In celebration of National Poetry Month, we chatted with poet Scudder Parker about his new book of poems, recommendations to add to your reading list, and how to overcome roadblocks that hinder the creative process.
Scudder Parker grew up on a family farm in Danville Vt. He has been a Protestant minister, a state senator, a utility regulator, a candidate for Governor, a consultant on energy efficiency and renewable energy, and is settling into his new and ongoing work as a poet. Scudder has had poems published in Sun Magazine, Vermont Life, Northern Woodlands Magazine, Wordrunner, Passager, Eclectica, and Twyckenham Notes.
You have a new book coming out in May, Safe as Lightning. Tell us a little bit about it?
SHP: I’ve written poetry since high-school days in Hardwick. The episodes of writing have been sporadic—sometimes a decade or more apart (as I pursued several other careers.) Three years ago, approaching retirement at 74, I began re-working old poems, then mainly writing new ones. I began to crave caring but tough feedback. I was fortunate to find it and it helped me grow as a writer. The book “Safe as Lightning” is really a “collected works” that includes poems from many stages of my life—or to put it another way—the poems are diverse in chronology, subject matter and style. I write about childhood and family, gardening and nature, my life as a preacher; the inseparability of sadness and delight. I want the poems to be part of a conversation and shared reflection with the people who read and hear them.
The stay-at-home order has left many of us with more free time to read. How can we learn to enjoy poetry more? What books of poetry might be good additions to our reading list?
SHP: There is so much! If you don’t read a lot of poetry or you “just don’t get it,” or worse, it makes you feel overwhelmed; start slow. Look up the text of your favorite singer/songwriter’s songs online and read them just as poems (Dylan, Nancy Griffith, Aretha, Leonard Cohen—hundreds of others!). Guess what! You’ve been enjoying poetry for years! Poetry is a dear partner with music. Poems standing alone have tried to build some of that music into them. Feel the music, the rhythm, and don’t get stuck on explaining to your fourth-grade teacher “what the poem is saying.” Decide “what you like” and enjoy it, instead of searching for some other “important” thing you might be missing. Several free subscription services offer you a poem in your email every morning. “Poem-a-Day,” “Poetry Daily,” “The Writer’s Almanac,” and “The Slowdown” are some. They offer a huge diversity of poems. Don’t feel you have to read every poem. Grab the ones that touch you. A few poets to read: Mary Oliver, of course; Jane Kenyon, Elizabeth Bishop, Lucille Clifton, Sydney Lea, Billy Collins, Tracy Smith…a wonderful new book, Minnow, by Vermonter, Judith Chalmer…
Starting and sustaining an art practice can be challenging. What advice do you have for people thinking about using this time to explore their creativity but not sure how to start?
Notice how much has changed almost overnight in this time of crisis! Bring that kind of unexpected freedom to the hesitations, embarrassments, fears of rejection that keep us from making art. Just start. No excuses. A poem, a painting, a song, the instrument that has sat in the closet for years. You may want to be behind a closed door at first, so claim your space. Make art for yourself, or make it for your children, grandchildren, your partner (maybe wait on the internet!)
Learn what comes “naturally” to you, and do it. Then think about what you would like to do but fear you can’t, and try it. Feel free to imitate. Give yourself an assignment. The fear of humiliation (and the experience of actual humiliation) are what stop us. Learn to share, knowing what you are looking for. If you write to show what you feel, or see, or want to say, share it with people who will accept it on those terms. There may come a time when you want critical feedback and caring, honest criticism that really helps you “progress” in your skills. Don’t ask for that until you are ready to use it. You’ll have to sort through feedback to see what really helps. Ultimately, you’re trying to create something that really reaches people…it’s an amazingly complex process. Sometimes it comes in a flash; sometimes it takes time…but don’t we have time right now?
Enjoy! Click here to read a poem from Scudder Parker’s new book coming out this May.