As published on: www.masspoetry.org/newbooklepson
© Mass Poetry 2016
When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
At first I wanted to sing and compose but the poetry gradually took over, probably because I had a need to say things that didn't get expressed by me or anyone around me, things that can never be said, actually.
Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?
I first loved T.S. Eliot & Hopkins, in a superficial way, when my high school teacher read them to us. I went home & wrote my first poem after hearing them. Actually, I wrote some poems when I was a wee one but those don't count. Neither do the high school ones.
But when I went to SUNY Stony Brook, & the Black Mountain poets Denise Levertov, Robert Creeley & Robert Duncan came to read, that was it for me. I had no idea what Duncan was talking about in the days he visited our class & drew arrows connecting all sorts of things on the board, but each day afterwards I went to the woods and wrote. Denise had such a fine sense of sound and talked about organic poetry, a revolution. And Creeley, the great existential poet who said 'Form is never more than an extension of content and content is never more than an extension of form.'
Later I transferred to UPenn and studied with a Yeats scholar, reading all of Yeats several times and pouring over his mellifluous sounds.
Adrienne Rich as feminist poet and essayist was formative to me in part because of her large-heartedness and her rhythmic force.
Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
Lately I write first thing in the morning, which I hadn't done previously. Always lying on the couch in the living room, so I can see out the front window & feel the weather. Just keep at it, whatever the routine or lack of routine. Improvisation is the height of writing to me--Creeley didn't revise--but I'm not there yet--most of the poems need a great deal of cutting still. The best poems come easily.
Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
My poems used to begin, often, with images or metaphors. Now they begin with sound or idea, sound with idea, sound as idea I should say. I no longer have a need to speak psychologically and am concentrating on directness, concision, sound as meaning. I'm good at metaphor but have no interest in it, really; what I feel is, say, a Creeley poem with a whiff of image and a speaker commenting on his perceptions, questioning everything and not concluding. It's hard for me not to be nice in a poem--a constant battle.
Tell us a little bit about your new collection: what's the significance of the title? are there over-arching themes? what was the process of assembling it? was is a project book? etc.
Ask anyone is the title of my new book & it seems to be a popular title--ask anyone. It's a way of saying the reader is part of the poem.
It's a line in the first poem and refers to that as well.
This book is better than it would have been had it not been delayed three years while the publisher moved from Boston to Brooklyn and published a stack of other poets & changed to non-profit status--each time I had a chance to add/delete poems, cut extraneous words, play with rhythms, and play with syntax. I wondered if the book would cohere although I use various kinds of language, but happily people tell me there is a strong voice in the book that makes it all sound like, well, me.
Musical settings of some of the poems are available at my website, ruthlepson.com. These wild, thoughtful pieces were composed by former NEC students, whom I'm been privileged to work with in recent years. And music has seeped into my poetry.