Elizabeth Seydel Morgan Reflects on a Poetic Career
The Virginia-based poet talks about her new book, Spans, which combines old poems with new, and credits the Southern masters for her love of language.
Scroll down for giveaway details!
A native of Atlanta, Elizabeth Seydel Morgan is the author of five poetry collections, including the popular Parties, from Louisiana State University Press. She now lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she has taught poetry writing in the past. Morgan won the Emily Clark Balch Award from The Virginia Quarterly Review for her fiction, along with the 1993 Governor’s Award for Screenwriting at the Virginia Film Festival for her screenplay, “Queen Esther,” proving she can write across all genres.
Her latest book of poetry is titled Spans and includes new and selected works. Through these poems, Morgan examines life from the perspective of one who appreciates the complexities of the world but finds pleasure in events as predictable as the changing of the seasons or as uncomplicated as a visit to an art museum. Author of World Tree David Wojahn describes her work as “rueful and celebratory by turns, filled with moments of stunning insight and sly wisdom, and utterly (and radiantly) precise,” adding that Spans is “a marvel, the record of a poetic career of the very first order.”
Zachary Lundgren interviewed Morgan by email about her love of poetry, progression of her work leading up to Spans and what she’s teaching the next generation of poets.
What sparked your initial love of poetry?
It must have been nursery rhymes. I loved rhythm and rhyme — Humpty Dumpty on Daddy’s knee. Also, I was an early reader and I can’t remember not loving words themselves.
In what way do you believe poetry most differs from fiction?
Poetry is quick; fiction takes its time. Even a long narrative poem, like Robert Penn Warren’s “Audubon,” moves swiftly.
Who are some of your favorite poets/authors?
The Southerner masters of fiction: O’Connor, Welty, Spencer, Porter, Faulkner, Warren, Peter Taylor and many Russians, Brits and Yankees as well! Ellen Voight, Claudia Emerson, Natasha Trethaway, Charles Wright. I was influenced by the early poetry of James Dickey, Sylvia Plath for her arresting wordplay, and A.R. Ammons … later my teacher, Dave Smith. And what poet can omit Emily Dickinson. She really is a true favorite.
In your new book, Spans, you combine the new with the old in terms of your poetry. How do you feel your newer poems converse with your older work? What threads do you find have carried through your writing?
Well, I named the new and selected poems Spans because I realized that each of my four books represented a chronological span of my long life. Some of the old poems come from a younger outlook: teenage memories, childbirth and children, desire. My second book is titled The Governor of Desire. The imagery in later books and new poems moves more toward experience in nature, and with grief, and with the thread that runs through all of them: searching for meaning.
Read her poem “The Birthday” here.
As a writer and instructor, what do you think is most important when teaching the craft of poetry?
I teach that imagery is foremost, then an original wording for the imagery. I still love words in themselves and jostling them together. I believe I have taught some students how to stop being afraid of poetry; for students who come to a course wanting to write poems, I try to teach how to stop imitating what they think is poetry. The most important of all, as with my teachers and mentors, is a sincere enthusiasm for poetry itself.
What are some of the most prevalent ingredients that go into the concoction we call a Southern poet?
Thinking of the late contemporary poet, Claudia Emerson, as an example of many Southern poets I admire, I would say narrative, characters, relationships and very close observation of her world. (Pretty much the ingredients of the Southern fiction writers.)
To a young poet, what is the most fundamental piece of advice you could give?
Read a lot of poetry, traditional and current.
In 2015, why is it important that we celebrate National Poetry Month?
Because “In April, with its sweet showers, the drought of March is pierced to the roots.” Chaucer, ca. 1390
National Poetry Month, I know for a fact, has engaged new poetry readers and listeners every spring.
Double Chapbook Giveaway
We have one copy of Elizabeth Seydel Morgan’s Spans plus a copy of Claudia Emerson’s The Opposite House to give away courtesy of LSU Press. To enter to win, comment here through Monday, April 27, about what you’ve learned or discovered during National Poetry Month. U.S.-only entries please.