Poet Patricia Fargnoli Talks Writing, Love of Words, Advice

Patricia Fargnoli is simply one of the finest poets writing today.

And Pat’s an important person in my life.

I’m honored to host her on my blog. 

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Patricia Fargnoli, a former New Hampshire Poet Laureate, has published five award-winning books and three chapbooks.

Awards include: The May Swenson Book Award, The NH Literary Book Award, The Sheila Mooton Book Award, Foreword Magazine Silver Poetry Book Award, a runner up for the Jacar Press Prize, and a residency at Macdowell.

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She has published over 300 poems in such journals as Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Harvard Review et. al.

Pat is a retired social worker and psychotherapist, a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother.

She lives with her cat, Rusty-Griffin in Walpole, NH.
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I had the good fortune to become a student in the poetry classes she taught in New Hampshire.

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Pat was not only a marvelous teacher, but she took an interest in my work, and became my mentor and supporter and cheerleader.

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And ultimately, Pat became my dear friend.

I will never be able to truly express the depth of my gratitude.

Pat’s belief in me is a part and parcel of every success I’ve had with publishing my work.

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Without further ado, Patricia Fargnoli:

Thank you to Lana Ayers for featuring my book, Hallowed: New & Selected Poems on her blog.

This month is the one-year anniversary of its publication.

Pat and book Photo on 8-28-17 at 2.41 PM #2

Health issues and issues of aging (I am 80) have prevented me from doing readings or publicizing the book the way I would have wanted to.

So I am so grateful to Lana for her interest in this feature.

How did you come to poetry?

Poetry became an important part of my life very early, largely because of the wonderful Aunt Nell who took care of me after my parents died.

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She had been a kindergarten teacher for 40 years and loved children.

Each night, before bed, she would read to me: all the children’s classics, and books of poetry –“Silver Pennies,” “Peter Patter’s Owl,” “The 100 Greatest American Poems.”

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Thus, the rhythms and images of poems became part of me…as did the love of poetry.

I wrote my first poem at age seven on Mother’s Day.

It was for my mother and I asked Aunt Nell to somehow send it to her.

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Then, in high school, I wrote (very bad) poems for the school newspaper.

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I don’t remember writing during most of the years of my marriage and motherhood, but I never lost interest in poetry.

It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I began to write seriously.

I somehow fell into a graduate poetry class with Brendan Galvin at Central Connecticut College and took it several times.

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Brendan, who is a remarkable poet, and not easy to please, taught me to write well. I was determined to become a good poet and worked hard.

There were seven other women in that class; we all became friends and, after we stopped taking the class, we continued to meet and critique each other’s work.

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Still, the group is meeting, 35 years later.

For financial reasons, I’ve never been able to get an MFA (though I wanted to).

I did, however, attend The Frost Place Poetry Conference and the Bennington Summer conference both of which brought me into contact with well-known poets and expanded my poetry knowledge and world.

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Most importantly, I studied at Bennington with Mary Oliver who recognized the value of my work

and became a mentor and supporter of me.

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Her belief in me has been a lifelong motivator for me

and I am enormously grateful to her.

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My first book was published when I was sixty-two.

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[I can’t help but interject here folks — First book at age 62!

Winner of the  May Swenson Award!

This fact uplifts me greatly coming so late to fiction.

There’s still hope for me & for all of us late bloomers.]

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What is the process like creating a new & selected works? Has your relationship to the earlier poems shifted? Have you discovered anything new in the process?

This is the one year anniversary of the publication of Hallowed: New & Selected Poems 

so it is a good time to reflect on the process of creating it.

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I knew that I wanted to have a volume that recognized my previous books while it also included the new work I’ve written since Winter was published.

And I wanted to do it by my 80th birthday so as to recognize that scary (to me) landmark.

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I contacted my previous publishers for permission to use poems from those books and Jeffrey Levine at Tupelo Press said that they wanted to publish it since they had published two of my previous books and considered me to be part of “The Tupelo Family.”

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The process of putting the manuscript together was quite easy: I simply chose the best of the new poems I’d written…24 of them, and then arranged them as I would arrange the poems in any book… paying attention especially to the first and last poems but also to the arc of the them and how they connected to each other.

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Choosing the poems from previous books was even easier. I knew that I wanted a representative sample from each book, but didn’t want a lot of poems from each book…so I went through each front to back, choosing poems that seemed to encompass the themes of that book and that had gotten recognition through audience appreciation and/or publication…plus those that were personal favorites.

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A friend pointed out that I left many strong poems behind and I guess I did but I didn’t want the book to become too long.

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What I learned was that some of my themes are lifelong themes: especially grief and loss, how to find meaning and beauty in nature and life, those consolations.

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I also recognized that the poems of the first book, Necessary Light, tend to be more narrative than those of later books which tend first toward my lyrical and later to more and more meditative as I aged and began to be more concerned with issues of aging and with the search for spirituality and meaning in a world where there are no (for me at least) certain answers.

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Amazingly, when I had finished the choosing and arranging, the poems from all the books seem to become a cohesive book….something that both surprised and delighted me.

Beautiful sunrise over volcanoes in guatemala

Could you share a poem from the new collection?

