Author Q&A with Anne Whitehouse
November 10, 2022
This week’s Author Q&A is with Anne Whitehouse. Anne lives in New York City with her husband and daughter, and is the author of a novel, Fall Love, as well as numerous poetry collections, short stories, essays, and feature articles. Her most recent poetry collection is OUTSIDE FROM THE INSIDE (Dos Madres Press, 2020), and her most recent chapbook is ESCAPING LEE MILLER (Ethel Zine and Micro Press, 2021). She’s excited about her newest chapbook, FRIDA, about Frida Kahlo, that is forthcoming from Ethel Zine and Micro Press in December 2022.
Our autumn issue featured two of her poems, “Meditation at North Beach Park, Burlington” and “Yahrzeit.” We asked Anne to share some unique or surprising details about in the origin, drafting, and/or final version of these poems and what she learned through writing or revising.
“Yahrzeit:” Because our standard calendar is a solar calendar, and the Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar, the dates of anniversaries often differ. Jews refer to the anniversary of a death as a “yahrzeit,” which is Yiddish for “year/time.” I wrote the poem a few years after my parents’ deaths, two years and a month apart, as I reflected on the incongruous coincidence that two people whose marriage was so incompatible and yet who stuck it out share the same yahrzeit.
“Meditation at North Beach Park, Burlington:” Last May, my husband and I attended our daughter’s graduation from a master’s program at the University of Vermont in Burlington. We were at a picnic at North Beach Park hosted by her department when a storm suddenly blew in. I was in a reflective mood, thinking about this rite of passage—the end of our daughter’s formal education—which led to other thoughts about history, youth and age, and the contrasts between the generations.
These two poems came directly from my own experience. I feel blessed when that happens. It is not often, so I try to recognize when some aspect of my experience presents itself to me as a potential poem. It is easy to get caught up in the moment and ignore it. One must pay attention.
We then asked Anne a few questions about her writing process, beginning with what she has found is the most difficult part.
For me, the most difficult part of the process is getting started. After years of practicing my craft, I’ve learned that I can invite inspiration in. I can create a welcome environment for the muse. In other words, I have to be thinking, “I want to write a poem,” in order to be inspired to write the poem. That’s why poetry begins in desire. It begins in the desire to create the poem.
On the flipside, is the question of what she finds most satisfying.
The most satisfying part of the artistic process is after I have completed a poem, when I read it over, and I am pleased with it. In that moment it seems possible to write another poem right away. Even though that almost never happens, it’s a satisfying feeling.
We then asked what fuels her desire to write.
Not any one thing but a combination of things fuels my desire to write. Sometimes it’s a wish to make sense of something I don’t understand. Sometimes it’s a desire to leave a record for myself and others—of who I was, what I was thinking, how I was feeling. Sometimes it’s a wish to make sense of someone else’s life and experience. The world is full of oddities and miracles. Nature is beautiful and terrible. Human history teaches us that good and evil are forever in strife.
We asked Anne what her biggest fear as a writer is, but she elected not to answer because she’s superstitious, which made us want to know more but we didn’t press. Instead, we asked what authors, books, or persons have had an impact on her writing.
I think real influences are unconscious. If I am aware of the influence, it is meretricious and perhaps does not serve me. There are so many writers that have been important to me that it is impossible for me to name them all. I tend to like what I call “minor writers,” perhaps because I am a “minor writer.” Not everyone can be the greatest, and maybe greatness is overrated.
In poetry I go for sound and sense. Yeats and Baudelaire are life-long loves. In the past several years, I’ve been writing a series of essays about Poe and Longfellow, whose lives and works are mirrors and contrasts. I’m a big user of libraries, and I’m constantly reading. This year I read two books by Delia Ephron that moved me deeply, her memoir, Left on Tenth, and her novel, Siracusa.
Finally, as we always do, we asked her what she thinks of when she hears the phrase “The Good Life.”
I think of cultivating contentment, of being satisfied with what I am and what I have. Of having enough to satisfy my needs. Of being in possession of my health and my wits. Of being able to love and be loved, to appreciate life’s beauties, and to acknowledge the happy occasions because there is no escaping the sad ones.
This is really beautiful. Thank you, Anne, for jumping in on this journey with us and allowing us to share your poems. We’re grateful that you took the time to participate in this Q&A and we wish you the best!!
~The Good Life Review Team