Interview: T. Birch


Tryst Interviews T. Birch

As of June 2002, Tara, who publishes under the name T. Birch, has been writing poetry for a year. She says, "a friend of mine suggested I should try writing and invited me to an online poetry club. The more I wrote the more addicted I became to writing and reading poems."

The release of Tryst this June will coincide with her anniversary as a poet. I have selected Tara as the featured poet of Tryst Poetry Journal's Premiere Issue. I have been following her work for several months now. Quite simply what drew me instantly to her writing was the intellectual intensity of her craft. Intellectual in the capacity that her topics provoke intense contemplation.

A reader won't be able to skim through a poem of Tara's and think they have gleaned a meaning out of it. Tara's work requires some dedicated time to absorb and digest all that she presents with careful attention to every word, punctuation and formatting. Formatting is Tara's trademark. It is not only unique and unusual but there's always a sense that her structure is deliberate and well thought out. What one notices right away is a pattern that is always evolving. I have often remarked to Tara that her formatting is an added dimensionality to her work. All in all, what makes Tara's poetry so remarkable is that she is willing to explore every facet of the poetic craft. It doesn't stop with the words.

I have also selected Tara to represent the MEA Award this year. MEA which is an acronym for the Muse's Endowment of the Arts. The MEA is essentially my personal endeavor to recognize and promote a new poet whose work is consistently good and fresh. This year I'd like to acknowledge Tara, the poet whose outstanding talent showed the greatest potential as a writer residing in the United States. I have no doubt that she will go far with her writing and I feel honored to have come across her poetry.


Mia: Who would you say has influenced your work most and do you have a favorite writer, or poem in mind that you could share with us?

TB: That is a difficult question for me. I started reading poetry seriously for the first time also last June. I have always read novels, short story collections and non-fiction, but poetry wasn't even on my radar screen until I began posting my own poems on the net. I would see posts that referred to poems by persons I now know to be well recognized poets, and I would use Google, a search engine, to find that poet or a specific poem. My searches were also often motivated by that favorite refrain of online critics to "Go read a lot of poetry." I found a lot of poetry to read and study in the process, but it was far from an organized approach to the subject.

Blake was an early favorite and then T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Frank O'Hara, James Merrill. I'm still amazed at how many poets I haven't read. In that regard I am nothing but a neophyte. My knowledge of poetry prior to the 20th Century (except for those poets like Poe and Shakespeare that were taught in High School) is particularly scanty.

Mostly though, except for specific poems I have written in an attempt to emulate someone else's style, I can't claim anyone as a primary influence on how or what I write. In many respects the books I read are the greatest influence. Often books on philosophy or science or history or, God forbid, religion, provide ideas and themes for what I write. And, there are many poets writing on the net whose work I admire, and those people, especially the ones who read my work on a consistent basis, are very influential also. I take to heart their comments and suggestions.

Mia: What is your educational background? What careers have you had?

TB: I originally wanted to be a clinical psychologist/therapist. I studied psychology as an undergraduate, and held various volunteer and paying positions in the mental health field when I was in my early twenties. Eventually the long hours and low pay (among other things) caused me to "burn out" to use the idiom of the day. I drifted for a year or so, held various jobs that had no relation to psychology, and then applied and went to Law School. Until my disability I was a practicing attorney and a partner in my firm.

Mia: Are you pleased with your writing? If not, in what areas do feel that you could improve?

TB: I'm happy for the most part. I expect to study more and learn more of the craft in the future. I certainly hope to improve my verse written in meter and rhyme more, what some call "formal poetry." What I most need to do is adopt a more critical stance to what I write. I can be quite objective when offering my evaluation of another person's work, but the same flaws I would criticize in their poems I often make excuses for in mine. So I need to learn to love my own word choices a bit less.

Mia: What are your favorite poems that you've written?

TB: My favorite poems are those I have done about my children. They are very personal and mean the most to me. From the standpoint of what I think may be my best work, I can't say. I experiment with a variety of poetic styles. Of poems that employ unusual formatting, in the sense of indentations and multiple fonts, my favorite is probably 13. very, very extraordinary, published in Writer's Hood because it was the first one of that type I attempted.

Mia: Do you sometimes believe that you're too hard on yourself and is it really necessary?

TB: Oh sometimes. I invest a lot of myself in what I write, and when it is not favorably received that can cause the self doubt demon to appear. It can be only one person, but if it a person I respect, that criticism will cause me to suspect the worst about my abilities. My limited knowledge base when it comes to poetry is also fertile ground for feelings of insecurity.

