An interview from Poetry Life & Times by Sara Russell, Editor
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Poetry Life & Times

This month’s interview features the poetry of Victoria Chames,
founder & editor of Darkhorse Press and PoetryBridge
. Sept.2003
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Poetry L&T:

Victoria:

Victoria, how did you come to start Darkhorse Press, and when did it begin?

I started Darkhorse Press in 2001 I think, mainly to self publish some poetry that I felt a responsibility to share. I chose the theme of new thought/practical spirituality for the site, because I'm very interested in that. It started small, mostly to practice the new skill I was learning - how to make a website even though you know very little about computers and nothing about HTML code. Then I started PoetryBridge, which was simply a friendly place where people can send their poems to be published/shared on the web. (Now renamed New Poets, a link from Darkhorse Press.) I think the Internet is both wonderful and awful in the fact that absolutely anyone can share their thoughts and feelings with anyone/everyone who wants to hear or see them.

Poetry L&T:

Victoria:

When and why did you start writing poetry, Victoria?

In my early 20s. I got married, left school and went to the East Coast, where I worked two awful jobs to put my husband through graduate school. That's what young women did then, especially Southern women. We handed over our lives to someone who hadn't a clue what to do with their own, let alone ours. We both were artists, and I gave up my art for the sake of his. It was a lonely, barren existence. I started writing poetry without realizing it, because I had nowhere else to turn, no one else to tell. A shadow of melancholy still slips into my writing even today, though I am a very different person now. Stronger and wiser, more compassionate too, I think.

Poetry L&T:

Victoria:

Who are your favorite poets?

So many. The first ones that come to mind are Dylan Thomas, for sheer beauty, Robert Frost for his clear vision of profoundly simple truths. Edna St. Vincent Millay for her extraordinary passion. I'm also a songwriter, and a special favorite of mine, someone I've sometimes referred to as "America's greatest living poet" is the songwriter/musician Paul Simon. If you printed his lyrics in a book, they would stand up magnificently well as poetry. He writes with stunning honesty and he is certainly one of the most original writers in imagery.

The poet who has influenced my work the most is a rather obscure one, Wilfred Owen. He was a soldier and officer in World War I, but his sensibility was clearly and deeply that of the poet. He wrote about the horrors and mustard gas and barbed wired foxholes and exploding shells and yet he wrote it exquisitely with a voice that was uniquely beautiful. He wrote about the tragedy of war, the fierce beauty of lives ended wrongly and too young. He himself was killed on the front lines.

Poetry L&T:
 

Victoria:

As a founder and editor of Darkhorse Press and PoetryBridge, what style of poetry are you most likely to publish?

Any style, really, if it appeals to me. I like poetry that has both meaning and music. I'm less interested in perfect-metered sing-song end-rhyme, but if it speaks a message that seems meaningful and honest, I can appreciate that. I don't really look at styles or genres as such. What I look for is poetry that says something. Starts here and goes somewhere, and has some sort of meaningful resolution. I dislike sorrowful lamenting that never gets any better or expresses any growth of spirit. Wallowing in despair is what we have plenty of in this world. What else can you show me? Like everyone, I love to be uplifted, and poetry has such power to do that. We absolutely do not publish anything that has obscene or pornographic words or themes.

Poetry L&T:
 

Victoria:

The Internet allows all kinds of poetry to be seen, as your bio points out. Are there any kinds of poetry online which you find annoying?

Oh yes, of course. As above, or generally any sort of writing that is stilted and stylish. I'm not a fan of a whole lot of ranting and negativity. It has its place, but it's just not what I seek out to read. There's a lot that's not terribly valuable on the www, but some real gems can also be found there. New poets may be discovered even before they discover themselves. Poetry is a gift, and the Internet with its easy access to self-publishing and sites like Poetry Life & Times, offers the potential for anyone to share their gifts with an enormously wider audience than they could ever have in traditional publishing.

Poetry L&T:
 

Victoria:

Have there been any people or life events which you have found difficult, emotionally, to write poems about?

I have certainly written about some emotionally difficult times and transitions, in fact my poetry began as a sort of personal therapy that helped me get through those times. But I don't intentionally set out to write about anything, I just take what comes and go with it wherever it takes me. Usually, facing the feelings is powerful also very releasing and spiritually empowering.

