Pamela Johnson Parker is our judge for the Joanna Catherine Scott Award for sonnets and other traditional forms. Her poems and lyric essays have appeared in journals such as Iron Horse Literary Review, Gamut, Spaces, and Muscadine Lines: A Journal of the South. She serves as an editor of the literary magazine, Alligator Juniper.
She’s sent us the first poem in her new manuscript:
(originally published in Blue Fifth Review)
Pamela has opted to answer all five of my inquiries. Regarding the first poem she ever fell in love with, she says:
I’m pretty monogamous—the first poem I fell in love with is still a poem I love. I was eight years old, sitting in a window seat in front of a mullioned window at the Goodnight Memorial Library, when I discovered “maggie and milly and molly and may” by E. E. Cummings. Suddenly, those four little girls at the beach were me, and I was each of them. I’d never seen the ocean, but I was chased by a crab, sung to by a shell, and carried a stone home that day. It’s still an amazing poem. I’ve wanted to write poetry ever since.
This is how she describes her ideal writing day:
A fine-point pen, a sharp pencil, my journal, a never-ending cup of coffee, and my cats bookending me on the loveseat. No phone, no tv, and no computer. Bliss.
Her most fulfilling achievement:
I was awarded an Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowship by the Kentucky Arts Council in 2018. That gave me more time to write.
And her favorite poet:
I love the work of Judy Jordan, for its musicality and lyricism, for its shapeliness in the way the lines turn and return on the page, and also for its subject matter. Her concern with poverty, hunger, violence, and class as part of the American experience is unparalleled in poets who are writing now. Also, her descriptions of the natural world are stellar. I could go on and on, but read her work for yourself.
Finally, how she refills the well of her creativity:
There’s a four-letter word that works for me: READ. I also combine it with a pair of two-letter words: NO TV. Eventually I’ll get bored and start writing again. I also think that it’s normal to have fallow periods, when work is gestating. I also write prose, so when I’m stuck there, I’ll read poems. When the poems aren’t coming, I’ll read essays. This has worked for me since 2009, when I finished my MFA and couldn’t write poetry for a year.