Poet's Watchtower interview 2008

An I.M. interview with Hannah Gerber 2005 w/ David Cohn of the American Poet's Watchtower Anthology

Q. You say you write without the restrictions of meter, and basic rules of writing. How so, and how did you develop your unique style?

A. Well, I think you’d have to add that I didn’t and still don’t even know the rules of writing poetry. I just wrote for myself putting the lines where they felt the most natural and this is how I develop whatever style I may now have.

Q. How did you keep from the trap many younger poets slip into, that pull of literary fashion?

A. I think a couple of things. For one, I never was in a workshop setting when I was younger. In fact it was only recently I work-shopped a few poems with other writers and thoroughly loathed the experience, totally rejecting the suggestions of change in design, meter and form.Secondly I suppose you could say that I decided very early that I wanted to write. But I didn't think of it as a career obviously and never tried to make it one. I knew journalism, or even English 101 would break my little poetic spirit so stayed away from all temptations to try to be a ‘writer’ professionally. I didn't even think of it as a profession. It was just the most exciting thing, the most powerful thing, the most wonderful thing to do with an hour if the muse was with me!So I didn't question if I should write - I just kept writing.

Q. You never had the insecurity of "Am I doing this right?"
A. (Laughing) Oh, I’ve never felt yet that I was ‘doing it right’! That’s the best thing about language. It can always be done better. But I began to see what worked and what didn’t and I’m still figuring that out as it differs with each poem. I rely more on my energy just to sit down and get the words out than on some method or luck or long hours of work. I don’t have any of those three things in my purse!

Q. Do you compose poems in your head while walking in the park, or doing the dishes, or get ideas for poems at those times?
A. Well, sometimes. I try to keep a notebook with me all the time, and I scribble. You begin to get a felt reaction in a two word combination, or a phrase perhaps, sometimes, in just one word if it’s pretty enough! But you know, the muse doesn’t sit on your shoulder until your open and looking and sometimes that’s hard to do.In truth, I think, it’s only after years of desiring it, being open to it, and walking toward it. I’m just now starting to do that with some consciousness.

Q. Do you consider poetry work or play?
A. Both! I don't see how you can separate the pleasure from the work. There is nothing better for me than this kind of ‘work’. It’s the only time I’ve felt a real ‘work ethic’ a real commitment to following through with something that is almost outside my immediate responsibilities. Work, in the poetic context, for me anyway, is bound together with play. Children know all about that! They play earnestly as if it were work. But people grow up, and they work with a sorrow upon them as it becomes duty.

Q. Do you approach the task with a sense of responsibility for whatever it is you write about?
A. Well, sure! It’s my responsibility if I choose to do it, to write as well as I possibly can. I believe art, be it writing or visual art is important. We don't have to rely totally on experience if we can do things in our imagination. It's a powerful way in which you can live more lives than your own. You can escape your own time, your own sensibility, your own narrowness of vision.Posted by Poets Watchtower David Cohn 2007