Mia: Do you believe most of the feedback you receive from your critics and your readers? What are some of the things you'd like covered in the critiques?

TB: That depends on the person. Some people give honest opinions, and others do not. Some are honest on some occasions and less so on others. I've learned to take everything with a grain of salt.

What I'd like covered in critiques more than anything else is whether the work I did was enjoyable to read or not. It is nice to receive more specific suggestions and interpretations, but I have discovered that often the best information about your poem that you can receive is whether it moved the reader in some way to feel or think of things they had not thought of before, and if they can, why it had that effect (or lack thereof).

This seems like a small thing I suppose, but I have often found it more useful to the development of my writing than advice of a more technical nature (with an exception for "formal poetry" for which more specific advice regarding meter, etc. is indeed very helpful to me).

Mia: What makes language sing for you? What do words mean to you?

TB: Words are precious to me. I was a sickly child, and books were my only solace. I remember encountering so many new words in books and just inventing meanings and pronunciations for them. Some words I still mispronounce to this day even after I've learned the correct pronunciation because I had my imagined sounds so strongly impressed upon my brain when I was young.

So coming from the perspective of a child, words were always very magical. They took you places, distracted you from physical suffering, filled up the hours and days with worlds that I could imagine were mine alone. They were my best friends in a sense, as I was painfully shy.

Mia: Would you like to share anything personal with us?

TB: I am presently suffering from a disabling illness of unknown origin and diagnosis. It has given me the opportunity to view Andy Warhol's artwork in the corridors of the Mayo clinic, and the artwork of artists I did not know in the halls of the Warren Grant Magnuson Clinical Center at the NIH. I enjoyed the latter more than the former.

Mia: Tell us a little bit about your family. Do you feel that they influenced and helped to shape your writing in any way?

TB: I was born into a large family, primarily of British and German descent. According to an aunt of mine one progenitor of my family first came to America sometime in the late 1600's, to New York. The other side were all German immigrants who settled in Minnesota in the late 19th century.

My parents claim that there have been a number of amateur musicians and artists on both sides of the family tree, but whatever genetic material is responsible for such talents must have been misplaced when it came time to fashion my personal DNA. I cannot draw or carry a tune.

I was born in the South (where my father was attending graduate school) and was primarily raised in the Western United States. I now live in one of the Northeastern United States. Once upon a time I had a darling southern accent, now all but washed out.

To the extent that my writing has been influenced by my childhood, I suspect it relates primarily to my love of reading books which I received from my parents. Other influences are no doubt subconscious ones.

I am currently married and have two children. They have been a frequent source of material for my writing.

Mia: Where would you like to see yourself as a writer in ten years from now? Do you have any expectations or goals with your poetry?

TB: I never had any expectations for my work. That I am answering this question is far beyond what I ever expected. I wrote at first to pass the time and to hear nice things said about my poems and give my own nice comments to others, a form of communication different than what I had engaged in on the Internet before. At some point I wanted to expand the ways I wrote, break out of the forms in which I started. For a while I wrote to excise my anger or express my pain. Now I just write to be productive.

Perhaps I should set some goals. I do have one goal, or hope rather. I would like someone to still be reading my work after I am dead. That sounds morbid, but it's not. What I write is as much my creation as are my children, or more so, as I have complete control of the words I write, but less and less over the human beings I have produced. So, I wish for them both, the children and the poems, to have long and interesting lives, and to outlive me most of all.

But I am answering these questions in the wrong order. Where do I see myself as a poet/writer in ten years time? Truthfully, in ten years I cannot see where I will be.

I am a poor prophet. Every time I have imagined my future I have found that the future disagreed with my designs on it. Better not to tempt fate by imagining what may come. Hopefully, I'll still be here, watching my children, writing some poems, but that is not a prediction by any means.

Mia: Tara, thank you for granting Tryst this interview. Your patience, insightful answers are greatly appreciated. Itís a wrap!

T Birch, or Tara if you will, is 45 years old. Old enough to be told by her son on a daily basis that she suffers from the ever encroaching effects of Alzheimer's disease. For all she knows he may be right. This gives her a reason not to procrastinate with her writing for which she is grateful to him.

Featured Poetry:

White Rose in a Tumbler
For You and I and Everyone
Uriel's Keeping
Take Any Word and Follow After It
This Is the New Century Once More
i. ii. iii. iv. v. vi. vii. viii. ix. x.

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Also included in this feature is an essay by Mia inspired by T. Birch's poem "Ten."