POET LAUREATES OF THE UNITED STATES
Sydney Lea: Vermont Poet Laureate
At what age did you start writing? If you mean writing in a serious and applied way, I did so on my own --no writing courses-- in college, then did not take it up again as a real career goal until my early forties.
Can you share some of the inspirations for your writing? I was inspired principally by the oral tradition of northern New England now largely vanished. The tales and even the poems of certain elders, who would be well over a hundred now, and many of whom were illiterate, resonate in my mind today, as they have since boyhood.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?Oh, the same as any other poet: how to get published and, having been published, how to have anyone notice. I have come up with no good strategies except persistence. I have been very lucky. These problems are greater ones now than in the 70s, when I began for real.
Describe turning points in your career as a writer. One day, after trying to sort out any number of editors’ expectations, I decided that mine were the only ones that counted for me as a writer. It was not until then that my poetry began to be accepted for publication, because one way to assure that you write badly is to write according to others’ expectations, not your own.
Who were/are some of your mentors? Those old Yankee men and women I mentioned, but I was also blessed to have the encouragement of Robert Penn Warren, Anthony Hecht, and the fabulous essayist, Richard Selzer.
List some of your favorite books/poems. Wordsworth’s ‘Resolution and Independence,’ Keats’s ‘To Autuman,’ Robert Frost ‘The Need of Being Versed in Country Things,’ Mr. Warren’s ‘Audubon: A Vision’, Emily Dickinsons’ ‘A Narrow Fellow in the Grass,’ Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘One Art.’ I could go on for a long, long time and surely leave too many out.
What is your advice to young writers today?The way to learn to write is primarily– to write. Persistence is every bit as important as talent. I have only published one novel, for which an agent was essential. I think agents are necessary for novelists, not poets, but good ones are almost as hard to woo now as publishers.#