Poet Barbara Brooks's touching 'Laying Floors' appears in Agave Magazine Volume 2, issue 2. Here we speak to the author of the chapbook The Catbird Sang about writing groups, her love of nature, and the backs of envelopes.
AGAVE MAGAZINE: You're not only a poet, but also a retired physical therapist. When and why did you start writing poetry?
BARBARA BROOKS: I started writing in 1975 when I was on an affiliation in Philadelphia which was a most depressing atmosphere. Those will not see the light of day. I also wrote to sort out relationship or depression feelings. That has changed to writing still about autobiographical themes but also themes of a different sort like 'Laying Floors'. Mary Oliver is my favorite poet and between liking her work and my own love of nature, I try to incorporate nature as I see it relating to people.
What is it about Mary Oliver's poems that stands out for you?
While Mary Oliver is my favorite poet, I don't have a favorite poem as there are so many with the "wow" factor. I do like her earlier work as it is a great study of the nature around us that many miss; her tribute to Ms. Malone is very moving.
Many of your previous poems, including those in your collection, The Catbird Sang, are rooted in nature. 'Laying Floors' is a departure from this theme--what led you to write it?
I wrote 'Laying Floors' after my father's death as it reminded me of all the projects he would do and how he taught me to measure and practice. These are some of the many "sayings" that he taught me. They echoed in the house while I was working.
How often do you write? Do you prefer a regular schedule, or do you simply compose when it strikes your fancy?
I try to write on a schedule of at least one quiet morning a week but sometimes that time is in the afternoon. I work on writing prompts if I don't have an idea at the time. Then sometimes a line or two will occur to me while walking the dog or driving somewhere and I can finish it at home. I started writing on the backs of envelopes as this made the space I needed to fill up smaller than an 8" x 11.5" sheet of paper. I did this for quite some time and have gradually turned to writing on the computer although some poems still start on the back of envelopes.
You've been a member of several writing groups. What do you believe constitutes a good group?
I think a good writing group is made up of diverse styles and diverse backgrounds of the members. Thoughtfulness, kind yet candid, are traits needed as sometimes the subjects are close to someone's heart. We laughingly call our suggestions as "slashing criticism" due to some of my group being in some not-so-friendly groups. We always state what we like the best first; perhaps a line, stanza or even the layout of the poem and then gently explain what works and doesn't work for each of us.