Brief Biography: Christine Potter is a poet, writer, and internet broadcaster who lives in the Lower Hudson Valley with her choirmaster/organist husband and two very spoiled kitties. She has two collections of poetry: Zero Degrees at First Light (2006) and Sheltering In Place (2013), with work forthcoming in American Arts Quarterly and The Anglican Theological Review. She’s also putting the finishing touches on a YA novel and beginning the arduous task of finding an agent.
Geosi Gyasi: You’ve said somewhere about the connection between poetry and scripture. Could you elaborate on this connection?
Christine Potter: In the bio I wrote for Rattle, I said that I think poetry and scripture both come from the same place, that there’s a sort of holy spirit moving in the best poetry, no matter what its topic is. Ever noticed the way a poem can take off on its own as you are writing it–or read something you’ve written and see how an image you seemingly picked at random was exactly the right one?
Geosi Gyasi: Perhaps, your description of the incense and bells comes to mind?
Christine Potter: As for the incense and bells–yes. But they’re also part of the tradition I was brought up in; my family belonged to an Episcopal church when I was young. They are very vivid things, aren’t they–stuff to hear and to smell and to breathe!
Geosi Gyasi: How long have you been writing poetry?
Christine Potter: I’ve written poetry pretty much as long as I can remember. I used to write metrical, rhyming poems in a kind of ballad style when I was in grade school. Fortunately, none of those have survived!
Geosi Gyasi: Could you explain how the idea for “Save the Human Race” came about?
Christine Potter: It’s a loose allusion to Thorton Wilder’s The Skin of our Teeth, a play where the human race (symbolized by one family) is beset by all sorts of horrors, but survives. My father, who passed away this spring, often went on long rants about how terrible the world was, how we are all doomed. But I believe that we are somehow rescued, again and again, by “the skin of our teeth” — partly our own efforts and partly Grace. The poem has a lot of near-misses in it.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you go through a tedious process of arriving at the titles for your poems?
Christine Potter: Sometimes I do. When I wrote this one, I knew the title right away. It was the first thing I wrote and the poem followed it.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific reason why you write?
Christine Potter: I write because it feels good to have written a poem, and it feels good to do the writing. And there’s that magic thing that happens with the poem kind of putting itself together, when I’m really lucky.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you like most about your writing?
Christine Potter: Gee, I don’t know! I think I do an OK job with imagery.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any special rituals you do before you write?
Christine Potter: Not usually. I like to do poetry marathons with a few other poet friends sometimes. Sometimes an image or a strong feeling sets me off. Sometimes I open a poetry book by someone I respect and read a little from it. Robert Bly’s Morning Poems is good for that.
Geosi Gyasi: How much of your poetry come from true life experiences?
Christine Potter: All of it. I write fiction in prose, but my poetry is based on my life, stuff that actually happened–to the best of my memory. Of course, memory lies sometimes. And straight autobiography would be boring. It’s kind of stacked-up stuff that I thought or saw.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific reader in mind when you write?
Christine Potter: I want my poetry to be easily read. I don’t think poetry should be a private club. I think you can be plain-spoken and still do good work.
Geosi Gyasi: How has family affected your writing – whether positively or negatively?
Christine Potter: I very often write about family, so I guess they’ve inspired it. Like all families, they’re a bit crazy-making and a bit astonishing. My parents were not the happiest folks in the world, but they were strong models for loving the arts and reading.
Geosi Gyasi: What books did you read growing up?
Christine Potter: As a child, I was a compulsive reader. I read everything I could get my hands on. Lots of biographies, a few classic YA books like A Wrinkle In Time, and various anthologies of poetry for young people.
Geosi Gyasi: Which writers among your contemporaries do you most admire?
Christine Potter: Hmmm. Mark Doty, Ted Kooser (although he’s a bit older than me), Aliki Barnstone, Sharon Olds. That’s today. I read a lot of different poets. Tomorrow I might tell you something different. But always Mark Doty. He’s just amazing.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you take advice from anybody when you write?
Christine Potter: Not as much as I used to. I was head moderator at The Alsop Review’s Gazebo for years. That was an online workshop, and we edited one another like crazy. It’s probably hubris to say this, but I think I’ve gotten to the place where I can revise my own poetry without a ton of input from the outside. I have a few friends I might email or share new work with.
Geosi Gyasi: What theme(s) do you often write on?
Christine Potter: Guess I write about family and love the most. That and extreme weather. I really like watching storms!