10 Questions for Lauren Camp
- By Edward Clifford
Right when the dissector picks up the eye, I notice the sun
has already found a place to bruise with light.
With slight pressure, she shifts the pink flesh and muscle.
That eye can't see to ask its paths. Or fact its ransom.
—from "Blind Spot," Volume 64, Issue 1 (Spring 2023)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
The one that comes to mind is my poem, “Slow.” It’s four quatrains and perhaps the only one of my poems I have fully memorized. The poem circles around the beauty of New Mexico, but also the dangers. A bark beetle blight had devastated a massive number of piñon trees here in the high desert. The trees were vulnerable to the infestation because of drought. Ironically, I worked on “Slow” while at a residency in Provincetown, Massachusetts, with the ocean a block away. It became the last poem in my first book, This Business of Wisdom.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Oh so many! For the years I hosted a public radio show, I read numerous poetry collections weekly, in search of perfect poems to share with listeners between world music, jazz and other genres. I still read voraciously—often dozens of poems a day. I hesitate to call out names because my influences are wide and varied. I’m a lousy disciple, preferring instead to graze on many influences and directions, never claiming much from any one writer, but trying to learn with everything I read.
What other professions have you worked in?
Macrobiotic cook, visual artist, radio host, public relations specialist for the American Red Cross, and magazine editor.
What inspired you to write this piece?
Late in the pandemic I had the chance to travel to Vermont. After such a long time of nestling into my small desert home on my dirt road, I was distant in location, lifestyle and environment. I was working on poems about women scientists but found it challenging to get the grounding I needed to understand their work. I constantly tumbled into rabbit holes of research. In one moment, I found myself watching videos of dissections, a path I never meant to take. I was both repulsed and fascinated.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
New Mexico. Repeatedly, New Mexico in all its permutations.
Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
I don’t write with music, preferring to hear the sounds as words and lines come together. But I’m an avid jazz lover. Listening to so much jazz has taught me the value of improvising—of going toward what’s known and then veering from it into what is less melodic, more difficult, and certainly unexpected. The color and timber of the words that make up the poem, line by line—this is an obsession.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
My husband is my first reader. He’s not a poet, so his focus is more to issues of continuity and clarity. The visual and sonic aesthetics of the poem remain up to me to get right.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I worked for more than a dozen years as a visual artist. My medium was primarily fiber. During that same time, I was writing poems—some of them to companion the artwork. When my time got more limited, I had to decide about which to focus on—and poetry won out. Turns out, there’s no other art form I’d prefer. Poetry lets me bring together color, texture, music, language, direction and feeling—all with the chance to include surprise.
What are you working on currently?
As New Mexico Poet Laureate, I’ve got a full schedule of events around the state, encouraging residents to pay attention to poetry and discover what they can find within it. And I am getting ready to release two books this year, so I’m focused on setting up events and hopefully gaining good attention for them. Rather than task myself with other large projects, I’m gladly working poem to poem, with whatever has caught my attention.
What are you reading right now?
I’ve been deep in Jenny Sadre-Orafai’s mystical, shape-shifting book Dear Outsiders, glad for the haunting qualities of it. I’ve also recently read Requeening by Amanda Moore and The Galleons by Rick Barot, and enjoyed both. I judged manuscripts for the Cider Press Review Book Award not long ago, so my head is full of poetry. But I gladly switch genres into the fiction realm whenever I can find a larger swath of time. I have just completed Toni Morrison’s only short story, Recitatif, and was mesmerized. I’m about to go back to the start and read it again.
LAUREN CAMP is the Poet Laureate of New Mexico and the author of five books, most recently Took House (Tupelo Press). Honors include the Dorset Prize and finalist citations for the Arab American Book Award, Housatonic Book Award and New Mexico–Arizona Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, The Common, and Beloit Poetry Journal, and her work has been translated into Mandarin, Turkish, Spanish, Serbian, and Arabic.