Barbara Blanks won first prize in The Ruth Morris Moose Sestina Award for 2019. She is the author of five poetry books, a non-fiction cancer journey book, and co-author of a young adult novel.
She sent along a short poem from one of her books and chose to answer four of my inquiries. Here it all is, in her own words:
The first poem I fell in love with was probably one of my mom’s—“My Smile Is Different Now.” She wrote kids’ poems for a variety of publications, and—back then—was often paid in postage stamps. But I also remember my grade-school teacher comparing me to Edward Lear when we had to write limericks. (I had no idea who he was). I also liked Ogden Nash’s short poems. Then again, I wrote a riposte to a children’s song about a little brown bug when I was very young, so maybe that was my favorite!
I don’t have an ideal writing day. No schedule, no goals—except contest deadlines. I look for ways to avoid writing—like doing this interview for Craig’s blog. In juxtaposition with that, I don’t believe in writer’s block. There is always something to write about. One reason I like to enter contests is they might challenge me to write about something I’ve never written about before—or even thought about. Just recently a category topic was “bipartisanship.” I thought, Ugh, I’m not going to write about that. But then I did a bit of research, read something that surprised me, and there was the basis for my poem.
Oh gosh, fulfilling achievements. Of course I love when I win in a contest, especially first place. And it is totally satisfying when I’ve been struggling with a poem and it finally comes together. But what is truly fulfilling is when I hear from somehow about how one of my poems affected them. Nothing beats that feeling.
My favorite poet has always been Edna St. Vincent Millay, with e.e. cummings coming in a close second. I first read Edna back when I was full of pre-teen angst. Her poems about death resonated with me (“To what purpose, April, do you return again?”) I even have “Renascence” memorized—along with a bunch of other poems by other poets. I rarely read one of my poems at an open mic. I’d rather launch into “Kubla Khan” (Coleridge), or “The Labyrinth” (Auden), or “The Tom Cat” (Marquis), or “sweet spring” (cummings), or “Lament” (Millay), or “Dog in Bed” (Sidman), or –who knows!
Here is a short poem from my book, Traveling Sideways.
Canvas of Winter
full moon pearls the snow,
turns night inside out
on black branches, white
perches like frosted birds
blue shadows gossip with gray wind,
secrets spill in silver susurration