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Interview with poet, Eddy Pendarvis, April 2002,

First Published in the Hampshire Review

Interviewer: Michael F. Hughes

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 then.

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 develop?

For me, I'm never sure in the beginning. Some poems I do still toss out, and others I grow more confident about as they develop.

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 this region.

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 of art.

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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