Caroline Goodwin Interview

The featured poet of Spring 2017 is Caroline Goodwin.

Caroline was named the first Poet Laureate of San Mateo County,  California in 2013 and served in that capacity from January 2014 – December 2016. During her term, Goodwin developed and launched creative initiatives to engage the public in poetry, including the popular “Poetry Is…” contest, which celebrates poetry and encourages people to write and share their poems.

Caroline was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. She moved to the Bay Area in 1999 after being awarded the Wallace Stegner fellowship in Poetry at Stanford University. Goodwin received her MFA in Poetry from the University of British Columbia in 1994. She teaches at the California College of the Arts in Oakland, California in the MFA Writing and the undergraduate Writing and Literature programs and is the faculty advisor for the college’s undergraduate literary journal, Humble Pie, and the HearSay Reading Series. She also teaches at the Stanford Writer’s Studio.

Her books include Peregrine (Finishing Line Press, 2015), Trapline (JackLeg Press 2013), and the chapbooks Kodiak Herbal and Text Me, Ishmael. Her latest collection, The Paper Tree, is published in spring 2017 by Big Yes Press in San Luis Obispo. She is currently busy working on her latest manuscript, Foehn.

The Literary Nest recently interviewed Caroline in person in the beautiful Sharon Heights neighborhood in Menlo Park, CA.

What inspires you to write poetry?

I would say it’s more of a need than an inspiration. I have survived my fair share of trauma and loss in this life, so writing always feels like a way to carve meaning out of my pain. I also find that poetry is a way of celebrating the simple miracle of being on this planet, able to observe and absorb its beauty.

Who are some of your favorite poets?

My great love is Gerard Manley Hopkins, who broke all the rules and listened so carefully to Nature and his own weirdnesses. I also love Dylan Thomas and Wallace Stevens from “the canon” and contemporary poets Donna de la Perrière, Linda Norton, Brian Teare, Camille T. Dungy, Layli LongSoldier, Ishmael Hope, Jorge Esquinca, Melissa Eleftherion Carr, Matt Shears and Louise Mathias. Then there are the favorite “slim volumes” that I return to again and again: Ted Hughes’ River, Theodore Roethke’s The Lost Son, Ronald Johnson’s Ark — oh so many more! This list has a million awful gaps in it!

What is the role of poetry in education?

I believe that poetry provides students access to their own imaginations in a way that fiction writing, or other kinds of writing, do not. Poetry actually requires the intuitive “leaps” that allow us to get to know ourselves and our place on this earth. It’s as old as cave paintings, so the contemporary poet is always engaged in a conversation with history, whether they know it or not. Poetry is essential, also, for learning the skills of close reading and careful listening.

What makes a poem “good”?

A good poem, to me, contains intellectual and emotional challenges. Ask me to be empathetic, to walk in your shoes for a moment. Ask me to see something in a way I’ve never seen it before, or to hear a new combination of sounds.

Is good a synonym for ‘publishable?”

Of course, good is not synonymous with publishable — not even close.

What advice do you have for aspiring poets?

read read read, fall in love when you find your poetry “tribe”, be as weird as you can possibly manage, and never ever give up!

Can you comment on the importance of poetry/literary readings? Of a poetry community?

For today’s working poet, I believe the live reading event is more important than ever. Something happens, something spiritual and profound, when people sit in a room together for the purposes of listening to poetry. A community is important because poets need others in their corner. It’s a crazy, mixed-up world out there, and poetry is (for some reason I can’t quite understand) an art form that seems highly misunderstood by most folks. People are intimidated by poetry, I find. A poem should both invite and challenge readers. It’s a tough balance to strike.

Read Caroline’s poems from upcoming Foehn.

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