Melanie McCabe
June 2013


Melanie McCabeMelanie McCabe is a high school English and creative writing teacher in Arlington, Virginia.  Her first book, History of the Body, was recently published by David Robert Books.  Her work has appeared several times on Poetry Daily, as well as in BEST NEW POETS 2010, The Georgia Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Cincinnati Review, Bellingham Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Shenandoah and numerous other journals.  She also has work in two Bedford-St. Martin’s college textbooks.  

She has been a finalist for Shenandoah’s Graybeal-Gowen Award, the Mid-American Review poetry contest, the Bright Hill Press Book Prize, the Wabash Poetry Prize, the Pablo Neruda Prize and the May Swenson Award.


Statement of Poetics

As a teacher of young writers 14-to-18 years old, I am frequently perplexed by their desire to listen to music as they write.  As soon as they sit down to a laptop in my classroom, out come the iPods and in go the earbuds .  This practice runs counter to every instinct I have about the composition process.  What I want to listen to when I write poems is not exactly silence, but instead, the lines and images that turn over in my head when a poem is being made possible to me.

That phraseology probably seems somewhat mystical, but it seems to me the most apt way to describe how I experience writing.  I am listening for the images, the lines, to appear, and I can allow no other sounds in my head but those.  How can you fill your ears with someone else’s lyrics and expect that your own will find any space in which to make themselves heard?

People often remark to me about the sonic quality of my poems.  I wish I could lie and say that this is entirely a conscious act, but the truth of it is that all of these lucky couplings of sounds-- of half-rhymes, assonance, consonance—well up in me from somewhere entirely subconscious. 

I am not a formal poet and do not write in any deliberate meter, but I am very attuned to rhythm and patterns, which is why I think that so often poems begin for me during a walk.  I walk to shake loose everything in my head but the poem I am waiting for.  And because my walking is rhythmic, my breathing rhythmic, so also are the snippets of lines that I begin to hear.

I am not a confessional poet, but nearly all of my poems are born from the experiences of my life or of the lives of those close to me.  If I thought my poems relayed merely something about my own narrow world, I wouldn’t bother writing them.  I’d keep a diary instead.  Always present for me in the writing of any poem is the listener, the reader, whom I want to bring with me wherever I am going.


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