Linda Lerner

I was contemplating who to interview this issue. The deciding factor came down to which poet grabbed me the most in an honest nature. Linda’s approach to the poem is delicate and each line defies a keen sense of style. Linda Lerner was born and educated in New York City. Her work has appeared in hundreds of journals throughout the country. She has released a book out on Ibbetson Street Press, “A Koan for Samsara,” this summer (reviewed in POESY #21) Robert Peters wrote: “Linda Lerner should be one of the most visible of our poets in this country… she is in a special outsider group of powerful and original American poets largely ignored by Poetry Establishment forces. Her amazing energies zap her poems with high voltage… She loves the open form, and works in a tradition of Ginsberg, Charles Plymel, and the Beats, and has quzzled much from Charles Bukowski. She edited an on-line anthology, POETS on the line the first poetry anthology available on the Net. The first issue appeared, Spring, 1995; Issues 6 & 7 (1997/98) Vietnam Veterans / Poets was the recipient of a 1997 Puffin Foundation Grant and a Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation Grant. Her interview with Hayden Carruth appeared in the 50th issue of The New York Quarterly; one with Robert Peters appeared in Chiron Review 51, Summer 1997. Her work has appeared in hundreds of journals throughout the country. Among them The New York Quarterly, The Christian Science Monitor, Slipstream, Home Planet News, Chiron Review, Atom Mind, The Maverick Press…

I wanted to interview you because when I read your poetry, I am overwhelmed by the energy and dedication you put into the poem. You seem to immerse everything you’ve got into each and every line breaking to the point where your eyes can’t move across the page fast enough to catch the images you barrage your audience with. How important is the initial approach to the poem? I recall you saying something about the first thought is often the best thought?

THANK YOU. FIRST THOUGHT IS USUALLY, IF NOT EXACTLY, BEST THOUGHT — thought out. It’s where the heart…. beat of the poem lies. And, it’s the beat or rhythm that propels the poem and grabs the reader. Sometimes it’s contained in an image or a line. It’s that intensity you refer to, a pre-thought immediacy like breath I try to capture & distill through a careful choice of language, without losing its freshness. Leo Connellan begins his poem “Lobster Claw,” Mornings and I / must kill. A Wonderful line, isn’t it? He’s already hooked you with it. Sometimes, as T.S. Eliot said, the rhythm precedes language in a poem. It has for me. I like sharp language — not so carefully chiseled or worked over that it overwhelms what I want to say, but not so mundane as to sound like I’m talking casually to a friend about my day. The poems that start with… I woke up, ate breakfast, washed the dishes… but it must have some of that quality too. It’s tricky, but there’s something else behind all that, that’s really bothering her. So what she’s doing, or should be doing, is writing to get to the poem. Then the hard work begins — to edit out all the unnecessary ground work. A poem must work on more than one level if it’s going to interest people you’ve never met. Why should a stranger care about my bad day at work? Everybody knows what it’s like not to be appreciated, to do a job one hates for survival, and be browbeaten by a boss who needs to build up his ego by deflating yours. Do you see what I’m getting at?

Yes, I think you hit it right on the nose — to grab your audience, interest them in something beyond the mundane facts of everyday life! How do you feel about slam poetry versus poetry written for the page? They seem to be two significantly different approaches to poetry that don’t often mesh too well.

MY POEMS ARE NOT AT ALL IN THE VEIN OF SLAM POETRY… I don’t like its competitive aspect… the whole voting process, its theatrical or vaudevillian nature. I think of a time when the audience was known to throw fruit and other objects at actors they didn’t like. How one looks, how outrageous one behaves, often takes precedence over the poem itself. This is not to say that there haven’t been some good poems slammed. For me, the poem must work on the page first. Once it’s written, reading it to an audience is an entirely different experience adds another dimension to it. I try to get back to how I felt when I wrote the poem. Writing the poem and reading it aloud are two different experiences. Both vital. I like the way the poem, like a jazz piece, never sounds the same twice, how it’s affected by the audience, the call and response I feel when reading it. I can often tell from the first few minutes how it’s being received. Like seeing a person’s face change as you tell him something intimate, something you believe strongly in. Then you react in kind.

POETS on the line was the first poetry anthology on the World Wide Web founded by you and Andrew Gettler in 1995. How did you meet Andrew? It ceased publication with the millennium issue. Any chance in POETS on the line ever being resurrected?

LEO CONNELLAN (POET LAUREATE OF CONNECTICUT), who died in 2001, was an unofficial mentor to me at the time. While I was getting published, he felt that I needed to start giving readings and getting more active in the poetry scene. He suggested I contact Andrew Gettler, who was in NY, and he might be able to help me. He never imagined it would turn into so much more of a relationship. I owe him a lot for that and what he taught me. When people want to know exactly what that was, I have a hard time explaining it. In an interview, William Packard, editor and founder of the New York Quarterly, said that when he was young and looking for a teacher, he realized that what he wanted was someone who would be an example for him. So, it’s who Leo was as a poet that stands out now, in his passing. It was Andrew’s idea. We both didn’t even know how to use a computer at the time or own one. Andrew had the foresight to see or feel that there was something very important starting up. It was a gut instinct that drove us. We both had computer access at Polytechnic University where I taught part time and Andrew tutored. With the millennium issues (issues 9 & 10) almost all the poets on our original list had been included. I felt that I had come to the end of something. There were so many zines out there, people doing all kinds of different things with technology, which didn’t really interest me. It just seemed right to stop there.