Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Sandra Meek (page 3)
 Talking with
Sandra Meek
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When do you know when a poem is finished?

This is always a hard question. I suppose truth is, when I don’t know what more I can do for it. Certainly there is a feeling that the work is complete, but it is difficult to say exactly what gives that feeling. I often revise a poem even after it’s been published, making changes that then appear in the version published in book form. Following a reading by poet Li-Young Lee, he asked me if he could make a change to one of the poems in the book he was signing for me, and he proceeded to make an edit — not correcting errata, but making a change in the poem, indicating his revision of the poem even after the book had been published. That felt very honest to me; there is a lot of truth in that well-known quote that poems are never finished, but are simply abandoned.

What do you think the future is for poetry?

I think poetry will do just fine. Poetry has so many different incarnations, so many levels and genres, so many places in our lives. People who wouldn’t call themselves “literary often say they don’t “understand poetry, and yet they will turn to poetry at significant moments in their lives — weddings, graduations, funerals; after 9/11, poetry was everywhere. While the poems that tend to show up at these events aren’t necessarily my favorites, who cares: there are audiences for all types of poetry, including the “literary.

Would you tell us your favorite poet, and your favorite poem?

This is really difficult! If I had to choose, if my life depended on answering this question, I would say Charles Wright. To choose one poem by him would be just as difficult. “Sitting Outside at the End of Autumn or “Spider Crystal Ascension — it would be hard to throw one of those out.

What Peace Corps writers have you read and what books (or poems) have meant the most to you?

I won’t think of all their names, but I have read quite a few — Melanie Sumner and Mark Brazaitis come immediately to mind, as well as — of course — the poets in Deep Travel. Norman Rush, of course, since he writes about Botswana.

If someone “out there” in the Peace Corps world wants to write and publish poems and fashion some sort of career as a poet, how do they go about it?
Just write, and don’t think of writing as a career! As well as you can, make a life that will include the time and space to write, and don’t expect any external rewards. The reward is, as I think every writer knows, the writing itself.
Good advice. Thank you, Sandy, for your time and your poems.
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