Interview with Poet Ellaraine Lockie

Pablo:  I'm very glad for the opportunity of interviewing you, Ellaraine.  Your audience is rapidly growing, and I'm not the only one who wants to know how you think.  So. . .  Femininity is very evident and strong in your poems.  Could you please express how your beauty and femininity translate into thought and word?

Ellaraine:  Thank you, Pablo, for doing the interview. I'm smiling at this first question. The last person who bought a copy of my chapbook, Finishing Lines, was a woman medical doctor from Russia who is well-read in poetry.  She said after reading it, "You write like a man."

And the judge of the recent Elizabeth Curry Award from SLAB at the University of Slippery Rock, in writing the analysis of the winning poem (which was mine), referred to the poet throughout as "he."  (The contest entries were anonymous.)  I think this was because the poem reflected a realistic look at Montana farm life, and it also used the word "bullshit."

But okay, two of my collections (Midlife Muse and Crossing the Center Line) have dealt with a most feminine issue--that of menopause.  The poems in them have struck a cord with many women because I openly address experiences that they are either too embarrassed to talk about or sometimes even to think about.  And I have quite a few poems about sexuality, one collection in particular about illicit love affairs (Coloring Outside the Lines).  Another in progress is a collection on electronic love.  These are all written from a woman's viewpoint, either my own or others', mostly women's. 

I feel more qualified to write from a woman's stance for the obvious reason.  When I do so, as I do with every poem, I try to strip the layers away of whatever subject I'm addressing until I'm down to the core of it.  This requires an unflinching look and a willingness to write what I find there, no matter what is revealed.  These are truths as I either experience them or observe them.  That's what poetry should do I believe--deliver the truth.  And I do think that the truth is perhaps harder to communicate sometimes for women, especially of my generation.  We were brought up not to say the word fuck, for instance, when men said it all the time.  But there are scenarios that can only be described by using the word. I have a poem, in fact, about how my daughters taught me that it was okay to use it.  It's a very effective word, as long as it's used sparingly.

Pablo:  How do you define truth in poetry?  How factual are your truths?

Ellaraine:  Poetry by definition is creative writing.  Many poets and readers forget that and put poetry in a memoir or diary category.  In the workshop that I teach, "From Picture Books to Poetry," I've started having students write "lies" just to get them feeling comfortable with the creative aspect of poetry, because sometimes we have to write non-factually, either to get at core truths or to make our poems the best they can be.  The term "poetic license" didn't become cliché for nothing.

For me, the excellence of the poem is the only criteria for honesty. Of course I'm not advocating telling lies about particular people in poems.  In fact, that's one of the great things about creative writing--being able to change say, from first person to third person at will, thus protecting everyone's privacy--including my own.  I often write someone else's experience in first person and my own in third person.  Also, many of my poems are composite poems--ones that utilize multiple people and/or experiences but then tie them all together in one voice.  And I never tell which poems, or which parts of a poem, are factual.  It's a question I get often at readings, and I have to clamp my mouth shut in order to avoid giving a lecture.

Sometimes, too, poems inherently demand deviations from facts in order to read musically or to follow a particular form.  And what difference does it make if a dress is red instead of blue or if the experiences in the poem really happened to five people instead of one?  The only thing that matters is that the poem reads true, and the readers will know when it does. 

Pablo:  Do you have any expressible thoughts regarding writers (and poets in particular) using opposite gender pen names or about the use of pen names in general?

EllaraineOh, for sure I do.  First of all, pen names no matter what gender, are great fun, and they have a way of becoming alter egos. For instance, I often use mine in public. Everyone at the local Starbucks where I write every morning knows me as the first name of one of my pen names.  (It's so much easier to remember than Ellaraine.)  And let's face it, there are times in life that maybe we don't want to use our real name.

Writing-wise, having pen names has allowed me to get poems published that wouldn't be copasetic with the image of a children's picture book writer, a market that I wish to enter.  Publishers aren't likely to want a picture book writer, at least until she/he is established in the picture book market, to be known for sometimes writing sexually explicit poetry.  This type of conflict of interest is all the more relevant because of the Internet.

I've also found the made-up names to be handy in protecting others' privacy. For instance, I just wrote a poem about an experience my daughter had touring Europe as a member of a fairly famous rock band. To use my name, the last of which is also her name, would identify her and this band. She would be furious, and I wouldn't blame her.

Then sometimes we poets just want to pursue several different styles of writing, and for me it works to have different personas holding the pen. Oh yes, and it intrigues a fair percentage of editors/publishers. One of my pens has an ongoing correspondence with one of my editor's pen names. It's belly-laughing hilarious.

I have three pen names.  The first one originated back when I was first writing children's picture book manuscripts.  I'd sent seven, one at a time as they were rejected, to a certain publisher when she wrote back and told me not to submit any more.  I was green then as a writer, and this upset me terribly because I felt that all of my children's stories were vastly different from one another, and I had several more to send.  So I made up a name, used a friend's address and sent the rest.  She didn't take one, but at least I had the satisfaction of knowing they were read.

Now I tell all perspective editors in my submission letters when I'm using a pen name.  That's the right thing to do, and the right thing for them to do is to protect my privacy, which they've always honored.

And did I mention the romance or mystique of having a made-up name or two?
by Pablo Teasdale