Behind the Words: Robert Eastwood

Posted by on Apr 4, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Robert Eastwood

Robert Eastwood‘s contribution to Issue #6 is a poem titled “Where Stood a Stake.” Eastwood takes us to Rouen, France, to stand in the square where Joan of Arc was martyred. As a retired teacher, Eastwood has a great perspective on how to effectively use space, meaning, and context in a poem that is just absolutely an well-crafted example of all those elements.
Spry contributor Katie Eber asked Robert to talk about how history and poetry converge to, as Emily Dickinson said, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”

Katie Eber: There’s something very grounded in the way this poem brings us to a place, not just a physical place but also a time, especially in the first two stanzas of the poem. How you think poetry can help readers better understand a place’s meaning?

Robert Eastwood: I’m reminded of Lois Philips Hudson’s remark: “Place is space infused by meaning.” Meaning is poetry’s bailiwick, so what better way than a poem to reflect the significance of any location, or to imbue a place with emotion? Sense of place has been an interest of mine for some time. Try a search on YouTube of sense of place and you come up with a whole array of why place is so important and meaningful to human beings. In fact, I am in the editing phase of a book that uses “place” as its theme (each poem in the collection has its grounding in a particular place). The working title is “Locus.” I would suggest that poetry, through use of concise imagery (and, for that matter, all the tools in a poet’s satchel) is the best way to evoke a place’s meaning.

I love the juxtaposition of history and the modern world, and we see this often in poems that have great impact. What significance do you think this kind of collision of time and place has on how we write?

Each of us sits on a mountain of time, what’s happened before us. We can’t help but be influenced, and build upon history by contributing our own lives, whether we are conscious of that fact or not. So, a writer is no different. I like your idea of “collision of time and place.” That is what a human being faces in his/her life experience. Every story, every narrative poem, is charged with that collision. Even a lyrical poem, in its meditation on feeling or experience, has as its basis life lived somewhere, with some inherent past. There is no human experience that hasn’t occurred in some place, or been foreshadowed by history.

The image of the teens “jumping over recumbent elder tourists / contemplating Joan’s agonies” is such a powerful metaphor for maturity. Do you ever see those teens pausing for a moment to reflect on the history of where they live and play?

Perhaps there are teens that have such insights, but I believe life experience is necessary for most before they hear echoes of history in a place. Sadly, historical knowledge is waning in this country, if we are to believe “man on the street” interviews, in which simple questions are answered with shrugs of ignorance. In my poem I try to show that the teens portrayed are oblivious of the historical significance of the place in which they are romping.

The church and the square as a “meditation…for what man must overcome” is a poignant

observation of the cruelty of what happened to Joan of Arc in the name of God. How does poetic image serve as a way to acknowledge and speak truth to the ills of the past? 

Poetic expression condenses figurative and affective language, so that manifold meanings and emotions are evoked in the reader. I would suggest that this must be done indirectly (tell it “slant” as Dickinson would say). Through facing ambiguity and suggestion, the reader can invest in the poem, extract his/her own meanings (which are a product of personal experience, intellect, and knowledge). One hears described different “levels” of meaning in a poem. A good poem has that strata, open to the reader’s incite. Poetic commentary on the past must fit this recipe of indirection (the way God speaks to us, according to Kierkegaard).

As a retired teacher, how do you think poetry can play a part in classrooms that aren’t just teaching creative writing or literature?

There are many ways to use poetry in classrooms other than those specifically teaching writing and literature. Unfortunately, in my experience, they are seldom seen. Take the Art or Music class: the use of ekphrastic poetry assignments to embody a piece of art in language is an excellent means of stimulating experiential significance and emotive power. In a science class: use of poetry to stimulate consideration of human connection to natural observation. Any use of writing outside the English classroom promotes language arts and critical thinking.

Katie Eber is a graduate of Fairfield University’s MFA program and Roanoke College. Her work has appeared in Hobo Pancakes, MadHat Lit, Quail Bell Magazine, Spry Literary Journal, Sum Journal, DASH, White Stag, and Garbanzo Literary Journal. She, however, most proud of her November 1994 achievement in winning “Most Quiet Rester,” an award given to her in Mrs. DeLucia’s morning kindergarten class – Katie having never been quiet nor restful since.

Katie lives in the shadow of the Metacomet Ridge in central Connecticut, is the current poet laureate of Wallingford, and enjoys good beer, good music, and good sandwiches.