Interview with Phillip Sterling

1. Your book, Mutual Shores contains poems about Florida and Michigan. What are you inspired by in these places?
And poems about Europe in the middle section! As for Florida and Michigan, they are both peninsulas and are informed (in-formed) by bodies of water--thus, shores. Both have sand and woods and fields of agriculture and husbandry, and yet each is very different, in terms of flora and fauna--well, both have a lot of pines, but they harbor different creatures, which creates (same word stem?) a familiarity in landscape but a difference in mood/atmosphere.
2. Where and how do you write best? So many of your poems are about nature. Would you rather be outside or inside when you write?
I'd rather be outside--and I spend a lot of time outside. But I write inside, where I don't have to contend with paper blowing around or getting covered with snow and ice . . .
3. Does one of your poems stand out to you?
Not necessarily a favorite, but one that is unique because of the way it came about? In Mutual Shores, one of the poems that I'm most happy with is "Roundelay" because it's one long sentence that plays on the repetition of phrases--sort of like a villanelle, but not one, as it follows its own path back to the beginning. I may have originally meant it to be more like a villanelle, but I don't recall. The egret image came to me as I rode my bike past the airport at New Smyrna, FL. I would ride every day from Atlantic Center for the Arts, where I was in residence, to the beach, and I'd have to pass the airport . . .
4. Writer’s block can be so frustrating. Has there been a time in your life as a poet when you’ve wanted to quit? If so, what kept you going?
Quitting has never been a consideration, though I've spent a lot of time not writing. For as long as I can remember, poetry has been something that I do, in addition to washing my clothes or going to work. I just go to work and wash my clothes more regularly. Only recently have I begun thinking about quitting the going-to-work part--retiring. But I don't see poetry or clothes washing as something I will ever abandon.
5. What are the most important things that you consider when revising your poems?
Fluidity of sound, strength of image, and what it is the POEM wants to say, which sometimes we argue about [since I am, after all, the parent . . .]
6. Do you have any techniques or exercises emerging authors can use to spark ideas for their poems?
Stand in the rain for as long as you can and listen. Then try to think of words that imitate those sounds. But don't write about rain . . .
7. Besides writing, what are your passions in life?
My youngest son, my friend Jane, bicycling, tomatoes, tapping maple trees, changes in weather . . .
8. Many people do not aspire to be full-time poets. Is poetry your full-time career or do you just write on the side?
Poetry is an avocation. I've never aspired to be a full-time poet, and mostly try to keep my poetry separate from the other parts of my life. For one thing, "full-time" poets--at least the ones I know--are not very pleasant to be around. They're too much with it, late and soon. For another, I can't imagine living 24/7 with the intensity of feeling--sensitivity--that poetry demands.
9. Do you have any suggestions you could share with young poets who are serious about improving in their writing and moving forward with their writing careers?
Don't think of it as a career. Improvement comes from practice. Go outside and play.

10. What is something not many people know about you?
I worked as a gravedigger for two years before I went on to get my Ph.D.

Works by Phillip Sterling

Through the 3rd Eye was supported in its inception by the Grand Rapids Humanities Council and is currently made possible by continued volunteer effort and private support. Copyright 2013.