Alex: Have you been living in the San Francisco
Bay Area a long time? Are you a native of this area?
Beth: Ive been in the Bay Area since 1987, and before that I
lived in L.A. for a few years, but Im from the Midwest Indiana,
Alex: Is that where you went to school?
Beth: I got my BA in Indiana, and I got my MA and MFA at San
Alex: How did your decision to go back to school and get degrees in
creative writing come about?
Beth: I moved to L.A. thinking I had supposedly sold a screenplay,
but after some months that fell through, which I learned is typical.
Once I got involved in the whole process of writing for television and
screenplays, I thought, theres no way Im going to do this, its
literary prostitution. Now, of course, Id give anything to break in,
now that I have two advanced degrees and Im a struggling writer. But
back then I was more idealistic. Seriously though, Ive always wanted
to be a professor. When I was in L.A. I knew a screenwriter who had
written a literary novel that hadnt done very well because it was too
well written, and one evening not long after his screenplay, My
Favorite Year, a movie directed by Mel Brooks, came out and of
course it was very different from the script he had written we were
at a party having a heavy philosophical discussion amid all the ditsy
L.A. chatter, and he said, get out of here, go to graduate school, I
wish I could. He felt like he was trapped and I still had the freedom to
leave, and here he had a nice house, and money, and I had basically
nothing, and I thought, thats exactly what Ive been wanting to do.
I was haunted by that. It took a couple years because my personal life
was going through some major changes, but then I applied to the MA in
Creative Writing at San Francisco State, and I was shocked that I got in
right away, like a week later, while they were still on break. Stan
Rice, who was the chair then, told me later that he just really liked my
poems and didnt bother forwarding my submission to the selection
committee. Hes like that. Needless to say, going to grad school
changed my life.
Alex: You write both formal and free verse poems. When you have the
idea to write a new poem, how do you decide what style to use?
Beth: Its interesting. I dont know that I really decide, which
of course doesnt make sense, of course you have to decide. When I
write free verse the form emerges as I write. With this last batch of
formal poems, I decided that I wanted to write formal poems, and thats
what I did. The few formal poems I wrote before that sometimes I
just wanted to write a formal poem, and sometimes I just felt that the
material could be conveyed best in a certain form, a formal form.
Alex: Until recently, you were writing mostly free verse.
Beth: Until recently, well, thats what one did. Free verse was
in, formal verse was part of a stuffy, dead tradition, though of course
some of our best poets were writing formal poetry. In grad school,
writing students just didnt write much formal poetry, it wasnt
something you really considered doing.
Alex: Do you find that its harder to publish formal poetry?
Beth: I think nowadays the best journals are very willing and maybe
even eager to publish formal poems. Not many poets are writing sonnets
or villanelles, or even rhymed poems or poems in syllabics, and very few
are writing them well, so you just dont see formal poems that often
Alex: How did you come to write the formal poems weve published
Beth: A couple years ago the Literary Review contacted me and
asked me if Id like to be part of their website and could I send them
enough new poems for a chapbook. I didnt really have any new work,
but it just so happened that I had just left a job and was between
classes and had moved back to San Francisco from Cotati and I was
renting part of a flat with friends temporarily while I was looking for
a place of my own in other words, I had a block of time when I could
just write. So I thought, well, its fate, so I sat down and spent
about 2 weeks doing nothing but writing the poems that are now my
chapbook on Web Del Sol, plus a few others, and I wrote a couple
sonnets and a sestina, and I just loved doing it. So after I had already
submitted the work to the Literary Review, I decided to take
another two weeks to just write as many formal poems as I could, and
those are the poems you have. So it was all in a rush. I love writing
Alex: Yes, a burst of creativity.
Beth: Thats how I work. Im not a person who sits down every
day well, I do keep a journal but I dont sit down and write a
poem or poem-in-progress every day, I wouldnt want to do that, its
just not my style, I like to write in chunks. Of course if I were rich Id
write like that all the time. I havent really written much poetry
since then, though Im very much feeling the urge, like that poetry
tsunami is building underwater. I did write a nonfiction book last year,
and a novel a couple of years ago, so I go off on other tangents. But I
really love formal poetry, and sometimes feel like I wont write much
free verse any more, I just dont want to. Once youve really done
it, once you have a small collection of formal poems, theres such a
sense of accomplishment. And its a whole other level of writing, I
think. Im not disparaging free verse, I think it can be just as
difficult and refined, but for me personally I love formal poetry, it
feels very natural. Its something I need to do more of, that I know.
And I will. Probably very soon.
