Terri Kirby Erickson is the award-winning author of three collections of poetry, including her latest, In the Palms of Angels (Press 53). Her work has been published in numerous literary journals, anthologies and other publications, including The Christian Science Monitor, JAMA, Verse Daily and the North Carolina Literary Review. She was recently one of eleven winners of the international Nazim Hikmet Poetry award. For more information about her work, please see her website. You can also order In the Palms of Angels on Amazon, in fine bookstores or other Internet venues.
I’ve had mentors in the form of friends who have encouraged me to write and to keep pursuing my creative goals. Also, my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Elizabeth Reynolds, was very keen on introducing her students to the arts. Her influence is still with me and no doubt with all those who were fortunate enough to be in her classes.
As far as mentoring others, I have conducted a number of poetry workshops for teenagers through our public library system, and have spent many hours with creative writing students at the high school from which I graduated about three hundred years ago! I often give “fledgling” writers my email address should they ever need any advice about publishing their work, for what my two cents is worth.
I think it is very important for writers and would-be writers to support and encourage one another whenever possible. We all spend a lot of time alone, hunched over our laptops and computers like language vultures trying to pick out the choicest words from our mental dictionaries. So it’s good to remember that we really are part of a larger community—to seek guidance when we need it and to offer it to others when we have something to say that might be useful.
Talk about writing poetry, how it started, how did poetry find you/you find it?
When I was growing up we had some interesting books in the family library, and one of those was a volume of poetry by Robert Frost. I remember poring over his words, following the rhythms and cadences of Frost’s language with my sticky little fingers, often while lying on my belly beneath the dim hall light outside my bedroom. Of course, I was supposed to be sleeping! No wonder I need glasses now…
And when I was about ten years old (in Mrs. Reynolds’ class!), I started writing (no doubt truly awful) poetry, myself. At the same time I co-starred in our class play, which happened to be Shakespeare’s Macbeth, so I got to say, “Out damned spot!” in front of the entire student body, faculty and PTA—and I was also into visual art, as well. But poetry seemed to be the thing that continued to “speak” to me throughout my adult life such that finally in middle age, I decided to actively pursue my dream of becoming a published poet.
Do you (regularly) use writing exercises?
Never. And I don’t do sit-ups, either. I’m not a very disciplined soul when it comes to doing things that are good for me.
What is the best environment for you to write in?
I love my home office. Love it. It has yellow walls (my favorite color), is covered up in books by writers whom I admire, artwork I adore, photos of people who are precious to me and all manner of strange gadgets and gizmos that I have collected over the years—including a tiny, mechanical merry-go-round that was a gift from my mother. If you listen, you can still hear the echoes of my mom screaming, “STOP THE RIDE! MY CHILD IS GREEN!” which happened whenever I attempted to ride anything BUT the merry-go-round. And it is quiet here—I mean library-grade quiet, so I can hear myself think.
Anyway, this room is where I do the majority of my writing, although I have been known to scribble a few lines on napkins, paper bags, human flesh or whatever happened to be at hand, so to speak, when I didn’t have a notebook with me and wasn’t at home.
Your poetry is known for bringing life in the door: typically reading your work involves both sadness mixed with humor. Anything about this you would like to share?
Well, you know, our emotions can’t really be sorted into boxes as hard as we may try sometimes, to make them more manageable. They ebb and flow, each moment absorbing the next and becoming part of an entire ocean of feeling where happiness and sorrow are part of the whole. I find there is always a bit of pathos in the happiest of moments, a dab of humor in the midst of sorrow or at least the memory of happier times that lingers even in our darkest hours. Emotions, images, memories, etc., are so mercurial and fleeting, it often feels like I’m chasing after smoke when I try to write a poem that describes either my own or someone else’s feelings or experience. But I do try my best to capture what I can of what it means to be a human being as honestly and respectfully as possible in every poem I write.
What type or form of community (writing groups, etc) has been most helpful and nurturing to you personally?
I have never belonged to a writing group if you mean a circle of people who critique each other’s work, etc., but I enjoy being a member of the North Carolina Poetry Society and attending events, poetry readings, etc., where other writers congregate.
What is next for you in your writing life?
I just want to keep writing—to continue to be delighted and inspired by the world around me, and to be able to find language through which I can share what I’ve seen, heard and experienced that touches people who read my work. For a reader to be moved enough to write and tell me what a particular poem has meant to him or her is such a joy, and keeps me sitting at my computer even when I probably ought to get up and go jogging, God forbid! No, really, I do exercise occasionally—just not on purpose… :o)
The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is the editor-at-large for BLIP Magazine, and her stories and poems have been published widely. Her first full collection of flash fiction, “Damn Sure Right” is now out from Press 53. She blogs at http://megpokrass.com.