Barbara Crooker’s poems have appeared in magazines such as The Green Mountains Review, The Hollins Critic, The Christian Science Monitor, Smartish Pace, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Nimrod, The Denver Quarterly, The Tampa Review, Poetry International, The Christian Century, America and several anthologies. Her books are Radiance, which won the 2005 Word Press First Book competition and was a finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize; Line Dance, which came out from Word Press in 2008 and won the 2009 Paterson Award for Literary Excellence; More (C&R Press, 2010); Gold (Cascade Books, a division of Wipf and Stock, in their Poeima Poetry Series, 2013); Small Rain (Virtual Artists Collective, 2014); and Selected Poems, (FutureCycle Press, forthcoming in 2015). Her website is www.barbaracrooker.com.
Geosi Gyasi: Is Writing Home your first book published?
Barbara Crooker: Yes, it was. It’s a small book, called a chapbook.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write The Lost Children?
Barbara Crooker: Well, first of all, what I do is, write poems. Individual poems. Then, later, I try and see how I might arrange them in a collection. (I’m assuming you’re talking about the chapbook; there’s also a poem in it with this title.) It seemed to me that all of the poems in this book dealt with loss in some sense, and so The Lost Children seemed to fit as an overall title.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you write from personal experiences?
Barbara Crooker: Yes, I do. But then I alter and play with biographical facts, real life experiences, etc. in order to make a better poem.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you explain what you meant by the title of your book, Obbligato?
Barbara Crooker: Obbligato is a musical term, meaning “an elaborate especially melodic part accompanying a solo or principal melody,” and it also carries with it connotations of obligation, especially as to memory. It seemed to fit most of the themes in this chapbook. The best poems from these out-of-print chapbooks are in my new book, Barbara Crooker: Selected Poems. http://goo.gl/1sP72u
Geosi Gyasi: Is there any major difference between your books Small Rain and More?
Barbara Crooker: More is made up of four sections, all different definitions of the word “more,” including a section of ekphrastic poems (poems about works of art), things we’d all like to have more of in our lives. Small Rain is a collection of nature poems, arranged on the wheel of the year, with poems about blossoms and birds. It’s also newer work.
Geosi Gyasi: You have interesting titles for your books. How do you choose your titles?
Barbara Crooker: As I mentioned above, first I write the poems. Then I see which of them are book-worthy, and then I look for themes. Then I try to find a title that best describes what’s going on in the book. I think arrangement is important, and I spend a lot of time on this. Robert Frost said if there are 26 poems in a book, then the 27th poem is the book itself, and that’s what I’m aiming for. . . .
Geosi Gyasi: What is the best thing that has ever happened to you as a writer?
Barbara Crooker: Reading at the Library of Congress and reading at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. And having multiple appearances on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac and on Ted Kooser’s column, An American Life in Poetry.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell us a little bit about Greatest Hits?
Barbara Crooker: Greatest Hits was an invitational series done by Pudding House Press (now Katywampus Press). You had to be nominated, and then choose 12 of your “greatest hits”—either your most reprinted poems or poems that got good response at readings. Each poem was accompanied by a short essay talking about its genesis and its publishing history.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you do when a poem you’re writing is not going well?
Barbara Crooker: Put it away, as Donald Hall says, in a dark desk drawer. Since I don’t have an actual desk (I write at the dining room table), I put it in a file folder, and wait. Often, what needs to happen next is there, on the page, but it’s not evident until some time goes by. Then the parts that need to be moved around or excised become oh, so clear. Magic, happening in the deep underground of the unconscious. . . .
Geosi Gyasi: How do you often end a poem?
Barbara Crooker: I don’t have a particular strategy. I’m of the Paul Valery school, that a poem is never ended, merely abandoned. I try, though, not to force the endings, but rather, to have them be organic, the natural outcome of what’s come before.
Geosi Gyasi: When is the best time to write?
Barbara Crooker: When I’m away at a colony, and have uninterrupted time.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you earn a living from writing?
Barbara Crooker: Of course not; no one does.
Geosi Gyasi: Did you know as a child that you would one day become a writer?
Barbara Crooker: As a child, I didn’t even think about becoming an adult, let alone a writer. . . .
Geosi Gyasi: What is the most boring aspect of writing?
Barbara Crooker: As my mother used to say, only boring people are bored. If I’m having a dry spell writing, then I read. But I’m never bored.
Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever been rejected by publishers?
Barbara Crooker: Of course; everyone is. It took me over twenty-five years to get my first book accepted; one of the poems in it is “Twenty-five Years of Rejection Slips.”
Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about critics when you write?
Barbara Crooker: I’m not famous enough that a critic would pay any attention to me, so it’s not something that crosses my mind.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you read unfavorable reviews of your books?
Barbara Crooker: I’ve never had an unfavorable review.
Geosi Gyasi: Whom do you regard as your favorite writer?
Barbara Crooker: I have many, many favorites. Here’s a short list, in no particular order: Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Rumi, Hafiz, Charles Wright, Ellen Bass, Sharon Olds, Mark Doty, Philip Levine, Maxine Kumin, Ted Kooser, Stephen Dunn, Betsy Sholl, Liesl Muller, Dorianne Laux, Linda Pastan, Barbara Hamby, Christopher Buckley, David Kirby.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the inspiration behind your book, Ordinary Life?
Barbara Crooker: I don’t believe in inspiration, just perspiration (ie, writing is hard work. You have to show up at your desk every day.). The poems I had in mind for this chapbook all had to do with my son, who has autism. But then there was the poem “Ordinary Life,” which I realized could act in a double-edged way in this collection, that all of us are leading lives which are both ordinary AND extra-ordinary. Also, having a child with a severe disability made me realize how miraculous the things of “regular life” actually are—learning how to drive a car, for example.
Geosi Gyasi: Which of your poems do you feel most proud of?
Barbara Crooker: That would be like picking which one of my children is my favorite. . . .
Geosi Gyasi: Do you think prizes and awards are important to the writer?
Barbara Crooker: I’ll go with what William Stafford said, “Prizes and awards are nice, but let’s not fool ourselves by thinking they mean something.”
Geosi Gyasi: Do you see yourself writing more books?
Barbara Crooker: Of course, I’m a writer, and that’s what I do. Now, will I PUBLISH more books (which is getting increasingly difficult)? Ah, THAT’S the question!