An Interview with Kelly DuMar
Next up in our lovely series in which we attempt to shed some light on this thing we love to publish here at Unbroken, we have with us today poet and playwright, Kelly DuMar. In our first year, we’ve featured Kelly’s work in three issues. From her poignant Earth to Venus in Issue 2 (March/April 2015), to her haunting Horseshoe Beach in our current issue (Issue 7), Kelly’s work is always stellar, and we knew she would bring something fantastic to our discussion.
RLB: Kelly, thanks so much for stopping by and offering your insight. Can you share with us what you enjoy about prose poetry? What draws you to the form?
KD: As a reader, it proves the emotional grab of poetry can reach me beyond strict line endings to convey a deeply felt experience in a sublime way. As a writer, it’s permission to tell a very short story in arresting images and rhythmic language, where every word counts, every word is a jewel, not a comma is wasted, all is contained. So you, the reader, feel pleasantly tricked into experiencing poetry when you expected a less powerful paragraph.
RLB: Aha, pleasantly tricked. I like that. What about your process, when you sit down to write a prose poem? How does that come about? And how do you decide when a poem should be a prose poem, rather than lined?
KD: Well, I almost never start writing a prose poem – it’s usually the back up plan. (Probably because in the back of my mind prose poetry still feels a bit like a cheat. Like it’s not really a poem unless it looks exactly like a poem.)
Many of my poems are inspired by images – personal photos that arrest my attention, draw me into the three-dimensional world of the photo, or even informal drawing in my journal from an image representing a deep emotional experience. Personifying aspects of an image – letting people, places, beings and things have voices inspires me a lot.
The raw material – notes and notes – I generate from an image, photo or prompt toward what I hope will become a poem is usually in prose, and I almost always aim to create a lined poem in stanzas. Of course, I get stuck sometimes. Can’t get the poem to make sense in lines – the words don’t show me where they’re supposed to end. That’s a very big clue that this piece of writing wants, perhaps, to be prose. So, I give myself some leeway, scrap the line endings and stretch my limbs into a more relaxed structure – a paragraph or two. And if the sound and meaning of the words make more sense when I let them fall more freely I have a prose poem. If the meaning and sound, the truth and beauty of the isn’t better, then I return to a lined poem with everything the stretching has taught me that might make the lined poem work. It’s a back and forth most of the time.
RLB: We have noticed this recurring theme, it seems that the prose poem is sort of self-identifying, it finds itself, if the poet listens. Do you have any tips for someone new to the form, who would like to write prose poetry?
KD: I would say do your best to write a poem in lines first. This forces you to compress and select the best words and create a great sound. Move to a paragraph if you get stuck or feel like you’re failing. (You’re not failing, but you’re afraid you are, so don’t give up.) See if that works in a more satisfying way in sound and meaning. If not, take what you learned and go back to lines and stanzas – it will probably work better now with what the stretching helped you see.
RLB: Awesome advice! Kelly, what are working on now? What will be seeing from you in the future?
KD: Oh, thanks for asking! I am really involved in writing poems from original letters – subtracting words and lines and paragraphs from copies of original letters (my parents wrote in the 1940’s and 1950’s to each other and also a decade’s worth of letters my father wrote to his parents from prep school, the army in occupied Japan and then from College and graduate school in Cambridge.) I’m interested in creating a more poetic rendering of the original letters without adding any words of my own, but rather by “finding” the poem amidst the prose, selecting words and lines as truth and beauty in a very compressed, visually arresting arrangement – by assembling words in poetic ways, and also including pictures, visual images and some collage of the original letter.
RLB: That sounds amazing! I love old letters, and the idea of finding poetry in them, and I adore collage work, too. I’ll be watching and waiting! Again, Kelly, huge thanks for taking the time to answer our questions, and for being a part of Unbroken. We wish you all the best in your projects! Guys, be sure to check out Kelly’s writing in our March/April issue (Issue 2), our May/June (Issue 3), and our current issue (Issue 7). And keep an eye out for more from Kelly at Unbroken.
KELLY DuMAR is a poet and playwright from the Boston area whose chapbook All These Cures, won the 2014 Lit House Press poetry contest. Her award winning plays have been produced around the US and her poems and non-fiction are published in many literary magazines, including Lumina Online, Corium, Poydras, Tupelo Quarterly, and Milo Review. Her website is kellydumar.com