Rachel McGuinness Interviews Terry Blackhawk

1) What inspired you to begin writing poetry? Was there a certain event or did it just seem to come naturally to you?

I wrote as a child and in college, but I did not write as an adult until I began teaching creative writing in high school in the late 1980’s. That was when I wrote my first poem after not writing for almost 20 years. The poem, now titled “Once,” found a place in my 3rd full-length poetry collection, The Dropped Hand, with very few changes.

It was a very powerful, astonishing experience to have poetry open itself up to me so unexpectedly, and – although I did not realize it at the time – writing that first poem set me on the course I have ultimately taken in my life. I believe you will find quite a bit more information regarding how I came to writing in the essay that I prepared for my Greatest Hits chapbook.

2) The subjects of your poems cover a wide range of people from your family and friends to mystical goddesses. Which of these subjects do you feel your deepest connection to? Why?

I suppose I feel least connected at this time to the mythological. Those figured more
prominently when I first started writing poetry -- in my chapbook, Trio—Voices from the Myths, which explores three women from Greek myth, and in my first full-length collection, Body & Field where figures from mythology helped me to explore issues relating to feminine power and consciousness. But the pull of mythology has waned. Family takes prominence in The Dropped Hand, my most recent collection written in response to the death of my mother and to my father’s illness, and in my first collection, Body & Field, whose first section relates to marriage and motherhood. All of these subjects matter strongly to me, as subjects, of course, that is, as people I care for deeply, the most important people in my life. But the triggering subjects of poems can come from almost anywhere, and the idea is not to be ‘about’ a subject so much as to let a subject launch one into writing, from whatever impulses – strong emotions, perplexity, curiosity, imagination, outrage, loss – and to see where that takes you. Visual art and nature, especially birds, are often triggering subjects for me as well.

3) I enjoy reading your poetry because you are not afraid to contrast fantasy with reality, one of my favorites is "Holding Hands With the Tin Man." Where did you find inspiration for that poem? What moved you to contrast the everyday task of peeling apples to that of holding hands with a tin man in the land of Oz?

The underlying concern in that poem as I recall – and it was written quite some time ago –is the damage caused by unthinking or unquestioned machismo as represented by alcoholism and its effects on children, and the professional football to which vulnerable boys aspire. The speaker is peeling apples and considering “the weight” of these things as a football game plays in the background. To hold hands with the Tin Man may have emerged in response to the phrase “artificial turf” -- the artificial Tin Man, with his unreal lightness of being, being a more acceptable but obviously impossible love object to juxtapose against the sad scenario.

4) In The Dropped Hand I noticed a common theme of card playing throughout your poems. You have many references to them, including the title of your book. What is your connection with cards? Why did you choose to use that particular subject as a recurring theme in "Signaling Bridge," as well as in references to cards within the poem "The Dropped Hand," where a scarf is "adorned with spades, clubs, diamonds, hearts"?

My parents were avid and very accomplished bridge players. When my father emerged from anesthesia after the procedure that resulted in his stroke, he was babbling (i.e., signaling) bridge terms. Three no trump, six spades, etc. …making no sense at all. My mother was fatally stricken while playing bridge. She literally dropped her last hand of cards, which gave my book its title. She was also a fine pianist, so there’s that meaning of hand, and, in my father’s case, his hand at penmanship.

5) Many of your poems are extremely personal. How do you feel when reading them aloud? I know that I struggle with reading my poems aloud because they are filled with such deep emotions that are easier to write down than say out loud.

One tries not to let the emotion rule the reading. I can usually succeed with that, but not always.

6) How did you decide to start your non profit program InsideOut Detroit? I visited your web page and read the poems that are posted, and I enjoyed all of them.

Thanks you for your comments. InsideOut grew from my experiences and successes as a classroom teacher in inspiring young people to write creatively and believe in their imaginations, and in themselves. I was fortunate to find funding and create an organization that helps to share that joy with many others.

7) I also read that Detroit has a Youth Slam Team. That sounds like it would be something really fun to be a part of. Have you ever done slam poetry or spoken word?

No, I haven’t.

8) What is your advice for young poets who want to succeed?

Read. Read widely and thoughtfully and passionately. Be as interested -- or rather, more interested in and amazed by the work of others – than you are interested in and amazed by your own.

Works by Terry Blackhawk

Through the 3rd Eye was supported in its inception by the Grand Rapids Humanities Council and is currently made possible by continued volunteer effort and private support. Copyright 2013.