Erica Goss served as Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, California from 2013-2016. She was born in Germany and raised in California. She has been writing poetry since she was a child. Her latest poetry collection, Night Court, won the 2016 Lyrebird Prize from Glass Lyre Press. She is the author of Wild Place (2012, Finishing Line Press) and Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets (2014, Pushpen Press).
In May 2017, Pratibha Kelapure talked to Erica Goss about Erica’s views in Poetry and her work. Enjoy Erica’s insights below!
TLN: What is the role of poetry in education?
Erica: I’ve taught poetry to children, teens, and adults. In working with children, I’ve seen students who might be struggling academically, or be disengaged in the classroom, embrace poetry. It’s happened enough times that I know it’s not a fluke. Poetry can reach these students, to help them understand the power of the written and spoken word, and to help them create something to be proud of. Indeed, the teachers of these students have often told me how surprised they were at their students’ poems. I want to applaud teachers like Tonya McQuade at Los Gatos High School, who starts every class period with a poem, and Raven Sisco of Mt. Pleasant High School in San Jose, who’s revived her school’s creative writing class. I also want to honor Judith Sutton, who taught English and poetry at Saratoga High School for over forty years. I worked for Judith for five years, and that’s where I learned how to teach poetry.
TLN: Would you comment on the role/advantages/disadvantages of using audio-visual media in poetry?
Erica: The idea of storing poetry in dusty bookshelves in some remote corner of the library is destructive to the art form. The experience of reading poetry quietly to oneself is valuable, of course, but poems are too important to leave in those dusty books. Artists have been pairing poems with visual art for a very long time; now we have the tools to create moving images that complement poetry easily. I have to say, young people get this idea much quicker than older people, probably because they’re attached to their smartphones all day (not a good thing). If people are staring at their phones, let’s put some poetry there. I’ve been teaching and writing about visual media paired with poetry for several years, and I can’t think of a negative. As a poet, I appreciate how using visual media makes poems more accessible.
TLN: What are the qualities of a good poem?
Erica: I defer to Emily Dickinson’s definition:
“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?”
I’ve experienced this with children’s poetry as well as that of adults. For me, a poem must connect emotionally. I read a lot of what I call “beautiful word collages” that leave me confused and cold. Poems must risk something; they must change the reader in some way.
TLN: What is your advice to the poets who are physically unable to plug-in into any particular poetry-scene?
Erica: I would advise poets who have a disability to create their own poetry community on-line. Many such communities already exist, which connect poets in various geographic areas with each other. This is the great gift of the internet age: the ability to transcend location, time zones, and other hindrances. There’s a huge resurgence in reading and writing poetry happening on-line right now. So join or start a community.
TLN: What inspires you to write poetry?
Erica: That is such a hard question, but I’ll try to answer it in a way that makes sense. Right now, I’m working on a series of poems about rooms that people share: public or semi-public spaces. I got the idea when I was in my doctor’s waiting room. This idea is like so many others: I had no plan to write about rooms, but when the notion came to me, I realized it had the potential for several poems. So far I have “Hotel Room,” “Waiting Room,” and “Dining Room.” It may end there, or it may continue.
Often, an idea will grow out of a single word. That’s the case with my poem “Encontrada,” which means “found” in Spanish. I liked the word and started writing lines that came to me as I pondered it. Later, I wrote a poem titled “Verloren,” which is the German word for “lost.” So I guess my poems comment on each and have connections with each other, that I’m not always aware of right away.
Several poems in Night Court, my new collection from Glass Lyre Press, were inspired by insomnia. Too many nights to count, I’ve lain awake at the lonely, strange hour of 2:00 a.m. My poem, “2:00 a.m.,” is the result of just one night of wakefulness; I have many others, including “Night Court,” the title poem.
Nature often inspires me, but to write a compelling nature poem, I try to emulate haiku, in which juxtaposing images appear in a way that heightens the perception.
I don’t want to forget an unusual, but a fruitful source of inspiration: parking lots. My poem, “This is a Wild Place,” started in a parking lot and ended at the beach. I’ve written many poems that began as parking lot poems.
TLN: Who are some of your favorite poets?
Erica: This is an ever-changing list, but the poets I return to over and over are Denise Levertov, Linda Pastan, Emily Dickinson, William Carlos Williams, William Stafford, Mark Doty, and Stanley Kunitz, among others. Other poets who’ve inspired me include Kate Greenstreet, Jean Valentine, Terrence Hayes, Naomi Shihab Nye, Jennifer Givhan, and Kaveh Akbar. This list is by no means inclusive and will probably change tomorrow.