What poets changed the way you thought about writing?
My forthcoming book, Earnest, Earnest? (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020), is structured by postcards that the speaker, Eleanor, writes to her on-again-off-again lover, Earnest. But these “Earnest Postcards” did not begin as postcards, they began as “Dear Diary” poems. Years ago, instead of writing Dear Earnest, as the speaker does now, she wrote,
The front of a motorcycle reminds me of my reproductive system—
handle bars fallopian tubes, mirrors ovaries, headlight uterus,
and front wheel vagina.
There was only one problem: No one believed she was writing to herself.
At the time, I was re-reading “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen, “Her Pet” by Thom Gunn, and What to Eat, What to Drink, and What to Leave for Poison by Camille Dungy; and re-reading voraciously—sometimes every day, certainly several times a week. I was really captivated by how these poets used the sonnet form. To my mind, they shaped the sonnet to their vision, not the other way around.
And somewhere in that re-reading, I got the idea to a) turn my “Dear Diary” poems into postcards addressed to Earnest and b) turn them into sonnets.
Each “Earnest Postcard” is two pages and consists of the front of the postcard (an image) and the back (Eleanor’s message to Earnest). These postcards are experimental in their use of images and formal in their dialogue with the sonnet. Like the sonnet, these poems have two parts, include a turn, and are all very close to fourteen lines. The first “Earnest Postcard” is exactly fourteen lines (split across front and back) and ends on a rhyming couplet of iambic pentameter:
What else can I tell you? What else is true?It is difficult to choose whether this “Earnest Postcard” is a sonnet or not. Thus, Earnest, Earnest? is a question of form.
The child I did not have belonged to you.
I am simplifying the story of my “Earnest Postcards” somewhat in order to fit it into paragraphs, rather than years. But I do not think it is an oversimplification to write that I drew my inspiration for the form of these poems most immediately from reading Owen, Gunn, and Dungy.