Poet Interview: Lisa Taylor

Each post on& Lisa Taylor’s blog is a story; they are “observations about the ordinary and extraordinary in literature, life, and teaching.” Taylor encourages people to expand their creativity. She believes poetry is written from a deep emotional and personal place and fiction is from the imagination. Sometimes people need to slow down in order to analyze and appreciate those life’s moments’ importance. Two of her works, Necessary Silence (2013) and The Other Side of Longing (2011) have been published Syracuse University Press.

Do you remember the first poem or creative story you wrote? Did you ever go back to them for revisions? What were your thoughts upon your return to them?

I began writing at age 12. My first effort was a poem called “The Storm.” My sixth grade teacher put it up on the bulletin board. In high school, I won first prize in the National Scholastic Writing Awards for poetry. I wasn’t very good at revision then. Now I’m an ardent reviser of my work, going through sometimes thirty or more drafts before I consider something worthy. Even then, I’m often dissatisfied. When I look at what I wrote as a child or a teenager, I think it is clumsy but still representative of my love affair with language. I came from a family where I was read poetry. My father was a visual artist who loved poetry and literature. My mother was an English teacher.

You wrote on your website that “[w]riting matters because it is how we communicate.” In this time and age, people are short-cutting through writing by abbreviating or shortening words, particularly in the dimension of texting. What do you think of the world we live in where technology is constantly developing and texting is the fastest way for people to communicate? Is texting defined as writing, talking, or both? Or something else entirely?

I feel encouraged by the trend of texting because it is getting people to write more. As a professor, I do not accept texting shortcuts as writing, but as a person in the world, I appreciate it because I have always found writing easier than speaking. I think technology will continue to redefine our methods of communication and I’m okay with that. Communication has changed throughout history. That said, I will always prefer letters to emails, and I am saddened that the process of sending someone a letter is quickly disappearing.

As we live in a fast-paced world. I know that for you poetry is one way of slowing down. How do you suggest others take a moment and jot down their thoughts and feelings?

Poetry is not only a way to slow down; it is also a way to encourage observation. We miss so much in our fast-paced lives. I don’t believe that a person has to be a writer to benefit from writing. Some people keep journals or jot down poems without any desire to publish or even share their work. Creativity can be cultivated, and really, it is necessary to keep pace with the changes in our culture. The employers of tomorrow will want employees who can think critically and creatively, and becoming a good observer and writer are skills that can benefit everyone. Reading, analyzing what you see and read, and writing are ways to develop critical thinking and creativity.

As a creative writer and poet, is the emotional truth the same for both prose and poetry? Or does it vary?

Emotional truth simply means that my first allegiance is to the emotional viability of a situation rather than the literal truth. The emotions must feel authentic, revealing some aspect of human nature. It is less important that anything else in the story or poem be plausible. I do think poetry allows for more leeway with experimentation. It is a very different process for me than fiction. To me, poetry comes from a deeply emotional place while fiction is completely the work of the imagination. There is something very freeing about writing fiction. I can create characters who bear no resemblance to anyone I know.

Can you talk about the fiction you’re currently working on? Is there a correlation between your creative stories?

I am currently working on a collection of short stories as well as a novel. My short stories have a range of topics and settings but one thing that is consistent about my writing is my fascination for unreliable narrators and the complexity of deception people can unleash on each other. One of the stories in my collection came from a painting by an artist I met at Vermont Studio Center in 2012. My narrators range from a recently deceased young man to a teenager meeting her absent father after ten years to a woman whose dreams reveal brutal truths. My novel is a character-driven love story between two childhood friends from different backgrounds who meet again twenty years later. I use an experimental narrative form with repeated lines, some from his wounded past or her memories. PTSD, the Vietnam War, mental illness, and the changing definition of family all play a part in this story. I am about halfway done with the first draft.

The Worcester Review would like to thank Lisa Taylor for her time to participate in the interview and her contribution to the publication.