Poetry L&T:




Victoria:

Your Poem "the Honing Edge" is incredibly poignant. The lines of each stanza seem to have falling notes at the end, as if in the voice of someone who feels depressed, perhaps because of how things change. I would be interested to know a little more about the background behind this poem, obviously only as much as you would wish to share.

This was written prior to the breakup of an eight-year loving relationship with someone I had expected to be my partner for the rest of our lives. There were hints, signs, and intuitions, but since this was a very strong love commitment, I guess I didn't want to see them. But the poem saw them, and so did you. That's what I mean when I say that poetry has been my most honest companion, and has often foretold what my mind was not yet ready to know. It often showed me what was not yet visible, and it helped me to get ready to see.

Poetry L&T:
 


 

Victoria:

Your poem "After Goodbye" ends with the memorable phrase:
"and sleep is my only escape from
the absence of you."
Many people will identify with these words. Do you consciously strive for memorable endings or is it something more instinctive?

No, it's instinct, or something else; it's not craft or skill. It's more like God/the universe is always giving its gifts like fireflies, and you're just the lucky person that caught this one. I love this poem because it's so simple and clear and true. I was very grateful to receive it.

Paul Simon said a thing in an interview when he was asked about how he writes songs. He replied "sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with a (new) Song running through my head. I get up and get the guitar, and then I notice that I've bitten off all my fingernails. So I put the guitar away and go back to bed, and the song goes to somebody else that night."

Isn't that so true! Songs, music, poetry, it's all in the very air we breathe, waiting to be discovered. We don't really craft it, we discover it. Then the creation happens. I discover my poems that way. You have to try to be ready, always, and, when it comes, to receive it. And for a lifetime, or perhaps many lifetimes, fine-tune the receiver.

Poetry L&T:
 

Victoria:

Do you ever think that women are often more courageous in poetic self-disclosure than male poets?

I think most women are pretty courageous in everything. I know from experience that it takes great courage to be female in this world and yet spiritually survive and grow. Not so much in poetry or writing, but in anything, especially non-tradtional careers, where the heart goes, but society says we must not follow, because we are female and “nice girls don’t do that.”

Poetry L&T:

Victoria

How would you most like your poetry to influence or affect your readers.?

I hope they find something of themselves in my words, and know that whatever they have felt, they were not, and are not, alone. I'd like them to see that somebody else has survived and grown through some dark nights of the soul too, not somebody special and heroic, just somebody like them.

Poetry L&T:

Victoria:

How do you see the poet's role in the world today?

The poet lives underground now, mostly in secret. This is a hard time in history for true poets, there are few mentors or patrons of the arts like there were in the Renaissance. Leonardo and Michaelangelo would have been making tin pots or following a plow, if it were not for the patronage of the churches and wealthy individuals who cared about art. Basic survival, food and shelter, used up all that most people could earn. The difference now is, most of those with a lot of money tend to be not iterested in anything else but making more money, and the whole human society has an unhealthy infatuation with technology. That's what gets worshipped today. Art and Literature are under the radar.

But poetry is still very much alive. People still love poetry. It's not a snob literature, everyone can relate to its the surprise, honesty, and tenderness of poetry and the brevity of its condensed but complex meaning. People still love to read it and love to write it. There is, by nature, a bit of the soul of the poet in every human being.

Poetry L&T:
 

Victoria:

Finally Victoria, if a younger poet asked you for advice on how to improve or grow as a poet, what would you say?

First I'd probably say, don't try so hard. Poetry, like love, never comes from trying hard. Let it come as it will, if it will, and then let it be whatever it is. Receive it, polish it, yes, but don't try to bend it too much. Above all, be honest no matter what. Write with the absolute belief and certainty that no one on earth will ever see it. If you can do that, then your own unique truth, wisdom, joy, pain, and glory will pour out onto the page, and then you might really have something.

Thank you for the interview, Victoria.
(Click here to read some of Victoria's poetry.)*

*The website Poetry Life and Tmes has changed editors and format now. Poetry published by Sara Russell is no longer available there. But you can read some of Victoria's poetry at Darkhorse Press / New Poets at this link http://newpoets.darkhorsepress.com/spacebetween.html

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