Saturday, December 28, 2013

Interview with Connie Gutowsky

The newest collection from Sacramento poet Connie Gutowsky is Play. In the word "play" lies the Middle Dutch root pleien for "leap for joy, dance." Connie has brought her delight in words, word-play, music, image and meaning to my workshops on creativity, poetry memorization and Day Poems through the years. She's also invited me to work with her on polishing poems. Putting our heads together over her luminous poems while sipping coffee at an outdoor cafe are treasured times. 

Below is a poem from Play.

Read on for an interview with Connie, an attorney with keen attention to detail and broad experience with people. 

August 2013

Hand-in-hand along Michigan Avenue, we stroll
past giant sculptural heads with human faces— 
fuchsia, fern, & other floral hairdos popping
out their tops. 

Bareheaded in the windy city, we walk my husband’s 
historic high school campus, enter what once
had been his father’s fire station, stop for deep-dish pizza, 
work museums, & later take the river tour.

Of we seven, four leave for Wrigley Field.
Three—taxi to afternoon tea at the Drake Hotel.
Hailey, brown-haired, brown-eyed, ten-year-old, 
selecting words from the menu, 

pencils a quick poem before ordering. Lined up 
on a banquette, the waiter snaps our photo before I flip 
my Chocolate Opera petit four;
bittersweet frosting smears my white cuff—

Clumsy fingers that I lick! Protocol for high tea: 
steep, rest a strainer on the cup’s lip, 
then pour. For the second cup, I forget the strainer, 
my mouth awash with dark leaves. The harp plays on. 

I’m stirred to fuchsia reflections—
a string of perfect days
clad in terra cotta, 
ginger plum red. 

A window into a poetic mind

1. The title of your collection is Play. Why "play"? 

I chose the book title Play because as I organized the poems into sections, I noticed the word “play” appeared in at least one poem in each section. I was hoping to evoke the many meanings of “play” in my title.

2. Does play come into your writing process? How?

My practice of poetry includes reading, writing, and bringing poems to study groups for critique. It feels like “play” — endemic to our species— in that it is absorbing, outside routine life, a kind of performance requiring practice, imaginative and brings happiness.

3. When did you start writing poetry? Why?

I began studying and writing poetry seriously in 2002 after retiring from the practice of law. I had leisure and the opportunity to pursue an interest first aroused when a was a young student.

4. You paint as well. How do painting and poetry influence each other in your work?

Painting and poetry influence each other in my experience by calling for attention.

5. How does your background as an attorney influence your poetry--subject matter, style, other ways?

As a criminal defense attorney, I became enured to the importance of communicating with clients, judges, juries, family, and colleagues in clear, persuasive often creative but plain-spoken language. I learned to become capable of my fears and limitations. 

6. This past summer, you participated in a Day Poems workshop. How did that process affect your writing?

Participation in the Day Poems Workshop affected my writing by expanding my intention to pay attention, to take time, to play with and in the present.

7. What poets do you enjoy reading?

I rarely re-read poets right now. I’m so involved in workshops which introduce me to new-to-me poets. I try to find something to like in every poet I read. Some favorites are: Szymborska, Whitman, Moore, Haas, Hall, Eliot, Jon Davis, Levertov. Too many to name.

8. You travel. What's the most poetically inspiring place you've ever visited? Why is it inspiring?

I tend to be inspired wherever I travel. Europe in my 20's, Chicago-always, NYC always, even my home town and anyplace in Oregon. I am inspired when I travel because my mind-set shifts in unexpected ways.

Play by Connie Gutowsky (Random Lane, 2013)
9. You've studied poets and their biographies. If you could invite a poet, dead or alive, to dinner, who would it be? What would you serve? Why?

I’d invite Wislawa Szymborska to dinner and serve her a pork chop with sauerkraut because she wrote an essay, “Nervousness,” in her book Nonrequired Reading, about seeing Czeslaw Milosz in a restaurant when she was a young writer, horrified that he was relishing a serving of a pork chop with sauerkraut. Years later, she found herself dining out, glanced over to unexpectedly find the great poet there also; both having ordered that same dish.

10.  You are active in Sacramento poetry workshops. What is the role of local community in shaping a poet?

The role of the local community in shaping a poet: support, inspiration, introduction to the vast world of poetry and guidance therein, camaraderie, mentoring, play. We in Sacramento are lucky to have a rich poetry community.

11. What's your favorite poem from your collection? Tell us the story behind that poem.
In one of my poems, the lines “our mother instructs each one of her eight children/You are practically my favorite child." I feel that way about each poem in my book. There is a story behind (and within) every one.

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