Norman Dubie

How did you become a writer?

In 5th grade, my English teacher held up a Webster's dictionary saying there are only two words in it that defied definition. The first was the point in geometry and the second was the poem. I told the little girl sitting next to me that it would be difficult for me to become the point in geometry but that I was going to become a poet. She asked why and I responded it sounds like there's no bosses in that world.

I think I was always intoxicated with the language of Shakespeare and the King James Version of The Bible. So I also blame the Elizabethan underground for sixty years of writing verse! Ha!

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

When I was in my early twenties, John Berryman's 77 Dream Songs and Homage to Mistress Bradstreet pointed me in a direction--call it ventriloquism or whatever--that I've yet to abandon. In terms of strict lyric poetry, I moved from John Donne to Sylvia Plath to Denise Levertov to John Ashbery's Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. Among the Moderns, William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens were very important to me. But I must confess to being an omnivore who's clearly read across a couple hundred years of world poetry. And I'll finish by saying that I will not in this lifetime ever recover from my original experiences with Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson.

With regard to teachers, I was blessed with having studied with Barry and Lorraine Goldensohn. I also studied with George Starbuck and Marvin Bell.

When and where do you write? 

I've always written at the kitchen table and usually in the middle of the night.

What are you working on now? 

I'm working on a manuscript now that remembers my childhood living on a peninsula on the coast of Maine.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

The truth is, I've always found it fairly effortless writing poetry and it gives me great pleasure. So it is not a torment for me! When I published my first book, The Alehouse Sonnets, I did suffer writer's block for one year, thinking I may never write again. I've now written some thirty volumes of poetry. It's also true that I walked away from the writing of poetry, but not from the teaching of young poets throughout the 1990s. I dedicated this decade to my spiritual life as a Tibetan Buddhist. I think at the beginning of this "silence," I'd already published ten book-length volumes of poems and I was concerned that I would soon be writing caricatures of my own work. So, following the example of Robert Duncan, I just stopped. Since that silence, I've published a big volume of collected poems and six other works of poetry in addition to a 400-page poem written in the tradition of Science Fiction--it's called The Spirit Tablets at Goa Lake (Blackbird Online archives).

So I was briefly blocked early on and then chose to be silent for a while--I don't regret any of it.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Read everything! Write fearlessly!

Norman Dubie was born in Barre, Vermont in April 1945. His poems have appeared in many magazines including The American Poetry Review, Bombay Gin, Crazy Horse, Gulf Coast, Narrative, The New Yorker, Paris Review, and Poetry. He has won the Bess Hokin Award of the Modern Poetry Association and fellowships from the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. The Mercy Seat: Collected and New Poems won the PEN Center USA prize for best poetry collection in 2002. He has published with Blackbird, a book-length futuristic work, The Spirit Tablets at Goa Lake. His most recent collection, The Quotations of Bone, is from Copper Canyon Press. He lives in Tempe, Arizona, and is a teacher at Arizona State University.