This installment of Artist’s Spotlight features Lynne McEniry—our first poet! I met Lynne when I started my MFA program. We both started together in the program’s first class. Since then, we have kept in touch, and she is one of the warmest, most inspiring people I know. I recently interviewed her, and she answered with her signature authenticity and enthusiasm.
Roaring Out: What first inspired you to write?
Lynne McEniry: Curiosity and insecurity, I think. Very early on, I felt like my world was so small. I wanted to know more, see more, experience more. Not having confidence in the fact that what was going on inside would matter to anyone if I said it aloud inspired me to write it down because even though I was painfully shy and insecure, I also felt like if I was thinking about it, wondering about it, it must matter somehow. Through my life, I have been voiceless for various reasons, and writing was a way to have voice. I could write anything I wanted then scribble over it or tear it into tiny pieces and scatter it into different trash cans. I’m grateful today that the need to do either of those things is rare… and that now, for one: I’m old enough for matches, and two: there is always the delete key.
RO: Could you please talk a little about your creative process?
LM: I tend to be a very slower writer, things working inside me for a long time before they make it to paper. I often have to walk with them and sleep with them and eat and laugh and cry and read and swim with them before they take shape on paper or the computer screen. A poem is also often a quickly-jotted thought or idea or group of words in my pocket journal or some scrap piece of paper that I then carry around for a while, reading and re-reading, adding more word or phrases over the following weeks and months before I actually start to shape it into the “first draft” of a poem. When I’m working intently at a poem draft, I most like to write between 11 p.m. – 5 a.m. when everyone I love is safely sleeping, when the world is dark and quiet and I don’t have to feel like I should be paying attention to other cares or responsibilities. Doodling helps, and old school coloring books and crayons, too. Smoking used to help a hell of a lot, and although I’m glad I’m healthier, I haven’t found anything that keeps me at my notebook or computer screen like smoking did. Oh, and I love to write in sight of the ocean at any time of day or night. Lots and lots of reading is always happening. I think that everything about living is part of the process. And any kind of writing utensil and any flat surface encourages the process.
RO: Do you have a favorite subject to write about? If so, why do you like writing about this subject? Is there a particular subject matter that you would like to write more about in the future?
LM: Sometimes I come up with an over-arching idea for a collection or a series of poems or a chapbook. Although there are a few I haven’t abandoned, I haven’t followed one through completely yet. And, I don’t intend it, but grief, hope and resilience are often “subjects” in my poems. Human relationship is another “subject” that comes up often. I don’t think I’ve ever said to myself that I’m going to sit down and write about “X” unless it is an assignment or a project I am working on with someone. I “like” writing about loss and hope and relationship because they are common human experiences and I am always open to ways we can explore and celebrate how we are different and what we have in common. In the future, I want my writing to keep exploring what I still have to learn… I think about home and exile a lot, so I might like to write about them. I like to make leaps and connections between and among what I’m experiencing in visual art, film, music, pop culture and what is has to do with our deepest questions and concerns. I know it sounds corny, but I do hope in the future the poems I write create beauty and peace for people who encounter them.
RO: What is the longest time you’ve spent on a poem?
LM: I have a couple of poems I started in 1998 that I just can’t give up on…they are on paper and in Word files in many revisions, so we’ll see what happens.
RO: Do you find that visual art inspires your writing? If so, how and who are your favorite visual artists?
LM: That’s a BIG YES. Sometimes I turn to a painting or sculpture or photograph with the intention of writing my response to it and hoping it will shape itself into a poem. As it does for many, the visual inspires so many ideas and emotions. Spending time with a work of art also creates a space in which the mind and the eye can wander along together or be taken in two different directions at the same time. A few weeks ago I went to the Frick for the first time ever. I went with every intention just to take in the art. I tried to make a deal with myself not to take out my notebook, not to be a poet for at least an hour or so. But the minute I saw the glistening on the lip of Vermeer’s “Girl with Pearl Earring” I was writing a poem about the glisten. I thought I was done with that, that I could experience some more of the art with that out of the way…and then I met the tiny bunny in Bellini’s “Saint Francis.” Joan Miro is a favorite. Raul Villarreal Vivian Maier (her photographs could possibly be a future “subject”), Henri Cartier Bresson… I could go on for pages.
RO: Although you focus on poetry and writing, is there a different artistic medium you’d like to work with in the future? If so, why?
LM: I spend a lot of time with my cameras, so I would really like to do a collaborative project with my prints and poems some time. I would love to take classes in both pottery and water colors. And then oils, and then….
RO: Is there anything handmade that you own that is particularly meaningful to you?
LM: The painting, “Memories of a Voyage Never Taken” by Raul Villarreal…one of my poems inspired this painting that Laura then bought for me for my 50th birthday!…and that painting inspired a poem by Yesenia Montilla! (You can see a very small photo of the three of us and the painting here.) I have a variety of things made by my own kids and other kids I love over the years. I have a necklace pendant that I’m wearing a lot right now made by a woman in Virginia…it is a beautiful piece of sea glass – not round but about the size of a 50 cent piece, wrapped in a web of fine silver wire. I have photographs hanging in my office of Provincetown and LBI taken by two different friends who then framed them. And more 🙂
RO: If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
LM: A combo of flight and the ability to multiply loaves and fishes so I could fly all over the world bringing food to everyone who needs it. If I absolutely had to narrow it down, I would take the multiplying food one because then I would have enough for everyone where ever I could get to to meet them. The flight one is a little self-interested, too, because I have a strong desire to travel the world and haven’t yet had the opportunity or funds to do so.
RO: To conclude, what is a lesson you have learned from creating art that you would like to share with others?
LM: A commitment to truthfully, passionately, openly exploring the deepest questions will get us where we need to go.
Thanks so much for your word-spiration, Lynne!
Lynne McEniry has poems and reviews published or forthcoming in 5 AM, Adanna, The Stillwater Review, Paterson Literary Review, The Lake Rises Anthology, and others. She won Honorable Mention for the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award with her poem, “Sunday Sauce” and her poem, “My Son, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Me” was nominated for a 2013 Pushcart Prize. Lynne curates readings and workshops, including those in conversation with visual arts. She is a regular guest editor for Organs of Vision and Speech (ovsmag.com) and Adanna Literary Journal for which she edited two special issues, “Hurricane Sandy: Students Speak Out” and “How Women Grieve.” Lynne earned her an MFA in Poetry from Drew University and works at the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown, NJ. To keep up with Lynne, visit her blog at: www.lynnemceniry.com.