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Visiting with Trina Burke

by Claire Guyton 

Don Freeman (Viking Press, 1968).

What inspired “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” and/or “Contagion”?

“Someone Saved My Life Tonight” was inspired by a combination of the Elton John song of the same name; my favorite children’s book, Corduroy, by Don Freeman; and my mother, who died when I was an infant. “Contagion” was inspired by an extremely high fever.

Tell us about your writing process—either generally or specifically with regard to the birth and development of these poems.

I don’t have one set process for writing. Sometimes I start with riffing on a theme or a sound for as long as I can sustain that. Then I’ll step away from the vehicle for a day or two, come back, and revise toward a more coherent piece. Other times I’ll just spit the poem out pretty much fully formed. Still other times, I start by writing a block of prose and whittle it down to something lineated. I can’t point to anything consistent in my approach.

Do you remember when you decided you wanted to be a writer?

No. I do remember making “books” when I was about eight. I would copy information from our Funk & Wagnalls encyclopedias about whatever excited me at the moment—birds, dinosaurs, Pat Nixon—onto pieces of paper, make a cover and some internal illustrations, and staple the lot together. I guess I had a crisis of authority when it came to writing original material, but I got over that soon enough.

What’s the best title you didn’t use? Or, What’s your favorite title?

Titles are hard for me. I never think my titles are very good, so it’s hard to assign superlatives. But I have been trying to slip the phrase “flipper baby leak stain” into a poem for years, with no success. Maybe it wants to be a title. Or a monostich. Who knows….


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