A conversation with Patrice Vecchione about the anthology Faith and Doubt
What made you choose faith and doubt as your subject for this anthology?
A few things really. Teen years can be a battle between faith and doubt. One minute you believe in yourself and the next minute you're plagued by doubts. This is a time in one's life of thinking about what one believes in and what one doesn't. I wanted to make a book that through poetry would give teens a forum for that thinking. On the personal level that was my inspiration. The political situation of the world concerns and frightens me. Much of the turmoil is based on faith and religion. I want teens to the best of their abilities to think for themselves. Don't accept what you're told carte blanche. It concerns me when a government tells its people there's only one faith, one right way to believe. A smart people, a patriotic people doubts and inquires. Question. Question. Question! Turn things upside down and look and listen from lots of angles. That's what the poems in this book do.
How do you go about choosing poems for a book like this? Where do you start?
Faith & Doubt began with "Echos," by John Ciardi. I've loved that poem for a very long time. I'm always reading poetry so when I began to consider this idea, other poems came to mind like Linda Hogan's "The Direction of Light" and "Advertisement," by Wislawa Szymborska. Then I tore my bookshelves apart, searching. I went to the library, wrote to poet friends, did internet searches. I like to have a mix of poems from around the world and many times in history. I want work by both women and men, poets young and old. And I like to conclude my books, no matter how difficult some of the topics, on an optimistic note, because without faith, where are we?
What advice do you have for teens who would like to get started writing poems of their own?
Carry a notebook in your back pocket. Write down anything (yes, anything) that strikes you. Tell the internal critic, if you have one, to take a nap. The most important thing in writing poems is this: Be a fool! Let yourself write down the images and ideas you think are ridiculous. Often, that's just where the poem is hiding. Experiment -- sit words next to each other that you've never seen so close before. Remember, it doesn't have to make sense, not in a straight line kind of way. Read and read and read! If anyone says you can't do that, don't believe them, just keep writing. Everyone has something to say. The poet is the one who finds new ways to say it and dives into the heart of the world and dares.
What inspires you when you're writing your own poetry?
Poetry is everywhere and all the time. Inspiration is always available. It's just a matter of noticing oneself and others and the details of the world. It's just a matter of stopping the rush of the day to see and listen. When I can do that, I find poems. Like the other day, a woman was riding a bike with a duck in a cage on the back! An elderly man pulled a wagon with a bike on it. Everywhere I turned I saw the oddest forms of travel. Maybe today those images will write their way into a poem. If you sit around waiting for inspiration though, you'll spend your whole life waiting not writing. Writing brings inspiration to your doorstep.
Do you have a favorite poet or poem?
On Monday I might love one poet best and on Tuesday another. But if pressed, I'd say my most favorite poets are Pablo Neruda -- a true magician of language who published his first book as a very young man, and Emily Dickinson whose poems look very closely at the world. She wrote nearly two-thousand poems during her life and only published a few. My favorite poem, well that changes too. Today, having spent so much time with the poems in Faith & Doubt, I'd have to say it's "Echos," by John Ciardi, or maybe, "My Grandfather's Hat," by Nicholas Gardner, or, you see the difficulty in choosing, maybe it's the collection's final poem, "Let Evening Come," by Jane Kenyon.
Did you always enjoy poetry? Even when you were a teen? And do you find today's teens are open to the idea of poetry, or wary of it?
When I was a teen I began writing poems. I'd loved them always. My mother read me poetry from the time I was a baby. Throughout my childhood we'd memorize poems, recite them together. Later, in high school, life was tough for me. Things at home weren't smooth. I felt like a misfit at school, uncomfortable in my own skin. I turned to writing poems as a way to have my say. It was my attempt to get the world to hold still for a little while. Me with my tiny notebook and tinier pencil out behind the music building scratching myself into existence. It worked!
Today's teens are really receptive to poetry. I travel to schools as a poet teaching poetry and meet lots of kids who know that poetry can be a way to express the nearly inexpressible. It helps answer questions. Even during a difficult time, one can make a thing of beauty. Teens read and write poetry to come to grips with a constantly changing world. Poetry is the natural language of the teen years, I think, because it can change shape and express so very many things, and it's sharp and quick and holds the heart in its grip.