Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Elise Paschen Interviewed by Edward Byrne

Elise Paschen is the author of Infidelities, winner of the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize, and Houses: Coasts. A new collection, Bestiary, which includes the poems in VPR, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press in the spring of 2009. Her poems also have been published in New Republic, Ploughshares, and Shenandoah, among other magazines, and in numerous anthologies, including Reinventing the Enemy’s Language: Contemporary Native Women’s Writings of North America; A Formal Feeling Comes: Poems in Form by Contemporary Women; Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry and The POETRY Anthology, 1912—2002. She is editor of The New York Times best-selling anthology Poetry Speaks to Children and co-editor of Poetry Speaks Expanded, Poetry Speaks, Poetry in Motion, and Poetry in Motion from Coast to Coast. Paschen teaches in the MFA Writing Program at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Fall/Winter 2008-2009 issue (Volume X, Number 1) of Valparaiso Poetry Review includes Elise Paschen as the featured poet. I am happy to present here the opening of my interview with Paschen and a link to the rest of our discussion.

In November of 2006 I was pleased to introduce Elise Paschen for her poetry reading in the excellent Writing Out Loud series of author presentations at the Michigan City Public Library, not far from Valparaiso. Before Elise read her poems, she and I also engaged in an informal conversation on the stage to allow those in attendance to get to know her and to learn about her approach to writing poetry. Since then, Elise and I have continued our discussion by email, and she has agreed to this more formal interview for Valparaiso Poetry Review. I thank Elise Paschen for generously giving her time and her effort in responding to this interview, as well as for her poems included in this issue of VPR.

Edward Byrne:
In a number of your poems, autobiography or family history appears important and influential. Could you begin by presenting information about your personal history and background?

Elise Paschen:
Frank Bidart wrote: “Somewhere in the family romance lies, each of us suspects, the secret or mystery of erotic power, the source of sexual energy to which, with slight but significant variations, we again and again return. Within the givens of familial, racial, gender and class history lie the materials out of which we must make ourselves . . ..” This is an excerpt from what he wrote on the jacket cover of Infidelities. (I am one of those writers whose mentors wrote a blurb on my book! Bidart generously had worked on the manuscript with me over the course of a year.) At the time I was intrigued by what Frank wrote, but, until recently, I don’t think I really understood what he meant. During the process of assembling the manuscript, he suggested I write some “childhood infidelities” poems. I now realize, by encouraging me to write those poems, he was nudging me to further explore that “family romance.”

Now that I am married and the mother of two children, I, perhaps, have a better perspective of this notion of “family romance.” I was an only child, the daughter of an Osage/Scotts Irish prima ballerina from Fairfax, Oklahoma and a Norwegian/German/Anglo Saxon businessman from Chicago. My parents fell in love, married, separated, and then got back together to remain happily married until my father died several years ago. It is a myth I attempt to fathom and understand. As an only child, I often discovered refuge in the world of the imagination. From the vantage point of a parent, I now see our two children creating their own make-believe play, but it is a universe they share. After I learned how to write—literally when I was seven years old—I was able to convert those imaginings into my attempts at plays, stories, and poems.

You mention being “an only child, the daughter of an Osage/Scotts Irish prima ballerina from Fairfax, Oklahoma.” For readers who may not be aware of it, you are speaking about one of the nation’s most famous and accomplished ballerinas, Maria Tallchief, who also formed (with first husband, George Balanchine) the New York City Ballet and later founded the Chicago City Ballet. Your mother’s presence in some of your poems seems especially poignant, particularly when you view her almost as two personas—the mother you know and the artist everyone recognizes. Could you speak about her as an inspiration, influence, and role model on your interest in art and becoming an artist?

I enjoy relating the story how, when I was young, my mother wanted me to become a lawyer (a profession I never entertained!). I suppose she realized the emotional and financial challenges of an artistic career and hoped I would choose a more secure life. It was my father who encouraged me to become a writer. He felt I should pursue my passion and devote my life to what I love to do.

But my mother served as the role model of the artist and, in that way, she inspired me to become a writer. She devoted herself to her craft and did not allow anything to get in her way. I grew up knowing that a woman should have a career, and, fortunately, I realized my own calling at a young age.

After my mother received the Woman of the Year award from the Washington Press Club, she called her mother to say that she had again met President Eisenhower. My grandmother replied: “Well, your sister, Marjorie, just had dinner with the Aga Khan.” Both my mother and my mother’s mother were exacting parents, demanding excellence from their offspring. I know my grandmother was incredibly proud of my mother. Several years ago a friend was seated near my mother at one of my poetry readings, and she overheard my mother describe my writing career. So I know, ultimately, my mother is proud I chose to write poems.

As you mention, my mother has inspired various poems—such as “Oklahoma Home” and “The Other Mother” as well as some poems I’ve written for the new manuscript, such as “Eurydice,” a poem which explores the pull between the artistic and the domestic life.

In addition to writing about your mother, you also have written poems about your father, including a wonderful newer poem, “Threshold,” that ends with an image readers might see as a more tender version of Roethke’s elegy for his father, “My Papa’a Waltz.” It seems sometimes that the most effective poetry about parents, especially elegies such as Roethke’s poem or Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays,” are written when the poet has grown to be a parent. Do you think writing about your parents and their relationships in more recent poetry is affected by your identity as a wife and mother? Has your image of yourself as a wife and mother caused you to write more poems from that perspective? Can you tell me about your new manuscript of poetry and what concerns you seem to address in it?

Now that I myself am a wife and a mother I certainly am less judgmental! Last summer I attended a dramatization of the poet Susan Hahn’s poetry collection, The Scarlet Ibis. A thread that runs through the poems is a dialogue between the poet and the muse, a conversation that spurred me to consider my own dialogue with the muse; how, perhaps now, my muse has become a bit domesticated. The poet Grace Schulman looked at my new manuscript and she noted this interplay between domesticity and the wildness of art. Several manuscript titles I had been considering explore these different directions: “Sanctuary” and “Bestiary.” (The new book to be published by Red Hen Press is titled Bestiary.) I am compelled by tensions within the poem and between the poems—and I hope the new manuscript will reflect this dialogue.

As with the case of my last book, Infidelities, I have been working on the poems in Bestiary over the past ten years—and the poems reflect my various predilections during this time. As my friend the poet Jason Shinder pointed out: “The poems explore, in part, various domestic preoccupations set against the backdrop of the wild-heartedness, real and imagined, of the animal world.” So there are poems inspired by our children, such as “Monarch,” “Birth,” and “Hive.” Also poems about my father’s death, such as “Threshold,” as you graciously mention. I have a poem about my mother’s detachment from the things of this world, titled “The Broken Swan.” Another new poem inspired by my current appointment as the Three Oaks Poet Laureate (I was asked to write a poem about winter) called “Pond in Winter.” There are a handful of love poems, such as “Moving In” and “Magnificent Frigatebird,” and several persona poems such as “Engagement.” Yeats once wrote that all his poems are about sex and death—I see similar themes at play in these poems . . ..

[Visitors are invited to read the rest of my interview with Elise Paschen, as well as some of her new poems, in the current issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review.]

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