Poetic Resurrection is pleased to interview Lynne Thompson. She had read her poem “Laceum” at a WriteGirl event. It was so lovely we had to get an interview with her.
Lynne Thompson’s Fretwork was selected by Jane Hirshfield for the 2018 Marsh Hawk Poetry Prize. Thompson is also the author of Start with A Small Guitar (What Books Press, 2015) and Beg No Pardon (Perugia Press, 2007) winner the Great Lakes Colleges Association’s New Writers Award. A recipient of an Artist Fellowship from the City of Los Angeles as well as a Tucson Literary Award and Honorable/Special Mention for the Cave Canem Chapbook Prize., her recent work appears or is forthcoming in Poetry, Ploughshares, Pleiades, Nelle, Colorado Review, New England Review, and Black Renaissance Noire.
In this interview, we will discuss her poem “Siren”.
Eternally lured by calypso,
Daddy wanted to return
to his birthplace, to the Mighty Sparrow.
He knew about heat’s seduction, about steel pans,
maracas, about the Canboulay, all
brewed in the Indies’ crucible of revolution,
underpinning the peg box and scroll
of a violin Daddy also favored—yes, Vivaldi! —
who (his sons said) couldn’t best Jellyroll
Morton and his hepcats blowing with the Nat King
Cole Swingsters in every California beer joint
until the money ran out; Sassy Vaughn singing
Black Coffee and Nice Work If You Can Get It.
Daddy admitted Duke and Roach (with his Jazz
in 3/4 Time were superior to any minor minuet
but sometimes he had a hunger for a polonaise
a Schøenberg twelve-tone, a Bartók sonata that
his daughter drowned out with Marvin Gaye’s
Stubborn Kinda Fellow and Dizzy’s latest platter.
Still, Daddy reminded us to kiss the ground of Port
o’ Spain where stick fighting’s clatter
gave way to fry pans and oil drums or
anything that could shimmy up a rhythm and
put a dip in the hip of a late-night worker
because that music had given birth to the flim-
flam singers his children were calling musicians—
men twisting their fingers so hard it seemed
they’d forgotten bamboo sticks, jawbones and
Belafonte blowing into white America—Day-O!—
and oh, we didn’t have a clue about the Akan
or any other African tribe who handmade the first banjo,
calabash, djembe, and the call of Zimbabwe’s mbira,
that siren luring Daddy back to his calypso
When did you start writing poetry?
Many writers will respond by stating they began writing as a child and I recall that I began playing with words pretty young. But I count the time when I seriously began to try to write poems from 1995—well into my adulthood and post-law school!
Why did you pick poetry over other forms of writing?
My father introduced me to poetry at a very young age. I’m a sentimentalist so I still have my copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses! I learned early how the music of the line could be used to tell amazing stories and that’s what I wanted to do.
Who influenced you in your writing?
When I decided I wanted to seriously study the craft, it was the result of reading Pablo Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. The poems spoke to me in a way I had forgotten poems could speak. After that, I devoured all of his work.
Other influences were Wanda Coleman, Jane Hirshfield, and Natasha Trethewey, although I can’t say I write like any of them. But their imaginations on the page blow me away every time.
Is Siren used as a calling for your father?
I’m proud of Siren because, to date, it’s my first—and only—terza rima. The subject matter I wanted to take up was the importance of music in our family and most particularly to my father who had an appreciation of it that often differed wildly from his children!
How long did it take you to write Siren?
I don’t have a specific recollection but I’d guess that it was written over a six month period. It took a while to get the rhymes to work as I don’t often work in rhyme but it was a pleasure to work through that issue.
Was your father a fan of the calypso music due to the reference to the Mighty Sparrow or was calypso a play on words about captivity?
My father did enjoy calypso music and I wanted to make a very specific reference to his birthplace in the Caribbean.
Is this pertaining to the freeing of slaves in 1833? Now called the sugar cane fire sticks?
What I was thinking of, in particular, with this reference was to Joseph Chatoyer who lead a revolt against the British colonial government in 1795 on the island of St. Vincent where my father was born.
There are references to several music genres, how did they influence?
I was trying to indicate the scope of the artists and genres that were being played, to my father’s pleasure or displeasure, in the house. My hope that the description in the poem would resemble the way these different genres were falling all over each other.
Does the triple time beat of polonaise represent a hunger for slowing down the pace?
Frankly, hadn’t thought of this; an example, perhaps, of how the poem tells what it wants to tell if you let it!
Where you the daughter referred to. Was his choice in music due to wanting to quiet the mind?
I am that daughter! I think that his preferences in music were to find a quiet place from which to let his imagination soar. Don’t think I said previously that he was a “closet poet” and so his creative juices were always flowing.
Who was the late-night worker?
I have no idea—I invented him although I may have been thinking, without realizing it, about the fact that my father was a night schoolteacher for years.
Men twisting their fingers? Music reference?
Yes, I have a fascination with musicians’ hands and how they move when creating music.
Is this a reference to the lineage of your father in the Ivory Coast?
No, this isn’t a reference to my father specifically but rather to one of the groups of African people who ultimately influenced what we call “American” music.
Were all the references to music due to your father wanting to be accepted with general music but really loves his roots?
Although he didn’t tell me so, my mother said that he always wanted to return to the island of his birth. They did return briefly with my two older brothers but ultimately returned to the US to “live the American dream”.
Contact Lynne Thompson at Twitter @poetess151