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Interview: Poet Kate Lassman. Hoping 'Dawn Anyway' her new book of poems "will mean hope" to readers

Q Writers sometimes imagine talking to people as they compose. Who were your imagined readers as you wrote Dawn Anyway?

A I don’t generally imagine a specific group of readers while I’m actually writing a poem. For me that comes later. The type of readers I imagined as I assembled these poems together into a manuscript are readers who care about nature, and have a spiritual side that wants to be aware of the beauteous simple moments of everyday life and learn from them.

Q What do you hope your book will mean to its readers?

A I hope that it will mean hope to them. I hope it will remind them that despite the terrible things that happen in the world and to the world, those things aren’t the whole story. Light and beauty and kindness are still out there, and small things have meaning. I hope they will find solace and joy in that.

Q Give us a poem, stanza or line that will preview your book for readers…

A The first poem, “Dawn.” uses some of my most typical kinds of imagery and sort of explains ‘why the dawn?’ for this book.

This is the most poetic time: a brisk and airy dawn,

before the gold horizon grows too florid,

before the noisy world wakes.

The sky glows with cobalt vibrancy

and the moon’s full pearlescence.

Walk with me now—see, breathe,

listen in the deep, crisp silence,

and a still small voice may speak.

Q Your poems are set in the life you live: walks, cats, dawns, flowers, insects. Do you have a poet model for drawing poetry from the close at hand?

A Yes. Mary Oliver’s work does a lot of things that I want to do poetically. She’s got lovely descriptions and close observations of nature, and uses those images and encounters with other creatures to make deeper points about life and spirituality. She also has such a hopeful outlook, including in her poems that aren’t nature poems.

Q When do you do your job as a poet? I doubt that it’s 9 to 5, but do you have any reserved hours, place or discipline? Or do you wait for inspiration to strike?

A I don’t have any particular prescribed times to write. My teaching schedule changes every few months, and outside of that, life doesn’t stick nicely to a timetable. However, the place where I write is in the home office I share with my husband. I write in a notebook first, then turn to my computer. Sometimes inspiration does randomly strike; other times I go looking for it.

Q At some point in your life, did you decide you were going to be a poet? Did a muse whisper in your ear? How did you come to make this career choice?

A It happened in stages. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, since before I even had a clear idea of what one was. I can remember at probably age four, beginning to read and newly able to hold a pencil, scribbling on paper, pretending I was writing stories. I did write little stories all through elementary school. Then the second stage was when I discovered and fell in love with poetry in high school at age 16. That’s when I started writing poems. Then in college, I was a biology major with the idea of becoming an entomologist, and took a couple of English classes as electives. My love of writing and literature flared up again, and I realized in that entomology course that my interest in insects is a writer’s interest rather than a scientist’s interest. I resisted becoming an English major because I’d internalized that it is impossible to make a living as a writer (except for journalism), but then I couldn’t stand it anymore and changed to a double major in English and biology. That was a very spiritual decision. Then the final stage was getting my MFA, my poems beginning to get published in magazines, and starting to teach.

Q How did these poems go from ideas to a book?

A It started life as my master’s thesis, though most of these poems are newer than that. Professor and poet Jennifer Atkinson, who was on my thesis committee, gave me the idea of dividing it into sections according to the seasons and having a progression of poems through the calendar. I liked that structure and kept it even as I kept writing and switching out old poems for new ones in the manuscript after grad school.

Q Tell us something distinctive about yourself that will help us see you as a person as well as a poet.

A I like classical music. My favorite classical composers are Aaron Copeland, Gustav Holst, and Ralph Vaughan Williams. I also like ambient and planetarium music. I listen to artists like Jonn Serrie, Meg Bowles, Erik Wøllo, Michael Hoppé, and Scott August.

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