An Interview with Carla Funk

CV2: What is your process for preparing a manuscript for submission? What is most important about creating a package of work for a publisher?

Carla Funk: In my experience, I’ve only ever sent out sample selections from the manuscript—20 pages of poetry from a collection I’m working on. I choose poems that give a range of voices and tones, and, obviously, I’ll choose the poems I feel are strongest and have something new in them. Even when I order the poems, I think about luring my reader into the poetry. By beginning with a short, arresting poem, and then progressing to a slightly longer, more narrative piece, then back to a short lyric poem … thinking about the range of emotions you want to elicit in the reader—these things are important. And I always try to end on a satisfying emotion—an ending that has solid closure. Ultimately, I want to think of the publisher as the reader. I don’t want to bore the reader. I want to speak to the reader. I want the reader to feel welcome and honoured by the poems.

CV2: What is the most pressing issue for poets today? What is the most pressing issue facing publishers of poetry?

CF: I can’t speak for publishers of poetry, but I can speak for myself as a poet. For me, the most pressing issues are navigating the pull between personal and public. When I write, I sit alone and think and try to make words sound good, and, in this way, the writing is a selfish act. But how does one reconcile this act, this art, with the social conscience of the artist? I don’t know the answer to this question, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for myself. I feel less and less satisfied with art for art’s sake. I am all for beauty and how it can point to the mysteries of the universe and leave us in awe of a larger story than our own. But I am also feeling the pull to make something more than just words that sound good. How can poetry make a difference? That’s a question I’m asking myself.

CV2: And what would your poetry have to do to make a “difference?” For instance, if you received more recognition, i.e., money, or respect for it, you could use that to do good, perhaps invest what you made back into more direct, worthy causes. Or are you searching to make a tangible impact by changing how you write poetry and what you write about in it?

CF: When it comes to poetry, money and respect aren’t reasons to write. That kind of difference is fleeting and driven by everything poetry isn’t. I want difference that lasts. Maybe the difference I’m talking about arises in the individual reader. For me, a good poem is one that changes me, even if that change is something as delicate as altering the way I look at a tree or hear a quail’s call or smell the greenness of April. A good poem wakes me up to the world, to what’s around me, and calls to the deep in me. In this way, a poem can make a difference. If there were more readers of poetry, maybe the difference would be multiplied. I do believe that the stillness and focus required when reading a poem—that contemplative act—yields thoughtfulness and introspection. And when I look into myself, I see what must change. This is one kind of difference that poetry can make.

CV2: In your poem “The Banning of Beauty,” you make reference to the ability of beauty to continue to grow in spite of legislated monotony. I’m thinking of the Asian imagery, and the reference of “a hundred flowers blooming,” to “Let a hundred flowers bloom, let the hundred schools of thought contend,” the popular slogan from Mao Zedong’s infamous One Hundred Flowers campaign in the mid-1950s. What inspired you to write this poem and how does it illuminate the “industry” of poetry for you?

CF: The inspiration for this poem came after reading a passage in a book by Philip Yancey (Rumours of Another World) in which he spoke about the Great Proletariat Revolution, and how beauty was virtually outlawed. On the surface, all that was beautiful seemed to disappear. In truth, beauty went underground. This made me think about the irrepressibility of beauty, how the soul and spirit are designed to create, and how, so often, beauty shines through the broken things of the world.

I don’t know how this illuminates the “industry” of poetry for me. When I think of “industry,” I think of everything poetry is not: mechanical, austere, product-oriented. For me, poetry lives and breathes on the other side of the world from industry. It is organic, process-driven, meditative, generous. The only aspect of “industry” I can reconcile with poetry is the individual industry, the solitary poet at her page, working to make something beautiful and meaningful and strange.

CV2: If you could offer one bit of wisdom to poets just getting started out there, what would it be?

CF: Read poetry. Read a lot of poetry. Read widely. Go to readings. Pull yourself out of the dark corner of the solitary act and engage with the writing community. Engage with the world. Write beyond yourself. Write away from yourself. The “I” poems will always be around, and so will the childhood memory. I know, because I keep writing these poems. But move outside this territory, too. Find a new poet to read every month. And when you find a poet you love, read everything they’ve written. Find out why you love their poems so much. Then, try to do what they do, but in your own way, with your own words. Write formal poems—sonnets, villanelles, blank verse, and pantoums. Challenge yourself in metre and rhyme. Use these as exercises to expand your technical abilities. Be confident enough to try new forms and ways of writing, but be humble enough to consider yourself a constant student of the art.

This interview is excerpted from a longer piece published in CV2.