The separate lives of poems: an interview with Sherry O’Keefe

This is the 15th in a series of interviews with poets and remixers who have provided or worked with material from The Poetry Storehouse — a website which collects “great contemporary poems for creative remix.” Anyone who submits to the Storehouse has to think through the question of creative control — how important is it to you, what do you gain or lose by holding on to or releasing control? This time we talk with Sherry O’Keefe.


1. Submitting to The Poetry Storehouse means taking a step back from a focus on oneself as individual creator and opening up one’s work to a new set of creative possibilities. Talk about your relationship to your work and how you view this sort of control relinquishment.


SO:
If a poem is a rock, and if that rock is in my hand, I look for its entry point. Rocks can be cracked open to reveal a network of both the beauty and the ugly inside, but where exactly is the best entry point? And how and when? Submitting to The Poetry Storehouse is submitting to the experience of watching another hand with that rock, turning it over and over, searching for an entry point. So many possibilities, it’s liberating to witness. There’s more than one way to gain entry, to crack that rock cleanly.


2. There is never any telling whether one will love or hate the remixes that result when a poet permits remixing of his or her work by others. Please describe the remixes that have resulted for your work at The Storehouse and your own reactions to them.


SO:
I tend to write from a state of confusion, seeking clarity. But if I focus too much on clarity what I write becomes a narrow experience. I like most when the seemingly disconnected connect with points coming from a wider field. Finding the balance between holding on and letting go has become easier because the remixes present views from that wider field.

Through The Poetry Storehouse, my poem about a pilot building the N a universe using the table setting at a café became a film featuring a wolf in the wilderness. The poem was a result of a dinner conversation; the remix expanded it, offering a new vista point from which one could experience wider implications of a universal law.

A second poem featuring a setting of an afternoon spent at a remote ranch became a film based on vintage news reels of beavers and men moving houses, a young girl watching from the window. On the surface my poem presented honey and bees, bells and dying goats, but beneath the surface was a respite from the solitary path we each face, this respite appearing in the random, circular ways we connect to one another.

Both remixes kept from bopping the poems on the nose and instead expanded into a wider view, allowing for so many more entry points.


3. Would you do this again? What is your advice to other poets who might be considering submitting to The Poetry Storehouse?


SO:
I would love to do this again. It’s too easy to hold tight to what we intend the poem to be, but every time the poem is read by someone else, it takes on a life separate from its creator. I have learned something new each time my poetry has been featured in a remix. The experience of letting go is liberating.


4. Is there anything about the Storehouse process or approach that you feel might with benefit be done differently?


SO:
I like the relaxed atmosphere at the Storehouse. It allows for organic response from the film makers. Each poem takes on new life when we hear someone else read it, or watch another’s video of the poem.


5. Is there anything else you would like to say about your Poetry Storehouse experience?


SO:
My first experience with video poetry was when Marc Neys approached me a few years ago seeking permission to turn my poem, “This Was Supposed to Be About Karl…” into a moving poem. I had no idea what he felt about the poem and was curious to see what he would do. It was a great experience. The poem had specific meaning to me, but through his film the poem allowed for many layers to be explored and experienced.

Film production is labor intensive and yet I hope more and more of us find the time to explore a poem through musical and visual portraits. If 12 videos were produced for one poem, we’d have 12 different experiences and this is what interests me. So: many thanks to the crew at TPS for making this possible. I appreciate what you are doing.

Nic S.

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