Ann Howells, the BTS Interview
BTS: What is your vision?
My vision is to document history in a way in which it may be enjoyed: people's motivations and emotions rather than dry facts. The whys behind the whats. Many of my poems concern watermen of the Chesapeake Bay area a generation, even two generations ago. These were my father's people, and I admired the difficulty of their lives and
I also write about family, a kind of emotional genealogy, and more recently I have begun writing about current events. Often I do not understand
exactly how I am reacting to some event until I write, then say, "Oh, that's how I feel."
BTS: When did you first start writing?
As I mentioned above, I began writing in college, stopped for a while, then began again, more seriously.
BTS: Did you start with poetry?
I started with poetry. I do write the occasional short story and essay, even attempted a novel at one point, but basically I consider myself a poet.
BTS: What is your goal when you write a poem?
First, I simply want to get my feelings down on paper, every first draft is in longhand. Then, I begin to revise and refine the poem, make it aesthetically pleasing, an artistic work rather than a journal entry.
BTS: What is your goal in writing poems, or writing, or creating art of any sort?
I believe I am chronicling. Leaving a record saying I was here, and this is what happened, and this is how I felt about it.
BTS: What inspires you to put word to paper?
It can be anything, from a particular phrase I hear, to a flower opening, to a shipwreck.
BTS: Besides Under a Lone Star, the book of 55 word poems, do you usually follow form?
Most of my poems are free verse. To me, the message is always more important than the form. The 55s came about when I was visiting various areas of the state photographing county courthouses (I've photographed about 200, out of 254) I was trying to capture the essence of each place in as few words as possible. I sometimes write free verse ghazals and prose poems; less frequently sonnets, pantoums, or villanelles. The sonnet is particularly difficult for me, though I admire the form. Occasionally a poem will seem to call out for a certain form, but generally speaking, form is simply not the manner in which my words seem best expressed.
BTS: Who have been the biggest influences on both your life, your poetry and on getting you interested in poetry?
Area poets Bob McCranie, Christopher Soden, Seamus Murphy, and Joe Ahern were huge influences. My daughter took me to a workshop in which these poets, to a greater or lesser degree, took part: Dallas Poets Community. I am still a member of the group, though my daughter is not. I still workshop with them twice a month. Christopher was the poet who originally urged me to submit work for publication. I read Mark Doty, Pattianne Rogers, Marge Piercy, and many others voraciously.
I read every poetry journal I can find to see what other poets, like myself, are writing.
BTS: I know you have spent many years involved in the Texas poetry community, did you write when you were in Maryland? If so, how did Texas change your style, your vision, and your message? Or did it not change? How much of Maryland is still in your poems?
It wasn't until I was in Texas that my children were grown enough to allow me the free time to write. My husband traveled extensively, and due to his job, we moved frequently -- every two years for a while. So my style and my vision really developed here, though Maryland still permeates much of my writing.
BTS: I notice in several of your poems, the literal earth figures into your poems. Do you see geography as a factor to what you write?
Very much so. Plus my Bachelor's degree is in biology. Flora and fauna interest me.
BTS: In what ways?
My father's family lived on an island. The sea, bays, rivers, appear in well over half of my writing. It is both the physical and the metaphorical background from which I arose.
Ann gives us a close up view of both Texas and Maryland, of today and of generations past and belongs on any well-read poet's bookshelf! Of course all of her work is not a poetic travelogue. Sometimes the journeys are microscopic or simply between a mother and a daughter or two friends, and sometimes the journey is truly cosmic. I hope you enjoy the ride!
In addition to Cybersoleil, you can find Ann's work on line at Panoply, Dragon Poets Review, The Ghazal Page, Jellyfish Whispers, The Oxford Comma Review, River Poets Journal, and Ygdrasil. Most of the work is fairly recent, though some may be in archives. It will give you an idea of what she writes besides the 55s included in her newest collection Under a Lone Star.
Ann generously provided us with one of her 55 word poems from the Under a Lone Star collection:
“The 55 word poems came about because I edit a journal, Illya's Honey, and several years ago I was receiving a lot of 55 word short stories. The form had become popular. I thought, why not apply those same rules to poems. Then, I wrote those poems using notes from trips I had made around the state photographing county courthouses (I've photographed about 200 of the 254). Soon I had enough poems for a book, and my friend, area artist Darrell Kirkley, suggested he illustrate a few of them for me. I sent him the manuscript, and he created a line drawing to accompany every poem.” – Ann Howells
begets delicate forms
since before man
descended his tree
& stood erect
a nether world
of germinal rock
& gypsum roses
in the light
of my spelunkers lamp