Rhyme is honored to publish an interview with Amy Foreman, one of the best contemporary poets.
What was your relationship with poetry before you started writing it?
I have always loved reading literature, including poetry, so, even though my BA was in Music and Theology, I got my MA in English Language and Literature. Poetry, especially the rhyming poetry of such greats as John Milton, George Herbert, John Donne, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and, of course, William Shakespeare, always appealed to me. I especially enjoyed formalistic criticism, in which we look at the poem’s structure, and how that adds to the meaning.
What prompted you to start writing poetry?
Our family moved to Arizona in 2014, and, in our new community, there was a group called “Writers on the River” which met and publicly read personal works of poetry, short stories, or essays. I decided to have our seven children try their hands at poetry (for home school credit!) – and it looked so fun that I thought I would try it as well. That first poem I wrote, “Jesse’s Hands”, was well-received by the “Writers on the River” crowd as well as by my husband Jesse, for whom it was written… so I kept at it!
Your poetry is closely connected with spirituality. Would you call it your major source of inspiration?
Absolutely. The Word of God is my major source of inspiration, and it is a fountain that, I know will never run dry. Closely following that is my love and affection for my husband and children, who also show up in my poetry. I also occasionally enjoy writing humorous and short-story-type poems loosely based on everyday musings or thoughts.
What does your poetry mean to you?
Probably the explanation on my blog says it best: “Like all of us, I search for meaning in this life, and my search has brought me to the God found in Scripture, revealed to us through His creation, His Word, and His Son. I have found within the pages of the Bible depths of eternal Truth and Wisdom that, as a mortal, I will never be able to plumb. But the little I can see, though it be “through a glass, darkly,” catalyzes me to write, to express my finite understanding, to dance around each immortal thought, through the medium of poetry.”
How has it evolved through the years?
As a fairly new-to-the-art poet, I would say that my poetry is constantly evolving. I have enjoyed dabbling in many different forms: rondeaus, ballads, sonnets, “fourteen-ers,” and more. I also love exploring meters in relation to my subject matter. For instance, one of my poems, “Re-formation”, speaks about a potter’s wheel revolving. I chose dactylic tetrameter for the poem; its triple meter really feels like the revolutions of a wheel, four of them per line… I love it when the poem’s meaning is enhanced by its external linguistic structure.
What did you understand about yourself since you’ve become a poet?
I realized how much I like a story line that moves forward, and often one that has a bit of a punch-line at the end. I like writing poetry that interacts with the Eternal, and invites the reader to experience that interaction with me, seeing things, perhaps, in a new and interesting way.
Do you do poetry writing exercises o merely wait for inspiration?
Most of the time, when I sit down to write a poem, I have an idea of where I want it to go. For a time, I was exchanging poetry with a fellow writer on a weekly basis, which forced me to generate new material more steadily. When I don’t have deadlines like that, I can sometimes let my writing take a “back burner” to more seemingly urgent tasks.
Do you do lots of editing or rewrites?
Usually I rewrite as I write, and then leave it overnight and edit the next day. Often, the passage of a little time brings to light inconsistencies, grammatical or syntactical errors, and other imperfections.
What qualities, in your opinion, are essential in a good poet?
I think a good poet must be a bit of a metaphysical philosopher. She must have a beginner’s grasp of the nature of Eternal Truth and be willing to interact with that Truth in her poetry. I expect it would help if she also has a love for the aesthetically-pleasing, for the nuances of language, and for the well-written poetry of the past.
Why did you choose to write rhyming poetry, despite the overwhelming popularity of free verse?
As a musician, I tend to dislike most free verse in the same way that I dislike the non-metered, formless, and dissonant music of, say, John Cage. Aesthetic appeal, for me, is based upon encasing amorphous and shapeless thoughts and ideas in the most fitting, the most euphonious, the most attractive package possible: one that will first delight the reader or hearer and then will move on to impart some deeper truth or wisdom. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11) Some free verse is able to do this; much of it cannot.
There is a belief among modern poets that rhyme is limiting to poetic expression. What do you think about it?
Absolutely not! Rhyme, meter, and form force the poet to distill her message, to rightly limit herself, to hone her craft with precision and care. Anyone can jot down thoughts and feelings; it is the talented poet who uses her medium to make those thoughts and feelings even more evocative through the form in which they are presented.
Communication is all about form. Whenever we speak or write, we distil our indeterminate experiences and perceptions of the world into the socially-recognized forms of words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. If we fail to put those thoughts into words, then –barring excellent body language – those thoughts will never be comprehended by another. That’s the beauty of communication through language: one person harnesses a thought, puts it in the form of words, in the structure of a sentence; the “hearer” then reads or listens to those formed words, which are subsequently unharnessed in the hearer’s mind and heart.
The poet who adheres to specific form and rhyme takes this normal but beautiful linguistic communication to an even deeper level: placing, with particularity, each formed word and structured phrase in such a way that the meaning is concentrated, refined, and even purified.
What sort of advice would you give to modern poets who want to write in rhyme but think it is too difficult?
Let the structure be your guide, and treat each poem as a puzzle, an enjoyable game of finding out precisely which word fits in each open spot of your poem, which will enhance your meaning most, which will complement, visually and aurally, the rest of the words in the poem. You may have to restructure sentences, to play with different end rhymes, to expand your vocabulary and learn new words that more perfectly express your ideas. This is part of the fun, the game, that poetry writing is!
How do you believe your poetic talent was born?
Perhaps, I would say, through suffering. Our family went through an enormous health-related crisis that led to our relocating in Arizona. Prior to that, I would not have taken time to put “pen to paper” as I processed the many thoughts germinating from that experience through the Word of God. But that period of time began a shift in my perspective in many ways, leading me to prioritize “singing a new song” through poetry, in relationship to both my suffering and my joy.
You are a mother of seven and you run a homestead. How do you manage to have time for writing?
Short answer: I don’t always. I view poetry-writing as a hobby, and I fit it in when I have some free time. At this point, I can’t really justify taking too much time away from my family or farm, so poetry-writing fills in some of the margins around my busy life.
Are your husband and children your first readers and critics? What does sharing your poetry with them mean to you?
They are indeed! I enjoy reading them what I have written, and (I think!) they enjoy hearing it as well. Several of my children are excellent poets in their own right, so it’s fun to share that with them. And, of course, love poems to my husband are generally enthusiastically received by an audience of one!
What poetry contests have you won? Could you please share with our readers some information about your awards and publications?
I won first place for rhyming poetry in the 2017 Utmost Poetry competition. Also a few local competitions. Print copies of my poetry are in the 2016 Journal of the Society of Classical Poets, and the 2016 Valentine’s Day issue of The Epoch Times. Online, I have had poems featured in Hello Poetry, Rhyme, and the Society of Classical Poets. Another poem is slated for publication by Lighten Up Online. I welcome you to visit my poetry blog.