An Interview with Ohio Author Patricia L.H. Black
with Gina McKnight – Monday Creek Publishing
Patricia L.H. Black launched her new children’s literature Twillaby Pond this month. A prolific poet, Black takes imagination to a new level with little wee-pocks, telltallies, striped pricklychore, and other fantasy creatures. Black collaborated with Ohio fine artist Deborah Hayhurst to bring Twillaby Pond to life. Sure to become a children’s favorite, Twillaby Pond is full of suspense and adventure.
GM: At what age did you write your first poem? Can you share?
PLHB: That was so long ago it's lost in the mists of time. My family did a neighborhood newsletter called the Nosey News and we may have used my poems in there as fillers, but I'm sure no issues still exist. In the early years, after I learned to write, I was focused on prose. I had big notions about an epic titled The Pinto Stallion but that never got out of the barn, so to speak. The first of my poems to appear in a serious venue was in the Ohio State Lantern. The Friday issue of The Lantern featured work by Fine Arts students, music majors, English majors and anyone who submitted something. Being primarily a formalist in my poetry, I wasn't a fan of the free verse/blank verse/who even wants verse trend favored by my contemporary English majors, so I sent in Vision by Lantern Light. It was meant as a scathing criticism of the trend. It is stuffed with all the things that were driving me crazy: no punctuation; little, if any, capitalization; cliché piled on cliché. Even the title was a jab.
Apparently, it was not read that way because it was printed and I received a lot of compliments. I've never decided if the poem was a success or a failure.
Vision by Lantern Light
in the owl hour
bleeding phrases torn
ruthlessly and with malice
from the serene verse
of established poets.
the road beneath
was cobbled with
unused periods and question marks
thrown down in contempt
by fluttering hearts.
a cup of commas
with accidental hyphens
spilled like muculent vomit
on the small-i'd verse
of disappearing aspirants
GM: In your opinion, what makes a perfect poem?
PLHB: As I stated above, I'm a formalist. I think Dylan Thomas's villanelle Do Not Go Gentle is a beautifully crafted work of art. The villanelle is a complicated form with strict rules governing which lines rhyme with which others and Thomas nailed it.
GM: What is the premise of your new book Twillaby Pond and who is your niche audience?
PLHB: Twillaby Pond started out in imitation of Irish poets. I love the lilt in most of their poetry, echoing the lilt in their everyday speech, the turn of a clever phrase, the whole language bit. The first stanza of Twillaby Pond almost wrote itself, requiring just a few tweaks. One very important comment pointed out that my original "little, small pocks" skated a bit too close to a dread disease! Besides, "little, WEE pocks" is closer to my Irish target. To get back to the actual question, whenever I read the poem at workshops and open-mike sessions people said they could just see it as a children's book. Judging by the reaction to the actual book, I have to agree. I had originally thought children were my niche audience but on reflection I think grandparents are the audience. At readings, that's who say, "I want to read this book to my grandbabies!"
GM: How was the production process and were you happy with the process?
PLHB: This is the first book I've ever had published and you, Gina McKnight at Monday Creek Publishing, were a wonder and a marvel. You helped me find the perfect illustrator, guiding me through interviews with several fine artists who, for whatever reason, just didn't feel right for the poem. Then you brought in Deborah Hayhurst and that was it! During the putting together of the book, whenever I would make some neophyte off-the-wall suggestion, rather than shrieking, "Are you out of your mind!!?", you would gently, sometimes firmly, suggest an alternative. In every instance, you were right and I was wrong. It has been an exciting learning process and the final product is proof!
GM: Patricia, it is a joy to work with you. The process from paper to book can be magical. Besides writing poetry and children's literature, what else do you like to do?
PLHB: A major characteristic of mine, both pro and con, is that I am tangential. I always have several (several is probably an understatement) projects in process at a time and there is no way to count the ones that are swirling about in my mind. I like to garden and am currently in the process of digging (be honest, Patricia – having dug for me) a pond, I have half the materials for a duckboard walk in a waterlogged spot in the front of the house. I like to knit and have an afghan, some scarves and a hand purse in process. I love to cook and have collected more recipes than any three humans can prepare in a lifetime. I do beadwork and have been working on window suncatchers that I think of as Thank-You Pretties for hostess gifts. The name comes from the German Danke Shcoen (which is probably misspelled here), which means "Thank You" but translates literally as "Thank you pretty." And I talk.
GM: Can you share on of your favorite poems (of your own creation)?
PLHB: I'll give you the poem with the line I stole from the poem above.
In The Owl Hour
In the owl hour, drawn
from slumber by the tidal urge
of a moon grown full,
and the trees spectral
in lambent light,
I lay waiting for return
of sleep, listening
to illuminated silence,
able to imagine myself
the only mortal awake
of all on Earth.
Then away across the city
came the keening of a siren
grieving its way to disaster.
GM: Do you have advice for novice poets?
PLHB: Read, read, read -- novels, short stories, poetry, newspaper headlines, magazines, cereal boxes. Though what I just said is one in the realm of poetry, avoid clichés. By doing so you may find you have written one of the most stunning lines in your whole opus. I'm ambivalent about the other cliché of write, write, write. I do not write every day. I write more by inspiration or prompt. Keep some sort of notebook of phrases that catch your ear, surprising or startling juxtaposition of words. In my computer I have a file named Noodling that fills that need. You'll hear "That sounds like a poem" or words to that effect. Think about it and if it sounds to you like or belongs in a poem, put it in your notebook. And refer often to that notebook. Challenge yourself. Take a well-known poem and rephrase it. It's what painters do when they sit in galleries and copy paintings. They are learning the rules and techniques that went into making a masterpiece. Dali, for example, made many very traditional paintings before he decided to break the rules he had learned so well. Believe in yourself (one of those despised clichés, right?).
GM: Who is your favorite poet? What is your favorite poem?
PLHB: It depends on my mood. I like most of the Irish poets, many American poets. Among the latter I think Edwin Arlington Robinson comes to mind and his Miniver Cheevey, in particular. His Richard Cory found its way into American popular music, though I forget who sings it.
GM: Are you planning on any future publications? What can readers expect?
PLHB: I would like to put out a book of poetry, though it might have to be two. I have a collection I've titled Let Us Look for Violets which I think covers my work pretty well. I am an eclectic poet so the collection ranges from very serious through lyrical description to downright daft. I've thought I might need to do a second book titled Smith Versus Shoemaker and Other Long Poems. I often write ballads which can run on for many stanzas. Now that I'm thinking along these lines there are two others. I have a whole collection, titled The Anna Graham Chronicles, of poems with internal anagrams and I would like to do a book of ekphrastic poems written about the amazing painted rocks my niece does. As I said above, I'm tangential and once I pick up a thread, I run right up the road with it.
Twillaby Pond is available in hardcover edition from Barnes&Noble and Amazon, also available locally in Athens County Ohio at select locations, including White’s Mill and Nelsonville Emporium.
About the Author
Patricia taught English in Italy, was editor of Ohio University Publications, worked as a travel agent and drove a bookmobile. Now she writes poems, does beadwork, gardens, and edits academic papers for international students. She is a member of the Athens Poetry Group, the PentaPoets online poetry group, the Evening Poets, and the Ohio Poetry Association. Her poems have appeared in Common Threads and in the Ohio Poetry Association's juried anthology Everything Stops and Listens. She has been a featured reader in Ohio in Athens, Cincinnati, Columbus, Coshocton, Marion and Wooster. She lives in Athens, Ohio.
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