Behind the Words: Patricia Caspers

Posted by on Apr 5, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Patricia Caspers

We were lucky to publish Patricia Casper’s poem, “Some Good Thing May Yet Happen”, in the sixth issue of Spry Literary Journal. We were even luckier she agreed to be interviewed. Find out what she’s up to since the poem was originally published.
Erin Ollila: I’m always so interested on what sparks an idea for a poem. Where did the spark of inspiration for Some Good Thing May Yet Happen come from?

Patricia Caspers: I had been trying for a long time to write about that moment in the car with my dad, but I wanted to write about it in a way that didn’t my thirteen-year-old self sound piteous. When I heard Dr. Nuland’s interview on the radio, I felt like I’d found a way in.

Is poetry the only genre you write in? If so, what do you like/dislike about the form? If you write in other genres, which is your favorite? 
Poetry is definitely my favorite genre, but I also write a weekly column for a few local newspapers, creative nonfiction essays, and I’m working on a middle grade novel. I’ve been writing poetry since I was a kid, so when I go back to it, it always feels like visiting an old friend. What I love about writing my column, though, is that I hear regularly from readers who offer praise me or tell me I’m an idiot. Either way, it’s good to know there’s someone out there reading my work.
It’s been a while since the poem was first published in Spry. What’s changed in your life since then?
One of the most exciting things that’s happened is that my full-length poetry collection _In the Belly of the Albatross_ was published by Glass Lyre Press. It was lovely to work with the folks at GLP. In other news, I’m making an effort to live a life that brings me joy. I’ve always wanted to offer free creative writing workshops for underserved youth, and I’m taking steps in that direction.
If you could go back and edit this piece, would you? Why or why not, and what, (if anything) would you change?
Well, that is a very long first line. I went around about it when I wrote the poem, and I’m still going around about it as I read it now. I decided then that I liked the sense of hyperventilation it gives the poem, and I guess I still agree with myself. I might change “right here” to “right there” in the middle of the poem. I wanted it to feel present, but now I think maybe it just sounds wrong.
I’m always so interested in why a writer chooses to put a quote before a story or poem. Specifically, which came first – the poem or the quote? I’d love to know more about your thought process here.
The title and the epigraph come from a Fresh Air interview with Dr. Sherwin Nuland. Discussing his book, _How We Die_, Nuland says there’s no dignity in death. “The good thing that may yet happen” he says, “is that our lives will have great meaning for those we leave behind.” When I heard this, I couldn’t help but think of people like my father. He was an addict, and he was absent much of the time. In 2007, he died in a car collision that took the life of the other driver as well. Did he live a dignified life? The poem is really wrestling with that question, and maybe it’s also hoping for a different past.
How big is your “In-Progress” folder? How many works-in-progress make it to a final draft? 
I don’t tend to let my poems linger, but right now I’m working on series of 45 persona poems — each one around a U.S. president — so I guess that’s a pretty big folder, but it’s mostly in my head. I’m also working on an essay and my novel. I feel a bit overwhelmed, actually.
I don’t know if anything I’ve written has ever made it to the final draft. I look back at the poems in my book and still want to make changes.
Whose work has had the most profound impact on your writing?

The first time I read “What Work Is” by Philip Levine I felt like I was home. I may or may not have tried to emulate Levine for several years. Eventually I think I found my own voice. I was never able to meet Levine, but when I’m overwriting a poem I feel like I can hear his voice in my ear telling me to pare it down.

Do you ever let anyone read your work while in progress? If so, who? If not, why?

Annie Stenzel, Jennifer K. Sweeney, Katherine Case and I have workshopped our poems with each other for nearly 20 years. I trust them to tell me when a line (or a whole poem) isn’t working, and to be kind about it. It’s not easy to find that kind of support. Lisa Ahn is my go-to person for fiction and essays.

How do you decide when a poem is complete?
I don’t know that I ever decide. The poem sort of decides for me when it doesn’t want to be tinkered anymore.
What 5 writers would you invite to your house for a meal (dead or alive)? What would you serve them?
What I would really love is if twelve-year-old me could have a lunch with Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Walker, Mary Oliver, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Maya Angelou. I wanted so much to be a poet when I was growing up, but I didn’t know there were living, working poets alive in the world. Instead, I stumbled my way into community college and happened upon a poetry workshop where I finally felt like I belonged.
At twelve, I probably would have served them the lunch my Nana Pat often made for me: toasted peanut butter, banana and marshmallow sandwiches with cherry milk.

Erin Ollila is a writer and content strategist who helps big brands and small businesses share stories and build relationships with their customers. She has her MFA from Fairfield University in creative nonfiction. When Erin’s not editing Spry or writing for clients, she’s either drinking coffee or trying to take a nap.