Michele Leavitt writes poetry and creative nonfiction. In 2013, her book-length poetry
collection, Back East, won the inaugural Michael Macklin First Book Prize; it is available from Moon
Pie Press. Her memoir excerpt, “No Trespassing,” won the Ohio State University’s 2010 William
Allen Award for creative nonfiction, was published in The Journal, and received a notable listing
in The Best American Essays 2011. A poetry chapbook, The Glass Transition, was published by
Finishing Line Press in 2010. Other recent works of poetry and prose appear in So to
Speak, [Slippage], HeART, Mezzo Cammin, The Tower Journal, Passager, and Per Contra. A
former trial attorney, high school dropout, and hepatitis C survivor, she lives in Maine, where she co-
directs the Honors Program at Unity College and teaches writing.
Statement of Poetics
I’d like to be more conscious of ways that poems begin. It can happen
accidentally when two events or objects seem eerily connected, and I try to
articulate that connection. It can happen when I make a decision to write about
a particular subject, like the hemlock forest, and while investigating the
subject through sitting with it and through research, some connections arise.
Sometimes a poem can begin as an irritation: an injustice or illogic. And then
there are the memories or mysteries that seem to call out for the sort of
explanations we make through metaphor. Most importantly, I try to pay attention.
That’s what I understand about beginnings, but revision is more mystical. My poems rarely end up as they began. Once the idea is present, then my brain tries to push forward to the idea’s truth and form. This is hard to describe; it’s like the real poem is about twenty feet in front of me and I’m straining to see it. I love the feeling of being in revision, but it can be interrupted, even for years. For example, I began writing a poem when I was in my thirties, imagining the freedom of being post-menopausal. It was a very long poem. Fifteen years later (and post-menopausal!), it became a sonnet titled “At Last.”
Emily Dickinson and the British Romantic and Victorian poets, whom I first read as a teenager, continue to influence my ear for sound. I now read more widely, as a seeker for both pleasure and ideas, and as a sort of vulture, circling for techniques and forms to use in my own work. As many other poets have remarked, form is a very effective tool for giving up control of a poem. It helps me to pare back to what is essential, and to resist my impulses to tie a little bow at every ending.
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