Interview with poet, Eddy Pendarvis, April
First Published in the Hampshire Review
1. How did you get started writing poetry, and when did you begin
to think of yourself as a poet, to take yourself seriously?
I've loved to read since I was little when I learned
to read I was in Kopperston, WV, and at the time, I don't think
there was a public library. Before I went to school, I read comic
books. In a way they were our primers and preprimers outside of
school. Much as I loved to read, it never occurred to me that
I could write a book, or anything that would be published, until
I was out of graduate school! My first published work was a textbook,
co-authored with two other friends in gifted education. A creative
writing course I took for fun about fifteen years ago started
me writing poetry. Though I'd written a few poems when I was in
high school and college, I'd had the good taste to tear them up
and forget about them. Maybe my taste has just gotten worse since
2. Please explain a little about your writing process.
When you start a poem, do you know you have something working,
or are you taking a shot in the dark and hoping something will
For me, I'm never sure in the beginning. Some poems
I do still toss out, and others I grow more confident about as
3. Do you have any rituals or superstitions about
writing? Do you have a special place you write?
No special place, but I have to be alone to do any
intense work on a poem. I can get ideas for poems in workshops
sometimes, and I've written drafts in workshops that I think turned
into pretty decent poems. Writing down free associations without
censoring myself (without worrying about whether it makes any
sense or sentences at all) is almost always a good way for me
to start a poem.
4. Do you think of your audience while you're writing,
or during revisions?
It seems to me that there are two poles to one continuum
of art: art as emotional catharsis and art as self-expression.
At one extreme, people write poems, or paint, or compose music,
for emotional release alone just so they can hold onto their sanity.
At the other extreme, people write poems to express themselves
to others, to communicate. It's at the self-expression pole that
the audience becomes most relevant. In my opinion, for the work
to be art, whatever pole the artist occupies, and that can change
with the artist's mood, there has to be a concern with aesthetics,
with making the poem, or painting, or sonata perfect.
5. How do you decide when a poem is finished?
Sometimes I quit, knowing a poem isn't as perfect
as I can make it, either I get bored with it and give up, or I
want to meet a deadline. Usually, I only quit when I can't think
of any way to improve on it. This has happened only a handful
times; I think it's perfectly beautiful! Even then, I know that
it's only perfectly beautiful to me; the poem does just what I
needed and wanted it to do.
6. How do you decide what to write about, what the
theme of the poem will be?
Woody Allen says about his movies that all of them
are about love and death. So are my poems, and everybody else's,
I guess. These themes originate out of the human condition; they're
why so much art is universal. Of course, many themes run through
any piece of art. Other, more specific, themes that seem to be
important in my poems are rescue (being rescued and rescuing others
and motion riding in cars or trucks, flying in planes. The excitement
of moving rather than the joy of homecoming or the sadness of
leaving seems to hold the most fascination for me. But I didn't
select those themes; my history selected those themes. Conscious
decisions about what to write about can come from mundane things,
even from writing exercises.
7. Do you think of yourself as a particular kind
of writer (e.g.: West Virginia writer, Southern writer)?
Mostly I think of my self as a seriocomic writer.
Being a woman, being white, having a rural, working-class family
history, living in Appalachia, being a mother, being a professor
(are you sick of this list yet?), all have relevance for what
kind of writer I am. Nevertheless, I often think of myself as
an Appalachian writer because the category is used so much in
8. Do you base your poems on real people and events,
or do you often make them up?
Most of my poems are based on real people and events,
but like most writers, I take a lot of liberties. When I saw a
friend of mine put her hand in her jacket pocket before touching
a doorknob (to protect herself from germs), I wrote a poem for
her called How to Enter an Iceberg. There's no door in the poem
at all and nothing about germs. The poem, as it turned out, is
about facing death boldly.
9. You have published many poems. How do you feel
about sending poems to be published, and how do you deal with
it when a poem is turned down?
I love getting responses back from publishers. I
like waiting for the response and hoping it'll be a acceptance,
but even getting rejections is okay. It's just that finding time
to get poems sent out is hard and so much of the work is tedious,
clerical work. I've been trying to put together a new collection
to send out, but just haven't wanted to spend the time it takes.
10. Are there any poems you would hesitate to publish
because they're about people you know who are alive? How do you
make those decisions?
The poems I haven't published because I think they'd
be hurtful are poems that could be construed as derogatory towards
certain groups. Some are decent poems, artistically, I think,
but I don't completely approve of them. They're not worth the
damage they would do to my sense of integrity. Some people would
say I'm not a real artist, because a real artist would let the
chips fall where they may, but there are different philosophies
11. What are you working on now?
I'm working on a sequence of poems set in Florida
or inspired by something there. Most of my poems are set in West
Virginia or Kentucky, if they have a setting. Though I spent my
teenage and young adult years there, I've only written about Florida
in a couple of poems. One's called The Disparate Fates of Einstein's
Brain and Osceola's Head. As you know, Osceola was a famous Seminole
warrior. The most difficult times of my life, though also some
of the happiest, took place there, and I think that's why I've
written so few poems or stories set in Florida.
12. What are your goals for the future as a writer?
To do justice to the ideas, people, animals, and
places I love.
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