Sunday, April 16, 2006

Interview with Poet Sarah Getty: A Poet who mixes the concrete, with metaphors and emotions….

Sarah Getty is a poet who believes that concrete imagery, as well as being in touch with one’s emotions, are necessary to write poetry. And indeed, Getty’s poetry is full of both, and her work has a descriptive and evocative abundance. Getty is an award-winning poet and fiction writer living near Boston. Her most recent collection of poems is: “Bring Me Her Heart,” (Higganum Hill Books, 2006) Getty is the recipient of a “Cambridge Poetry Prize,” and won the “Barbara Bradley Prize,” from the New England Poetry Club. Her wok has been in such journals as: “The Paris Review,” “The Massachusetts Review,’ ‘The Larcom Review,” and many others. I talked with Getty on my Somerville Community Access TV Show: “Poet to Poet/Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: In a review of your new poetry collection “Bring Me Her Heart,” the reviewer writes that your work indicates to the reader and other writers that they ought to learn more. Why do you think your work is so informed?

Sarah Getty: I have a PhD in English so I have a rather broad range of knowledge.

Doug Holder: Is it arcane knowledge?

Sarah Getty: No. I wouldn’t say it’s arcane. I use some of the best known Greek myths in my work. I have always been a big reader and I have a good memory.

Doug Holder: But don’t you think most poets have a broad range of knowledge?

Sarah Getty: Well… It’s partly because of my age of course…. I mean I have a lot more time as a writer. When I was in school there was probably more attention paid to traditional literature. I think this is now lacking in public education. Education today seems more concerned with boosting the student’s self-esteem.

Doug Holder: You have a new book out: “Bring Her My Heart,” by Higganum Hill Press. Richard Debold, the publisher told me his editorial board shies away from work that is “self-referential.” How would you define your work?

Sarah Getty: Some of it is self-reerential. I think he means “just,” writing about yourself. My poetry deals with issues like death, by putting it in the context of Greek myth, etc…My editor wants work that refers to more than the poet himself.

Doug Holder: But isn’t the poet’s experience part of the common bond of humanity.

Sarah Getty: Indeed this is true. You can write things that are universal without referring to Greek myth. The more specific you can be, the more universal you will be.

Doug Holder: In your poem: “Leonardo’s The Coition of a Hemisected Man and Woman,” you brilliantly dissect a DaVinci sketch of the anatomies of a man and woman. You write that DaVinci started the search for the “essence,’ of man…” but we hapless humans still…hop about hapless and hopeful/ as the half Chick, creating fictitious forms, to fulfill speculative functions. Explain.

Sarah Getty: (Laughs) That was quoted from a scholar’s writing about DaVinci. Although we credit DaVinci with being one of the first people to dissect cadavers, he made a lot of mistakes. He created fictitious forms of speculative function. I meant we blunder around in our lives just as people did 500 years ago. In matters of the heart we are still speculative,

Doug Holder: In the poem “Late Day,” in your new collection, you recreate a scene that uses a rural pond as a backdrop for a reflection on death, or perhaps our ultimate divorce from nature. You write:

“When three Mallards glide by, green heads
gleaming. When sound sleeps. When,

for an hour, there is nothing to wish for.
When the air cools and the water

darkens. When gray geese raise a ruckus,
saying you cannot stay.”

Do you think we are drawn to images like the sea, the sunset, because they are in effect dramas about the cycle of life and death?

Sarah Getty: They are natural symbols. Yes. You sit in lake, during a golden afternoon…everything is beautiful…everything is perfect. But these geese are making a noise that implies: “you cannot stay.” On the first level it means: “I have to go home and make dinner.” But on the other it signals mortality. There is a lot of thought about our mortality in the book.

Doug Holder: You run workshops for poets. How do you approach the novice?

Sarah Getty: I basically have a two-sided approach. One is to concentrate on concrete images in the poem. Concrete images are important. I also encourage them to expand their vocabulary. I have them use the dictionary, and use words that they don’t know.

Doug Holder: Why is it important to expand their vocabulary?

Sarah Getty: It’s like you have a small wardrobe and you want to expand. The other approach I use in my workshops is for the poets to get in touch with their emotions. I make them imagine something they encounter, the ghost of their mother, etc… Something evocative.

Doug Holder: You are a singer. How does that fit with your life as a poet?

Sarah Getty: I am a member of the “Master Singers,” that perform in Lexington, Mass. for the past 30 years. I do think there is a connection between poetry and song. Poetry is about sound and rhythm.

Doug Holder: How hard is it to get a poetry book published?

Sarah Getty: It is very hard. It helps to be in the area for a long time. I have and I built up a large personal network. Both of my books were published by people I know. You have to get a practical approach or you are going to put your poems in a drawer like Emily Dickinson.

--Doug Holder. For more info. On Sarah Getty go to

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