Canopic Jar Interview with Robert E. Wood

Rethabile Masilo: Throughout these Inclinations, there is the positive and the negative, hope and despair, life and death. Reading them, one wonders if these opposites wormed their way into the poems, or if they were destined by the hand of the poet to fight it out now. Or, even, whether or not the title Inclinations bore this feature of the poems or was bred by them.

Robert E. Wood: The title Inclinations for these Zodiac poems comes from the astrological motto, “The stars incline, but do not compel.” The poems were written using the signs of the Zodiac as prompts (or inclinations) in season over the course of a year. The opposites evolved naturally over the course of the year, but toward the end I did see what was shaping up. It is perhaps inevitable that a yearly cycle should reflect opposites, but the symbolic battle is always already scheduled to begin again.

Rethabile Masilo: What is your measure of success as a poet?

Robert E. Wood: I’m a bit uneasy with the term, “success.” I would say that if there is some body of informed readers who are interested in the work that is a kind of success. I become more and more interested in how groups of poems provide a path for the reader. An individual poem is successful (or, I would prefer to say, done) when there isn’t anything in it that I think I’m getting away with.

Rethabile Masilo: How do you begin a poem? And once it is on its way, do you harass it or do you coddle it to completion?

Robert E. Wood: Sometimes a poem begins with a single line or phrase. Sometimes it might be prompted by a sight, the stubborn behavior of geese, for example. Usually I’m pursuing a particular path, thinking about movies, or a place, or the growing perceptions of a child. I work with a writing group which normally serves as sufficient harassment for my poems.

Rethabile Masilo: Did you learn anything from writing your book, The Awkward Poses of Others, and if so, what was it?

Robert E. Wood: I suppose I would start by saying I write poems and compose a book of poems. The poems in this book are ekphrastic, but that covers a lot of ground because I am trying not only to look at visual works but to look through them at the underlying experiences. I learned how to order and group poems. Part of the ordering is usually obvious, some results from good reader advice. One thing I believe in is the power of omission. I once worked at a garage where the mechanic had the motto, “If it don’t fit, make it fit.” This didn’t work well for automobiles and I don’t think it works well for books of poetry.

Rethabile Masilo: What’s the best advice you’ve ever followed about how to be more creative as a poet?

Robert E. Wood: I wrote when I was young and then ceased for a long period of time. I was encouraged to begin again by a friend and colleague. So the advice would be, not all songs are morning songs.

Rethabile Masilo: Say something to a young, impressionable poet who you think has potential.

Robert E. Wood: Writers who have come out of MFA programs or the like undoubtedly have enough advice and have likely experienced this. There’s nothing better than a good writers’ group and nothing worse than a bad one. Destructive groups are the stuff murder mystery plots are made of, but if you can find a small group able to appreciate each other’s styles and yet critique the work, you will benefit.

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Robert E. Wood teaches in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech and received a PhD in English at the University of Virginia.  His film studies include essays on Fosse, DePalma, and Verhoeven, as well as The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  He is the author of Some Necessary Questions of the Play, a study of Hamlet.  His poetry has appeared in such journals as Southern Humanities Review, South Carolina Review,  Quiddity, Quercus Review, Blue Fifth Review, Jabberwock Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Poets and Artists, and Prairie Schooner.  His chapbooks, Gorizia Notebook and Sleight of Hand, were published by Finishing Line Press. His award winning book of ekphrastic poetry, The Awkward Poses of Others, published by WordTech, includes poems on art and cinema.