What inspired you to write this poem?
No single thought or experience prompted the writing of “Metamorphosis.” Virtually all my poems come from the same places: a rage against transience and a search for the lost supernatural in a disenchanted world. “Metamorphosis” is one small leaf from the same dark tree.
Why do you make art, and why write poetry in particular?
I have long been involved in photography, painting, and a bit of music in addition to writing poetry. Possibly the fact that I grew up in a family where the arts were highly valued has something to do with it. My mother was a painter and art teacher, and my father a fanatic about music of all kinds and a frustrated would-be country and Western singer. I think I just always took it for granted that making beautiful things is what one does in life.
In what ways do you think art and poetry are vital to society today?
I think art in general—including poetry—has become unmoored from society. The literary scholar Mark Edmundson speaks to this trend, noting that much contemporary poetry is bland, unambitious, and “oblique, equivocal, painfully self-questioning…private, idiosyncratic, and withdrawn” (Harper’s Magazine, July 2013). I am struck by how much poetry today is almost entirely solipsistic.
Poetry also has become increasingly balkanized, both socially and politically. Many poets write only for those who resemble them, and turn their backs on the rest of humanity. We have journals and prizes open only to women, just to take one example. Their offerings supposedly speak in “women’s voices” to other women. Other venues reward writers who express “resistance” to this or that political “outrage.” Poets and poetry editors have so valorized social identities and their struggles that, as Edmundson notes, it now takes a bit of courage merely to use the words “we” or “our.”
Who, then, will write for the ages? Who now speaks for the shared human plight? Surely a few do, but where is their following? How many average Americans could name a single living poet?
What poetry reminds us that we are free? What poetry takes us to the wide river of human experience? What poetry enables us—as my resurrection-colored line in “Metamorphasis” suggests—to “make it green again”—to hope for some transcendent experience? I am drawn to John Keats’ statement: “The excellence of every art is its intensity.” I believe that art at its best still has the power to awaken us, to move us with “a thing of beauty.”
Who are some of your favorite poets, writers, musicians, filmmakers, or other artists?
As for poets, I would mention Keats, Geoffrey Chaucer, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Charles Wright. Some of the writers I return to again and again are Lady Nijo, Leo Tolstoy, William Faulkner, and Flannery O’Connor. As for music, I have always liked virtually all of the Victorian classical composers, Leonard Cohen, Joan Baez, Tim Buckley, and Muddy Waters. My favorite filmmaker is still David Lean, but I also admire Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, and Darren Aronofsky. Finally, I like the paintings of Winslow Homer, Salvador Dali, Paul Delvaux, and Odd Nerdrum.
Who were some of your biggest influences coming into your own as an artist?
I was trained in history and never took so much as a single course in literature or creative writing. I have also published quite a bit of sociology. And I think my ongoing interest in history and sociology has been essential in guiding me to meaningful subjects beyond myself. But I am really not comfortable talking about any one person or subject that has influenced me. I experience myself as responding to the power of reality and my own yearning to see behind what Captain Ahab in Moby Dick called the “pasteboard masks” of all visible objects.
What are you working on next, and what excites you most about the future?
I am finishing my first full-length volume of poetry, presently entitled Going Fast. Going forward, the possibility that my writing will evolve further is the most exciting prospect.
Roberta Senechal de la Roche is an American historian and poet of Micmac and French Canadian descent from Maine who teaches history at Washington and Lee University. Her poems have appeared in the Colorado Review, Still: The Journal, Yemassee, and Cold Mountain Review, among others. Blind Flowers won the 2016 Arcadia Press Chapbook Prize, and her chapbook Winter Light, is forthcoming from David Robert Press.