Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Santa Barbara poet laureate (2019-2021), and Danusha Laméris, Santa Cruz poet laureate (2018-2020), are widely published and renowned. They teach classes and workshops worldwide, so they were ready when Good Times asked them to reflect on the key ingredients to a life of poetry.
Increasingly it seems the job of a serious poet involves teaching and offering workshops to help grow the next crop of poets. Do you enjoy guiding the craft of making poems?
DANUSHA LAMÉRIS: I do enjoy mentoring poets. The process of teaching has changed my own poems, attuning me to what I most love on the page. My students have taught me so much, often by asking good questions. What I don’t know becomes a rabbit hole I go down in search of an answer. I teach through Pacific University’s Low-Residency MFA Program, and it’s like having an old-fashioned correspondence, poet to poet.
LAURE-ANNE BOSSELAAR: I agree with the great majority of poets who say that you cannot teach someone to be a poet—but you can certainly teach the many craft elements that go into making a poem a successful one. Also, I am lucky to mostly teach poets at the MFA level or adults who are motivated and interested in learning the crafts elements that go into writing poetry. And it’s the conversations I have with the poets I mentor or MFA students I teach that teach me so much about our art—every time!
Does teaching tend to be the “day job” for a practicing poet? And do day jobs add more frustration than support to your practice?
DL: The hardest part of being a working poet for me is scheduling and filling out forms! Teaching is one of the pleasures.
LB: Teaching has indeed been my day job, and this for decades. And teaching, talking, analyzing, revising, discussing, and discovering poetry is what makes me happy to get up every day. How lucky can one be to teach what one loves best? Are there some less successful days than others? Of course, there are—but name me a job that doesn’t have its ups & downs.
How often do you sit down and work on poems? Daily? At airports? Coffee shops?
DL: I do try to visit with poetry daily. That can mean reading poems, writing poems—at my desk and in cafés—and editing work I have in progress. My shelf of poetry books is a great treasure in my life. I love that the poet Naomi Shihab Nye says that even if she couldn’t write a poem––she could always be a fan! There are so many wonderful poets to savor and celebrate.
LB: I love early mornings at home best or in hotel rooms when I travel—when the mind is still fresh and sometimes surprisingly rich in metaphors—and even rich imagery—after a good night’s sleep. I also love to write while listening to music. Mostly without lyrics, of course, so piano music, cello, or even movie musical scores. I find that certain movie soundtracks create a kind of “narrative space” I love as background “noise.” My favorite composer right now (I change often!) is Rachel Portman, who composed the soundtrack of Chocolat and The Cider House Rules, but I also love the music of Nigel Westlake and James Horner.
Does the Poet Laureate honor bring increased visibility and opportunities? Does it lead to an unexpected workload?
DL: All I know is that’s how I started the Hive! (With the help of my co-founders). The laureate position is an opportunity to expand one’s love of poetry into the larger community. A vehicle. It’s like the SUV of poetry.
LB: Being Poet Laureate is an incredible honor and occasion to share with as many people as possible. As Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara, I wanted to invite young and old poetry lovers from all walks of life to send their poems, not only “professional” or widely published poets. So, I put together an anthology of poems by Santa Barbara city and county poetry writers, with lovely poems written by nine-year-old Chumash poets as well as by a 93-year-old grandma and a poet who had never sent out a poem before I asked him. The anthology is entitled While You Wait, published by Santa Barbara’s Gunpowder Press. I’m deeply convinced that if more contemporary poets of all ages and provenance, languages, and origins were taught in schools, the studying of poetry and the reading and writing of it would become much more popular.
What poets or writers inspired you to try your first poems?
DL: My first poetry loves included a wide range: my grandfather and his poet friends in Barbados. The poet Tony Hoagland taught a group of five young poets at my high school. Rilke, Yehuda Amichai, Jane Hirshfield, Dorianne Laux and Lucille Clifton. To name a few!
LB: I was raised in Belgium and only moved to the U.S. in my late 40s. So, it’s French and Dutch poets who very much influenced me, such as the Flemish poet Herman de Coninck. My husband, the late poet Kurt Brown and I translated it into a book entitled The Plural of Happiness—and in French, the poets Louis Aragon, Francis Carco, Boris Vian, and Guillaume Apollinaire influenced me greatly.
What currently practicing poets do you admire?
DL: So many! And I always pick up new work by Leila Chatti, Maggie Smith, Ada Limón, and John Murillo, to name a few. Plus, we are blessed with a rich community of local poets, many of whom have a national and even international presence—not to mention the marvelous Laure-Anne Bosselaar!
LB: Honestly, I can’t answer this question without mentioning at least 50 poets! All equally loved and admired. But I can, however, name the three teachers I worked with as I studied for my MFA in Poetry: Larry Levis, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, and Thomas Lux, as well as my husband, the poet Kurt Brown who patiently taught me how to write in English—alas, all are deceased.
If you weren’t writing and teaching poetry, what would you want to be when you grow up?
DL: I would be an antiques dealer/jewelry designer. My Caribbean side is made up of writers and teachers, and my Dutch side is engineers and dealers/designers of objects. I carry both loves.
LB: Without hesitation: part of a large choir—which would, of course, allow me to write and especially read poetry “on the side”!
The Hive Live! Featuring Danusha Laméris and Laure-Anne Bosselaar happens Tuesday, March 7, at 7pm. Bookshop Santa Cruz, 1520 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Free (registration required). bookshopsantacruz.com