Betsy Fogelman Tighe has published widely in small literary magazines, including TriQuarterly 74, for which she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and Verseweavers, Number 14 for which she was awarded third prize by the Oregon State Poetry Association in the New Poets category. She had the opportunity to apprentice at American Poetry Review during her college years, as well as study with the likes of CK Williams and James Wright. She currently works as a teacher-librarian in Portland, OR where she lives happily with her young adult children.
Geosi Gyasi: Let’s begin with “Girl’s Childhood” published in Rattle. What inspired it?
Betsy Fogelman Tighe: Being a parent inspired it. I think the most unexpected thing about parenthood, the surprise, is the number of things we cannot control for and about our children, and the pain of the utter helplessness of that.
Geosi Gyasi: How do you choose titles for your poems?
Betsy Fogelman Tighe: Often the title is the first line, or the inciting moment, or my own answer to the poem’s puzzle.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you write from your experiences?
Betsy Fogelman Tighe: Mostly. I was very lucky as a young poet to have James Wright as a mentor. He urged me to move away from the autobiographical, which was challenging for me. I tried and tried, but couldn’t quite force it. It was only with a certain age that I have begun to genuinely begun to write about others. In recent years, I have wanted to write a poetry of witness. Not political poetry, but the witness of lives which may not be testifying about themselves.
Geosi Gyasi: Is it difficult being a mother and writing at the same time?
Betsy Fogelman Tighe: No. I know other poets have talked about that being the advantage of poetry. That sometimes it only takes 10 minutes. My children are young adults now, anyway, so certainly there is no longer any real demand on my time. Work interferes more now. I’m a high school librarian, and while I do insist on working only my contract hours, nonetheless, my mind is on it a lot of the time, and my creativity seems to be tied to it 10 months of the year.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you enjoy performing your poems?
Betsy Fogelman Tighe: I do love performing. I started college as a theater major, thinking I would be an actress, and then had to admit that I really had no talent. But I am a bit of a performer. I like the limelight. I’m drawn to storytelling. I like to gather people. Maybe I should have been a comedian. In the past few years, I have begun singing, with other people. It feels like a divine activity. Connecting the word, with voice, with others.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell us about the story of your intern at American Poetry Review? What sort of work did you do over there?
Betsy Fogelman Tighe: I spent a year there, working a couple of afternoons a week. I’d open the mail, read unsolicited manuscripts, proofread–that was when type was still typeset, and “blues” would come in and have to be gone over with a fine tooth comb on a pretty quick turnaround. We had a system of one person reading aloud, while the other scanned the text. There may have been other duties, but this is what I recall.
Geosi Gyasi: Which poets have had the most profound influence on you as a writer?
Betsy Fogelman Tighe: James, certainly. Then, a multitude of others. After I read Anne Carson, I thought, I have to invent a form. And I did! But have not developed it.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you become a writer/poet?
Betsy Fogelman Tighe: When I was about 13, I read Leonard Cohen, Richard Brautigan, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and that was that. The siren call of the lyric.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a favourite among all the poems you’ve written?
Betsy Fogelman Tighe: I always have a new favorite, usually a more current one. At the moment, I’m perplexed that no one has taken “Pillow Talk.”
Geosi Gyasi: What interests you most about writing?
Betsy Fogelman Tighe: In the beginning was the word. For me, language is reality. I take it seriously. I don’t have enough capacity, but I like to keep practicing.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have specific topics you write on?
Betsy Fogelman Tighe: No, I don’t think so.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any formal education in writing?
Betsy Fogelman Tighe: I’ve taken 10,000 workshops with everyone from C.K. Williams to Kinnell to Olds to Ai to Doty. But no MFA.
Geosi Gyasi: Are you currently working on anything?
Betsy Fogelman Tighe: During the school year, I do not do a lot of writing, but I write daily when I’m not working. I’ve been shopping a manuscript for a long, long time.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you mind giving us some lines to anyone of your favourite poems?
Betsy Fogelman Tighe: Do you mean mine or someone else’s?
Geosi Gyasi: Do you show work-in-progress to friends?
Betsy Fogelman Tighe: I attend a monthly critique group, and occasionally when I think a poem is finished, I’ll send it off to one or two friends. My oldest and dearest friend, Judith Parker, I met in a workshop with Bly, I think in 1982. Wow!
Geosi Gyasi: Do you know when you’ve come to the end of a poem?
Betsy Fogelman Tighe: Do you mean when I’ve found the right finish, or when I’m on the last draft?
Geosi Gyasi: Do you revise a lot?
Betsy Fogelman Tighe: Most poems get 3-4 drafts, I’d say. Many I start years before they are finished.
Geosi Gyasi: Would you like to end the interview?
Betsy Fogelman Tighe: Sure!