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Visiting with Wendy Miles

by Claire Guyton

What inspired “Divination, Sky”?

The inspiration came from a VHS tape that I checked out of the local public library years ago. The tape featured an archeologist investigating the volcanic remains at Herculaneum. I don’t know whether the archaeologist said this or if I made it up, but what I remember is that they had figured out a lot of information about a young woman whose remains were found—the fact that she was young and “childless,” and, I think, unrelated to the younger children’s remains found very near to her, as if she’d been trying to protect them from the horrible eruption that must have seemed to her like the very end of the world. In any case, the line I remember—real or imagined—is: We can tell everything about her except whether or not she was happy.

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

This poem was ultimately a result of a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA), where my policy for myself is “a poem a day.” I was beginning to experiment with a wide variety of traditional forms, and the young woman from the video tape made her debut in ghazal form. I must add that the poem went through revision, certainly, but it was begun at VCCA.

Do you remember the first poem you wrote? What was it about?

My mother says my first poem was about our beagle named Brownie, written for an assignment in elementary school. It may have been great, but I don’t remember it.

Is there a “writing rule” you never break? One you love to break?

As someone who writes experientially, one writing rule I have been cautioned about has to do with autobiography versus poetry. I’ve heard, as have so many poets, that one of the worst reasons to include something in a poem is because it really happened. I purposefully push against that “rule” all the time.


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