Paul David Adkins (pda): Question 1 - In 1989, you published your first book Planting The Voice: Poems from Poems (University of Central Florida Press). How did you arrive at this unique and specific method of using literature to fuel your ekphrastic vision? Did the same inspiration compel you to publish The Silence of Poetry in 2014?
Lynn Butler Schiffhorst (LBS): When I began writing poetry, fifteen years before Planting the Voice was published, I naturally included a phrase or line from someone else's poem as an epigraph. I didn't even have to think about it. It was the end result of a process that had been active in me from childhood. I've always had a wide-open energy field, so everything I read from fourth grade on -- novels and biographies -- made a huge impact. I could go on a crying jag or burn up inside with anger over situations I "only" read about. Most of the time, of course, the books I read carried me off into experiences that made me happy, and there was no need to talk about those. They were satisfying in themselves.
I couldn't talk about the upsetting ones, because they hadn't "really" happened to me. But in another way, they had. Either they caught something of my personal pain or I simply couldn't stand to see other people hurt. I started to read about the Holocaust when I was 12, because The Diary of Anne Frank was playing on Broadway. For decades I read every single book I could find about people who went through the camps. I was determined to bear witness, which I think is so important, and I was also trying to find models for living with the Unbearable.
When I began to read poetry in my 20s and 30s, I found that a single line from a poem could crystallize a whole world of experience and stimulate a response in me. The response became my own poem born out my own world. I quoted the original line in my epigraph, partly to send others to this poem, and partly because I owed recognition to that poet. I had a debt to pay.
pda: Questions 2 and 3 - In the past two years, you have published extensively online through Kindle Books. What drove your decision to self-publish, and how has that decision affected your career as a writer?
Aside from the enormous difficulties every author faces when attempting to publish volumes of poetry, did you choose to stop submitting your work through the traditional manner of journals and magazines, or was there another reason for the lengthy delay between Planting The Voice and Silence of Poetry?
LBS: I decided to self-publish not only because I couldn't find a publisher interested in my work, but because I realized I was writing outside the mainstream. The Zeitgeist was always going to kick me to the side of the road. The last -- and tenth -- time I went to a conference sponsored by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, I was in a room with Jennifer Rees, an editor from Scholastic. She told us frankly, "A quiet story is the kiss of death."
All my stories and poems are "quiet," in the sense that they leave the reader feeling balanced (or at least I hope they do). One reviewer at SCBWI said my middle-grade novel Cats, Dogs and Miracles had "a classic kind of charm." I think the essence of a classic is that it centers viewers or readers.
None of my poems or stories would get the response that Ursula Le Guin, in a New Yorker interview, said her daughter had to the works of Roald Dahl. Her daughter loved his books, read them over and over, but "she was never in a good mood when she finished." I wasn't surprised because Roald Dahl is snarky, and that's very contagious. Rude and snide -- they're the last things I want to be or to wind up children to be.
So Kindle has been salvation!
Every time I put a story, novel or collection of poems on Kindle, I feel euphoric. Somebody might actually find it and be interested in reading it! I also have a child-like fascination with the photographs I use as covers. It's wonderful to see how attractive they are and how appealing they make my work.
pda: Questions 4 and 5 - Why have you shifted away from the more academic, darker writing found in Planting The Voice, to that found in your more recent volumes containing nursery rhymes and children's poetry and stories? Do you still write adult-themed verse, and, if so, what are your plans to publish these poems?
How would you say your personal experiences have governed your writing? What has spurred and maintained your interest in nursery rhymes and children's poetry, and your passion in publishing them online?
(LBS): In the late '80s, I shifted completely out of writing the kind of poems in Planting the Voice. (The Silence of Poetry, which I put on Kindle recently, is not new. It's composed of poems that didn't make it into the first book because of length restrictions). I had just gotten married and jumped into the children's books I hadn't read when I was a child. Beatrix Potter's, for example. Perhaps not surprisingly, the same process happened to me with these fairy tales and rhymes that had happened earlier. They pushed something out of my spirit, and there it was -- on the page. New nursery rhymes, new tales. I have never in my life been as happy as I was when I was writing the poems included in The Green Road to the Stars. I floated along on a blissful cloud.
While I'm writing stories about Giggle, my favorite little ghost, or about the alley cats of Rockefeller Plaza, or about my fictional children who live in 1930s Denmark, I'm still on that cloud and have no plans to relocate.