Why Does Poetry Matter? by Charlotte Pence

My poetry often siphons science for inspiration. Scientific American, Nature, “Best of” series all provide me with gifts like “humans taste brown” and “the measures we use depend on what we are measuring.”For the past five years, I’ve taken a special interest in human descent with modification, which has turned into an interest regarding literary evolutionists and what they have to say about why we spend so much of our time in the land of narrative. According to Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative, if you add up all of our time watching TV, listening to song, day dreaming, night dreaming, not to mention actually reading, approximately 2/3 of our lives are spent in fantasy land. In an era of ever-increasing productivity, why has narrative remained such a central part of our lives? Neuroscientists and biologists tell us point blank: the mind is hard-wired for story. For example, if your boss gives you a wobbly smile in passing, you will have a hard time not wondering why the smile didn’t seem genuine. Is she mad at you? Is it maybe not at all about you? Is it that she knows you will soon have some work dumped on you? Whatever the case, the mind takes the fragments and attempts to create a narrative.

open - Artist jperkins fish

As an avid reader, I like that narrative is so important to our lives. But as a poet, I have a particular set of concerns regarding this sibling that everyone loves more than poetry. If our brains are hard-wired for story, what is the draw of poetry when narrative is sliced away? Is the lack of narrative in lyrical poetry part of what contributes to poetry’s small readership? Continue reading

Reflection on the Slim Years by Rachel Morgan

After explaining there should be just enough tension between our thumbs to hold a piece of paper, the monk paused to ask if we would like to repeat any steps before we practiced zazen posture. Nervous student that I am, I wanted to review everything. What if I stepped into the zendo with my right foot? Worse yet, what if while sitting zazen I had to sneeze or an itch surfaced? I’d traveled to Tassajara, a Zen Buddhist Center, to say a personal goodbye to our California life before we moved to Iowa. Therefore, I was determined to gather every instance of sunshine, ocean scent, and left-coast vibe I could.

Rachel Morgan Picture 2The move to Iowa meant more time for me to write. Our past eight years were filled with a full-time job, graduate school, various part-time jobs, the pregnancies, births, and early years of our daughter and son, all while navigating Los Angeles traffic. When I wrote a poem it looked like this: 10pm, cup of tea, stack of essays to be graded, sandpaper eyes, an infant waking up, work emails, dirty dishes, oh yeah, poem-thingy. These were slim years.

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Honoring Poetry and Identity: An Interview with Charlotte Pence by Catherine Pritchard Childress

Charlotte Pence’s full-length poetry collection, Spike, will be released by Black Lawrence Press in 2014. She is also the author of two award-winning poetry chapbooks, The Branches, the Axe, the Missing and Weaves a Clear Night. Pence edited The Poetics of American Song Lyrics (University Press of Mississippi, 2012), which explores the similarities and differences between poetry and songs. New poetry is forthcoming from Alaska Quarterly Review, Denver Quarterly, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, and The Southern Poetry Anthology. She is a professor at Eastern Illinois University.



Like so many relationships are formed nowadays, Charlotte Pence and I became “friends” through Facebook. We quickly connected as poets, women of similar age from similar backgrounds, and, since the birth of Charlotte’s first child, now also as mothers working to achieve the elusive balance between our work as poets and our families, or perhaps to debunk the myth that balance exists. Charlotte graciously agreed to answer some questions about these various roles, as well as her poems, via email.

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