Susan Browne on Writing Poems With or Without the Muse

Susan Browne on Writing Poems With or Without the Muse

An interview with Susan Browne, from The Write Stuff series:

Susan Browne’s poetry has appeared in literary journals and anthologies, such as Ploughshares, The Sun, Subtropics, River City, The Mississippi Review, American Life in Poetry, Writer’s Almanac, and 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day. Her first book of poetry, Buddha’s Dogs (Four Way Books, 2004), was awarded the Intro Prize. Her second book of poetry, Zephyr (Steel Toe Books, 2010), won the Editor’s Prize. She also has a word/music CD with Kim Addonizio, Swearing, Smoking, Drinking, & Kissing. Susan teaches at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California.

What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?

My main struggles are with faith, time, and temper.

I struggle with cynicism, and I long to have more faith, optimism, and light. I work at it.

Time slips by me too fast; I’m always behind, perpetually trying to catch up. I’m slow by nature, the opposite of a multitasker. I think that word is ugly. I want to live by my own inner clock. Like Wordsworth said, “The world is too much with us.” He and I have the same birthday.

My temper. I’ve mellowed with age, but I still manage to torture myself on the rack of wishing I hadn’t lost my temper. I wish I was more unflappable.

If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?

Do it! Do what you want as much as possible. Be yourself and love your life.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

Yes. Besides being a writer, I’m a teacher, and it’s a privilege to work with so many wonderful people. My students added on more rooms to my heart.

That said, I would like to be more successful as a writer. I finished a memoir last year and am trying to find an agent. This is connected to the first question—another struggle. But I am grateful for all the publications I’ve had.

When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

Anything with Amy Schumer.

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

I admired Don Marquis who wrote archy and mehitabel, a poem/story about archy the philosopher cockroach and mehitabel, an alley cat in her ninth life. They live in a journalist’s apartment, and while he’s at work, archy jumps on the typewriter keys and writes poems. Because he’s a cockroach, archy can’t press down the shift key, so there is no capitalization or punctuation in his verse.

I wanted to be a writer.

Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.

I love to be outside, in nature. I walk/run almost every day in the hills around my house, but:

I tried to like camping, really tried. I even camped. I washed the camp dishes in the scummy sink in the camp bathroom or while stumbling over rocks in the icy river. I slept on the freezing ground while snow buried the tent. I put up a tent in the wind and rain to watch it collapse and blow around the campsite like a Patagonian goblin. I wrestled with the soggy tent and started all over again. I said the hell with it and checked into The Four Seasons.

Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.

I’ve been known to play strip poker. My moves were simple: I took it all off.

What’s wrong with society today?

Greed and being in a big absurd hurry.

Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?

I try not to take anything except Sancerre.

What is your fondest memory?

Meeting my husband the second time. The first time didn’t take for various reasons, and I thought we would never see each other again. But we met a year and a half later in the same place where we’d met the first time. We’ve been together for twenty-two good years.

How many times do you fall in love each day?

Every day, I wink at the drainpipe
or blow a kiss to the willow,
give that come-hither look to patio bricks,
chaise lounge, voluptuous cloud…

is the start of a poem I haven’t finished. There’s so much to love on this earth.

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

A woman elected president of the United States. And not a Republican. I would also hope to see a vast improvement in education; it needs to be a priority. We need to put our money into education so it is available to all, and to enhance the salaries of teachers, to entice the most creative among us to become educators, to make the classroom an enlivened place, to focus more on the arts, literature, philosophy, psychology, and innovative thinking.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

Art is the revelation of the soul. It is as essential as water. We are makers.

When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?

I like what I like where I like it. I have my pet hot spots, you bet. Afternoon is my delight.

What are you working on right now?

I’m writing poems with or without the muse, and I just started a novel.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

Less cars, more safe places to ride bicycles without cars around, better, more extensive public transportation. Affordable housing is absolutely necessary. What it costs to live here has become ridiculous and shameful.

A night on the town: what does that mean to you?

Food, friends, wine, music, poetry, dancing without the intrusion of tomorrow.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?

Maybe not the strangest, but so amazing to see: a whale jumping out of the ocean, and I was on a kayak not too far away.

What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?

With 50 words you can write a love letter, what you have never said and will regret never saying.

With 50 dollars you can save someone’s life.

What are some of your favorite smells?

The sea, jasmine, lemon, lavender, eucalyptus, my husband’s cooking, (he’s a chef), and my kitty, FiFi, who smells like popcorn and dirty socks.

If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?

I’m getting one soon, in real life. I’m going to Italy to teach poetry. I’ve never been to Italy.

Here to read all The Write Stuff profiles; here to watch all the videos.