Amazon.com talks to Lyn Lifshin

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You may email Lyn Lifshin at onyxvelvet@aol.com

Amazon.com: How did you begin writing? Did you intend to become an author, or do you have a specific reason or reasons for writing each book?

L.L.: I'm told that when I was under a year old, in a car on some back road in Vermont I said "the trees look like they are dancing," to the amazement of my mother who thought perhaps if I didn't become an actress (as she had hoped when she named me Rosalynn Diane) maybe I would become a poet. I skipped several grades in elementary school because I learned to read very very early and somehow ended up in 3rd grade at six— unable then (or much later) to do long division but somehow being pretty good at writing poetry. Mrs Flag read us poems from Longfellow to Milton and had us write our own. When she brought in a vase of apple blossoms she urged us to lose ourselves in their color, smell, in the touch and almost the taste of the pale leaves and I think I was hooked on poetry from that point on. I loved the poems in "Now we are Six"-- Alexander the beetle, and the dreamy summer days with Anne and the poems about Tattoo, the mother of Pinkle Purr. You can tell how used the book was by the condition. The more classes I skipped, the less comfortable I felt in math and algebra and geometry and the more poetry seemed a cove, a haven. Since it was never "in" to be too smart, plump (now, a ballet addict, I weigh about 100 lbs and rarely go out without contact lenses) or wear glasses, my inner world became a richer, more comfortable place than the world of school and dates, where it seemed it was the cheer leaders who reigned, certainly no one who preferred reading to playing strip poker or going across the state line to sneak a drink. So, yes, I did want to write but I realized it wasn't a way to make a living easily so thought after I graduated from college, I ought to get a Master of Arts and then, a Ph.D. It was all so I finally could write. I thought Id have all the degrees I needed by the time I was 20 and then, wrote because I didn't finish the last. When I was still very young, my father, not a Vermonter but with many of the characterisitics connected with New Engla

Amazon.com: What authors do you like to read? What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?

L.L.: I love to read, have so often in recent years felt I never had the time to read as much as I wanted to though. But I carry books in my bag, they are piled near the bed, on chairs and close to the stairs. I never feel comfortable answering questions about my favorite writers, worry I will end up leaving out my very favorites. But I do buy and read poetry all the time— a look at the women authors in the four anthologies I've edited: two versions of TANGLED VINES, ARIADNE'S THREAD and LIPS UNSEALED, gives a sense of some of the wrters I admire. My bookcases overflow with contemporary poetry collections and I read short stories on trains, planes and subways when I travel. I suppose my time in graduate school, first working on a Master's thesis on Dylan Thomas and later, working in 15th, 16th and 17th century poetry, esp Wyatt and Donne, probably had an influence that others might see more than I do. And my rebelling against being in graduate school, going to the opposite extreme: the most non-establishment writers in the late sixties and early 70's, also probably influenced me. Others see connections to Emily Dickinson, Robert Creeley, Sylvia Plath and even Bukowski. I've always liked blues music, with so much left unsaid, to be filled in by the listener or reader.

Amazon.com: Could you describe the mundane details of writing: How many hours a day do you devote to writing? Do you write a draft on paper or at a keyboard (typewriter or computer)? Do you have a favorite location or time of day (or night) for writing? What do you do to avoid--or seek!--distractions?

L.L.: Normally, or at least in the past, I wrote in the morning— spent much of the day doing the mail, — dealing with manuscripts, contributor copies, writing to editors who wanted information to go with accepted work. Someone always wants photographs, resumes, comments about the work. I also spent much time arranging readings. If I was teaching, I'd prepare workshop exercises, invite other poets to come and read. And when I was editing one of the anthologies, it seemed that took over— I'd work to exhaustion, especially in the final weeks before a deadline, work in a daze like someone running a marathon: focused on only that end. When the film maker, Mary Ann Lynch and her crew came to my house to shoot a documentary about me, NOT MADE OF GLASS, they seemed amazed that with the exception of going to ballet and to a film now and then, most of my time was spent on writing. The film shows me getting up early, grinding coffee beans for coffee, feeding the cat and then writing, by hand, in spiral notebooks before I even got dressed. Lately that stretch of time, uncluttered and going on forever like an empty beach, is pure luxury. But until recently, as the film shows, it was definitely my daily pattern. I would take a break around 5 PM to go out and take a ballet class or two and then come back around 8 or 9 PM and still have time to write letters, type — watch a film, listen to radio voices.(a source of poems, like all eaves-dropping) At the time, I used a typewriter and would wait until I had a large number of spiral notebooks and then do a blitz of typing— usually at my house but sometimes I lugged that heavy green IBM selectric to Vermont, New Hampshire— wherever I might be for a few weeks. That pattern of work seemed to work pretty well— especially the ballet break. Living alone meant I could type, read— do what I wanted to when I wanted to. Time seemed more fluid somehow. The past several years have been quite different. I now use a computer, something I never thought I'd end up doing. When I

Amazon.com: Do you meet your readers at book signings, conventions, or similar events? Do you interact with your readers electronically through e-mail or other online forums?

L.L.: Because I have published so widely in magazines from The American Scholar and APR and Massachusetts Review to the smallest, tiny mags and broadsides, my name is known and so many writers have written to me directly for a long time, ordered books, asked for poems, sent me their poems (something I am willing to look at for a fee etc) In my archives are probably close to 400 banker box size boxes of contributor copies— they are taking over the place. (Now that I plan not to send out poems unless invited or there is a special theme issue etc this will change drastically) Often an editor or publisher would read my poems in a magazine and ask me to send some for another magazine or a collection. And readers would write me and ask how they could invite me to do a reading or order out of print books from me or get my film, NOT MADE OF GLASS shown on their local television stations Now I have a web site, http://gate.cruzio.com/~zerocity/lifshin. And PBS is doing aninterview with me that will be seenon Bravo later. I almost never go to a convention unless I am invited to read. Of course I meet readers at book signings in bookstores, workshops or readings at libraries, schools, centers. Now I am beginning to meet readers on line through e mail mostly. I have never done chat rooms etc. There is so little time— just trying to get to my own work, ballet and have a little time for myself and people I am close to takes a lot of juggling. E mail is great (unless it gets mangled, lost, or corrupted— then it drives me nuts)-- but it does take time. Yet I much prefer it to having to make a phone call. It is less intrusive though if one is, like me, obsessive— it can add to the time away from work.

Amazon.com: When and how did you get started on the Net? Do you read any newsgroups such as rec.arts.books and rec.arts.sf.written, mailing lists, or other on-line forums? Do you use the Net for research--or is it just another time sink? Are you able to communicate with other writers or people you work with over the Net?

L.L.: I got into e mail on a friend's computer two years ago. Some of his friends were on it and it seemed an easy way to communicate.Soon, I was the one getting all the mail. I couldn't use e mail on my computer then so it meant I had to use it when he didn't want his computer. Since the summer of 97, I have had e mail and net access on my computer. No, I don't use any on line forums. I have used the Net in a limited way for research. And definitely have communicated with other writers, friends, editors and publishers over the net via e mail. Regularly.

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