Alex: When you started writing poetry you did write formal
Beth: Some. I decided I needed to do free verse because thats
what one does. But when I was in the MA and MFA I took several
independent studies to investigate what I call the poetic aesthetic. A
couple terms I concentrated on the sonnet, with a few other forms thrown
in here and there. I love sonnets.
Alex: I can tell. Does it take longer to write a formal poem?
Beth: It should take longer, but for some reason it doesnt. It
takes the same amount of time as a free verse poem, maybe 2 hours. I
have an idea, or an impulse to write, the energy starts to flow, I sit
down, and in a couple hours its done. I might tinker with it a bit,
sometimes even years later, but thats how I write all my poems, thats
just my style. Some people like to take a longer time and piece the poem
together over a few days or weeks, but I cant, it has to be done in
one sitting, and I dont ever have any desire to not finish it, thats
just how I realize the poem. With the sonnets I was kinda on a roll, and
then I got a job, and then I started my nonfiction book and my energy
was channeled into that.
Alex: Has that been published?
Beth: It hasnt. I just sent it a few weeks ago to an interested
publisher. They have the whole manuscript, and parts are very innovative
in form, so it might take awhile to get a response. Of course I look in
the mailbox eagerly every day, but I know statistically speaking I
shouldnt get my hopes up. But of course I do.
Alex: What is the title?
Beth: Its called The Power of Creation: A Writers Guide to
Alex: What is this about?
Beth: Its about creativity and how its part of really what I
see as the creativity of the universe, of God, creation were
created in the image of the Creator, and its all part of that process
of being self-actualized as creative beings responsible for creating our
own lives, pushing out, sloughing, emerging, transcending, as the whole
universe has been since the big bang. One thing I always say is that we
are the only creatures in the known universe that can participate in our
own evolution. We alone can be involved in creating ourselves to some
extent. Obviously a great deal is given, but in spite of that, maybe
even because of that like greatness comes through the restrictions
of a sonnet we have a tremendous amount of freedom to create and
recreate ourselves. And I see that freedom not only as a right, but as a
profound responsibility. Only by exercising our free will, our creative
will, can we be fully human and alive in the highest sense. I
passionately reject the modern notion that were nothing more than our
genes, or a bunch of subatomic particles bouncing off one another. How
pathetic to believe that!
Alex: Would writers of bad poetry be among those exercising their
creative free will?
Beth: I use this model in class sometimes: a large circle within a
smaller circle smaller in width , the smaller circle being like the halo around the sun
just before a storm. The inner circle is civilization, the given, all
thats status quo and institutionalized far too many people live
and write and stagnate in that circle, and the outer halo is culture,
everything in flux, all thats still becoming. And the very outer edge
of that outer circle is the cutting edge of creative emergence. Thats
where the true creator lives, on that chisel edge thats cutting its
way out into the not yet known, creating something seemingly out of
nothing, though of course its not truly nothing, its pure
potential, like the hunk of marble becoming David. Only God creates
something from nothing. We create from the materials at hand, poets
write poems with words constructed of letters arranged into syntactical
chunks. I usually draw that model on the board, with another just like
it next to it, and there I call the inner circle identity, or maybe I
should call it ego, and the outer circle is our life as we are living
it, if we are truly alive, that part of us that is vibrant and
pulsating. I run the chalk around and around that outer edge, and to me,
against the blackboard, it looks like light which is exactly what it
represents figuratively, and literally, since now, since Einstein, we
have come to understand that space and time space-time are
manifestations of light. But in answer to your question, true creators
are not just creating, theyre creating something of quality, some
work of lasting value.
Alex: If whats outside the circles is potential that already
exists, are we ever then truly creating?
Beth: Definitely, I think so. We are truly creating something that
has not yet existed, but were constructing that out of what already
exists, words, paint, blocks of marble. It is true creation but on lower
level than pure creation, which is making something from nothing
something only God can do. I have three favorite quotes that I use in
class sometimes that sum this all up neatly. One is by Einstein:
"All the valuable things, material, spiritual, and moral, which we
receive from society can be traced back through countless generations to
certain creative individuals." So true! What if we all were
creative individuals? The second is Gaugin: "There are only two
kinds of artists: revolutionaries and plagiarists." And Martin
Luther King said, "Salvation lies in the hands of the creatively
maladjusted" I love that. Those three statements more or less
sum up my personal philosophy of art, or at least of the ultimate
impetus of art creation of the highest pitch.
Alex: Your book sounds interesting, Id like to read it.
Beth: Yeah, youll have to. You have no choice. It will be thrust