As part of a new series of interviews, we’re offering our editors the chance to choose a favourite piece of the month and ask five quick questions to the writer. Here, poetry assistant editor Udoka Okafor talks to Leonore Wilson, whose poem ‘Body Without Mirror‘ appeared on our website last month.
When did you start writing poetry, and which poets influenced you at that point? When did you decide that you wanted to make a career out of being a poet?
I started writing poetry in college. I was chosen from a handful of students to take an advanced poetry class after I submitted a packet of poesy. At that time I was deeply influenced by the confessional poets: Plath, Sexton and Lowell. I found a deep love and respect for the music of language and told myself to be faithful to it.
I read your bucket list for things you would like to accomplish as a poet, and I noted that you have a laudable inclination to educate students, and people in general on and about poetry. Where does this passion to educate people about poetry stem from?
Dag Hammarskjöld said, “You are not the oil, you are not the air—merely the point of combustion, the flash point where the light is born. You are merely the lens in the beam. You can only receive, give, and possess the light as the lens does….Sanctity— either to be the Light, or to be self-effaced in the Light, so that it may be born, self-effaced so that it may be focused or spread wide.” I think this pretty much sums up my attitude towards spreading the written word.
I really enjoyed reading your poem, ‘Body without mirror’. What, do you feel, is the driving theme of the poem?
The imagination holds just as much importance as the factual. “The purer eye of attention, the more power the soul finds herself… strive then constantly to purify the eye of your attention until it becomes utterly simple and direct.” Hammarskjöld again.
In that poem, you talk about how the imaginary and the rational are both of equal value and you go further to state that “the newspaper’s headline [is] no more important/ than the scribbling of a poem.” To what extent is the poem a comment on the importance of art in society?
The secret creative is the divinity in the world. One experiences universality through art. This universality builds a road toward knowledge which is the eternal spark within us.
Rilke famously told Franz Kappus, “I could give you no advice but this: to go into yourself and to explore the depths where your life wells forth.” What advice would you give to young and aspiring poets out there, to help in the pursuit of their dreams?
Udoka Okafor is Assistant Poetry Editor for the magazine.