needed, without intruding.

Least enjoyable is the struggle to maintain quality in the process of translating from one language to another or in turning English standard enough to be understood.  I once had a linguistics professor who disparaged the idea that 'poetry cannot be translated'; according to him, if the mental ideas came across then the poem could be translated.  He was a thinker who wouldn't acknowledge that poetry is "how" a poem means, as well as what it means intellectually.  If the poem is lucky little may be lost in translation or adaption, but generally something is lost or changed, and sometimes even for the better.  Of course poets should always be free to reject any edits of their work.


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  2. 3 Chinese formula poems
    (by Joneve McCormick)

    Wafting in fragrance
    a peach blossom falls.
    Blown into the bushes
    a love letter is lost.
    No one sees.


    Hidden in weeds
    cat watches crow
    pulling up a worm.
    Overhead a plane purrs
    trailing smoke.


    Under dark sky
    pink buildings glow,
    a man looks up,
    takes deep breaths,
    forgets to hurry.