Part 2 of our interview with Dr. Heather Thomas:
[Click here for Part 1]
6. Was it hard to get your poetry published? Where do you submit your poems to for publication? Does anybody read your poems before they get published?
My first publication was, ironically, in the KU journal Yarrow, which was edited for years by Harry Humes, my predecessor in the English Department. I was a newspaper reporter and met Harry when I interviewed him for a story. My next publication was in HOW(ever), now called how2, an innovative lit mag of modern and contemporary women’s writing. By that time I had left the newspaper for grad school at Temple and was a single mother. Like most writers, I have experienced plenty of rejection. I submit poems to lit mags, I’ve researched to see if it looks like there may be a fit, or to editors who ask for them. I workshop my poems with a group of friends who are also poets.
7. Do you notice anything about your writing style? (Example: do you use a lot of rhyme?)
I notice whether I’ve chosen the precise word and cut the wordy phrases. I notice how a poem looks on the page and how it sounds. I love the textures and tones of sound, but I don’t use end rhyme. It’s just not my thing. I’ve been told that my poems have a visual quality, and I attribute this to the fact that I myself have poor vision.
8. Does your family read your poetry? When you first started to write poetry, did your family encourage you? If not, why?
I wrote for some time before sharing my poems with anyone. My grandmother and stepfather were long dead before I had the publications that allowed me to call myself a poet. My mother considered poetry a futile pursuit because it did not earn any money. She used to send me classified ads for romance writers from The New York Times. She still asks how much I’m getting paid for a poem or a reading. My aunts and uncles have encouraged me in my work. Sadly I’ve written elegies recently for two of my aunts who died.
9. Did anybody inspire you to become a writer/poet? What made you want to become a teacher and teach writing and poetry?
Besides my voracious reading, I was inspired by an undeniable need to write. As a journalist, I learned about other people, my city, its systems, history, and biases. I learned how to write on deadline and to dictate a story from my notes while standing in a phone booth. Eventually I learned about myself. The great German poet Rilke says poets need to ask themselves in the dead of night if they must write to live. If so, he says, you must revise your life. I did that in becoming a teacher. Rachel Blau DuPlessis, my grad-school mentor, was my role model of the poet-scholar-professor. Other teachers over the years made a difference in my life. Mr. Milford, my high-school English teacher, instilled in me the rigor necessary for turning out weekly essays on Friday afternoons. Susan Sontag, who taught a graduate class at Temple, allowed that writing and literature are an obsession with love. She didn’t mean romantic love. I got that. More than anything, it is my students who make me want to teach. I teach for them.
10. If somebody does not understand how to read or understand poetry, but wanted to, what advice would you give that person?
Read with your heart. Read the poem aloud. Read it a few times. The meaning of a poem will unfold, based on what you bring to your reading.
11. Do you have a website that people can visit to learn more about you and your poetry?
Dr. Heather Thomas, http:faculty.kutztown.edu/hthomas
This concludes a question and answer with Dr. Heather Thomas. I hope you enjoyed it. Thank you again to Dr. Thomas for letting me do this interview and conduct questions for National Poetry Month. This was a great experience to get to know a poet here at Kutztown University. As the year comes to an end I hope you will enjoy your retirement.
Upcoming opportunity to go see Dr. Heather Thomas:
Saturday, April 20 “Broken Open, Breaking Free,” Ice House, Bethlehem, 7:30, with Craig Czury, Lisa DuVuono, John Fox, Susan Kerschner, and Michael London’s Rumi songs.