To an Old Woman Standing in October Light

Better to just admit it, time has gotten away from you, and yet
here you are again, out in your yard at sunset, a golden light draping itself

across the white houses and mowed lawns,
the house-tall maple, green and rust in ordinary light,

has become a leaf-embossed, gold globe, the brook runs molten,
the clouds themselves glow gold as the heaven you used to imagine.

Do you know that your own figure, as Midas-touched as a Klimt painting,
has become part of that landscape falling around you,

almost indistinguishable from the whole of it–
as if eternity itself were being absorbed into your mortal body?

Or is it that your body, out of time, is merged into eternity?
You have been looking for a reason for your continued existence,

with faith so shaky it vibrates like a plucked wire.
Such moments of glory must be enough. As you search them out again, again,

your disappearing holds off for awhile. But see how, even in this present,
as you stand there, the past flies into the future seamlessly,

the way, above you, the crows are winging home again, calling to each other,
vanishing above the trees into the night-gathering sky.

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[Buy Patricia Fargnoli’s book by clicking this link!]

How did this poem come about?

This is the first poem of the book.

The “you” in the poem is, myself as I stand at the precipice of old old age, but also it reaches out to the reader who may be also dealing with issues of aging and meaning.

I wanted to write a poem that used beautiful language and light and spirituality.

nature sky clouds sunset golden night wallpaper 1920x1080 Elegant A flock of birds flying ahead the sunset birds flying

I don’t remember much of how I wrote it but I think I must have been in that poem-space where images and words come almost unbidden.

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What advice were you given that was the most helpful when you were first showing your poems to others (in classes or workshops or critique groups? 

It’s been 45 years since I first began showing others my poems and my memory is not that long.

I think the most important advice I could have been given is to be quiet and listen without getting defensive but, at the same time; to consider carefully all that is said.

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Always remember that the poet is the final authority (and decider) about their own work.

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Any really bad advice that didn’t help at all, and if so, how did you overcome it?

As for bad advice: negative critiques especially when given forcefully by someone who is sure their opinion is “right” have only left me upset afterwards.

These are not supportive and can be very difficult to shake these off.

I have left critiquing workshops where this happens frequently.

STRONG

Fortunately, I have been a member for many years of a very supportive and helpful in-person workshop and also an online one where I trust the feedback I receive.

success
What advice do you have for poets who are struggling in some way–either with getting poems written or with getting published?

I know this is said often but it is so true: read, read, read…all the poetry (both American and International) you can get your hands on.

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And study the poems that you are most drawn to, not just as a reader, but as a student learning from their techniques and moves, their language and strategies.

learn

Also read fiction and non-fictions, read magazines, let all that you read become food for your own imagination.

read every

Make writing a priority in your life, make time on a regular basis to do it even if you think you have nothing to say.

priority

Study the journals before you send work to them in order to decide where you own work might fit.

lit mags

Build a poetry community.

Some poets are loners, I, myself, am an introvert, but I have found that it’s important for me to have a tribe of poets, people I can turn to to talk about poetry, share successes, even moan about failures.

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Thank you, Pat for bringing your beautiful, wise, and enlightening words to my blog.

Thank you readers for coming along.

Please check out more on Patricia Fargnoli here: [Patricia’s website]

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15 thoughts on “Poet Patricia Fargnoli Talks Writing, Love of Words, Advice

  1. It gave me goosebumps to read this wonderful interview and relive again all the truly remarkable poetry you have written, Pat. Your wisdom and integrity attracted me from the very first poem I ever read by you in Margie. It edged me out of the darkness of my grandson’s death. You gave me hope. You continue to give me hope. I refer to your books again and again.

    Thank you.

    Jo

    1. Thank you, Mary Jo for visiting the blog. So happy to hear Pat’s made such an impact on your life as well. She is an amazing poet, teacher, and inspiration to me, too.

  2. I took a workshop with Pat years ago and walked away uplifted. I have re-read her books in my collection. She is agret inspiration and i am ordering the collected. Thank you Lana for your generous spirit of showcasing several poets and being a shining light in the poetry world.

    1. Lisha, yes, Patricia is an inspiring workshop leader. I have been so lucky. Thank you for your lovely comment and for reading my blog.

  3. Hi Pat, I just love this interview. And I love reading the excerpts from the poems–even though I have read them in their entirety, it’s a whole new thing to experience these gorgeous and deeply moving passages. xo Ann

  4. Your interview inspired me. I, too, was a late bloomer, a much later bloomer than you. I’m 82, and MoonPath published my first book last year. I need poets like you to encourage me that it’s not too late to publish another. I’m going to buy your latest book to keep me inspired. Thank you,
    and thank you, Lana for posting this interview

    1. Thank you so much, Glenna. And congratulations on publishing your first book. It’s so exciting that you’re thinking about publishing another! Good for you.

  5. Dear Pat and Lana, On this day of remembrance and new year, your interview gives me solace and hope as I turn towards memory and reflection. Your experience and insightful advice reminds me, an introverted, late-bloomer, why I continue to read and write poems despite the challenges of a life in a country that I often do not understand. Thank you very much.

    1. So happy to hear this interview brought solace. Yes,these are dark difficult times. But Wendy, putting poetry into the world will always make the world a little brighter. Keep making your lovely poems.

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