GR: Thanks for agreeing to let us interview you for Gyroscope Review. We’re pleased that you are one of our contributing poets. Will you please begin by telling us where you’re from, where you write, and why poetry?
LBO: Thank you for including me in Gyroscope Review’s author interview series.
I grew up in California. Became a trick rider while still in high school, and spent several years touring the U.S. and Canada, performing at PRCA rodeos with Dick and Connie Griffith’s trick and Roman riding troupe. In 1976, I settled in Wyoming, had two sons, Sandy and Morgan Forbes, and earned a nursing degree. Now I live in Kaycee, Wyoming, a small prairie town at the foot of the Bighorn Mountains. My husband, John, and I retired here to be closer to our grandchildren.
My office is a room roughly the size of a boot box, but the door closes tight. It will do.
I create poetry because I am inspired by reading other people’s art. That, and the fact that I’m convinced my brain and my tongue have never been formally introduced, but I have things to say.
GR: Who, or what, are your poetical influences?
LBO: I studied with Boston poet Matthew Lippman (author of several books of poetry including American Chew, The Year of Yellow, and Salami Jew) for four years. I take one or two ten-week-sessions a year with him. Matthew has introduced me to an array of poetry I would never have known existed, from Max Jacob to Dorianne Laux. He taught me what to do with this itchy need to express and create.
GR: How do you decide what form a poem should take?
LBO: I enjoy reading free verse poetry, so that’s what I write. If a poem feels as if it wants to stretch out across the page, I oblige. If it throws up resistance to everything but a blurt of short, declarative lines, we do that.
GR: What is your writing process like?
LBO: Always an early riser, I write in the morning. In the evening I read and catch up on political news.
Sometimes I start writing with a preordained topic. Usually I begin with whatever comes to mind, or take a phrase or word from the notebook to kick things into gear. I would love to churn out a presentable poem every time I turn the ignition. In reality, most of them are lemons. But when one takes off, it makes up for the time spent gunning the engine while the flagger is stuck in traffic.
Once a poem starts to talk, I tend to work it a long time. Sometimes I’ll tinker with a poem for days or weeks. Put it down. Pick it up. I used to quit them too soon. Most of the time, even if a new poem is thrilling me within an inch of my life, by the next day, maybe by lunchtime, it will look like that mass your bare foot stepped in this morning. The one the dog left on the rug by the door.
GR: Do you belong to any writer’s groups – face-to-face or online? If so, are they part of your process?
LBO: I belong to a writer’s group in Buffalo, Wyoming. Writer’s Ink. We meet twice a month in the library of the historic Occidental Hotel to critique each other’s work and offer encouragement. I am a member of Wyoming Writers, Inc., and I’m Vice-President of WyoPoets, an organization of people who write poetry for publication, or just for fun.
GR: What do you look for in the poetry you like to read? Any favorite poets?
LBO: I enjoy a poem that includes elements of contemporary popular culture. And who doesn’t like honest poems? I appreciate poems that are courageous enough to take on the dark stuff, but still leave us with hope, at least with the sense that we are not alone in our anxieties and confusion.
Just the other day I read a holocaust poem called “Soap,” by Gerald Stern. How do we speak of unthinkable horror when there are no words? This is how.
I also like to read poetry that recognizes the paradoxes, contradictions, and mysteries of human consciousness. The work of Stephen Dunn, for instance.
Mainly I ask that a poem have something interesting to say, and if it can do this with a little humor, so much the better, and now I’m thinking about Michael Cirelli’s “Lobster With O’ Dirty Bastard.”
I just never know when a good poet is going to fall out of the sky. It pays to keep your eyes open. I hope none of you missed “But Nothing’s On Fire” and “Something the Current Kept” by Jeff Jeppesen, in the Summer, 2017 Gyroscope Review .
The list of poets whose work I read repeatedly includes Stephen Dunn, Tony Hoagland, Matthew Lippman, Lori Howe, Seamus Heaney, Lucia Perillo, Marie Howe, Jane Hirshfield, Adrienne Rich, Natalie Diaz, Rachel Zucker, John Surowiecki, Sharon Olds, Sylvia Plath. I enjoy Matthew Olzmann, and Carolyn Forché. Billy Collins, and B.H. Fairchild. Try Fairchild’s poem, “Brazil,” if you need a good laugh today.
Small poems that tell a big story are a draw for me. I recently stumbled upon John Murillo’s “Enter the Dragon.”
One more gem of a recent find, Kevin Prufer’s “The Translator,” in the Spring 201 issue of The Paris Review.
GR: What is the most important role for poets today?
LBO: Poetry can help lessen the modern sense of isolation and loneliness, the illusion that we, personally, are separate from the rest of human life and nature. Poets who are conscious of themselves as part of a larger whole may, or may not, have the power to influence the human condition. I don’t know. But there is no reason to believe that anyone who is informed about what is going on in the world cannot use their art as a pebble lobbed into a pond.
GR: Which poets have you had the opportunity to hear read? Alternatively, what is the most recent book you’ve read?
LBO: Living in a rural area, I don’t have easy access to frequent readings, so I occasionally watch them on-line. Matthew Lippman’s Parking Lot Poem series is good, and I’ve seen Carolyn Forché read “The Colonel.”
A high point this year was a live podcast from Orlando, Florida, organized by Brain Pickings creator Maria Popova. Amanda Palmer read “The Mushroom Hunters” by Neil Gaiman along with others who read poetry in defense of science and protest.
I recently enjoyed hearing a live reading by Art Elser from his recent book, A Death at Tollgate Creek: Songs of the Prairie, and David Mason, who shared poems from his new collection, Sea Salt.
As far as books go, I’m on a David Sedaris kick right now. Just finished reading When You Are Engulfed in Flames. Next up, Someday Me Talk Pretty.
GR: Any future plans for your work that you’d like to talk about?
LBO: There are no plans beyond continuing to write poetry, and sharing it when I can.
GR: What other interests do you have beyond literature?
LBO: I like acoustic music, and a priority is making sure our grandchildren grow up with lots of music and books in their life. One five-year old granddaughter is on her second year of violin instruction. She and I make a 130-mile round-trip once a week for her lessons, and meet almost every day for practice. This summer, we’ll hit a couple bluegrass festivals and the Wyoming Symphony Close Encounters Concert. Other than just plain loving them, exposing the kids to music and good children’s literature is the most important thing I do.
GR: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Please let our readers know where they can find more information about you or your work:
LBO: They can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.