After 23 years of dedicating his weekends to writing poetry, the immensely talented Larry D. Thomas became a full-time poet in 1998. A decade later, he was named the Poet Laureate of Texas, and in 2009 was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters. Sophisticated but accessible, his meticulously constructed poems are the best illustration of his belief that the poem "is a perfect vehicle for capturing the purest essence of something through the concise, artistic use of language." Larry's work has been with Agave Magazine from the very beginning: "Gingerbread and Coffee" was featured in Agave's inaugural issue, "Agave" appeared in Vol. 2 Issue 2, and "Ice and Fire" can be found in the most recent edition... so it was definitely time for a chat.
AGAVE MAGAZINE: Your poems can drop your readers into vast Texan landscapes just as effortlessly as they can slide us into urban art museums; while you address a wide range of themes in your work, do you find you have a predilection for any particular one?
LARRY D. THOMAS: One “trigger” which seems to keep inspiring my poetry is the borderlands region of the Great Chihuahuan Desert of far West Texas (I was raised in Midland). Although a harsh environment of dust, rock, thorns, stingers, fangs, claws, and precious little rain, it is also a place of haunting natural beauty. I find this juxtaposition intriguingly fascinating. The people who eke out a living in this desolate place are obdurate, resourceful, and highly self-reliant, and I have looked up to them my entire adult life.
Within a few sparse but perfectly worded lines, your poetry manages to be both beautifully rich and relentlessly honest; why do you tend toward this style rather than something more ornate?
I always attempt to write poems which are “ostensibly” accessible. I like to write poems which the average college-educated person can get something out of, yet poems which are intricately crafted with an artistry appreciated by the sophisticated literary establishment. It is much more difficult for me to write well-crafted free verse poems than poems in traditional form. I work without a blueprint and must achieve the elements of form through the use of internal rhymes, rhythmic structure, irregular line integrity, etc.
How do you write, and what balance do you strike between inspiration and perspiration?
I attempt to dedicate several hours each day (from three to five hours) in the composition of new poems. The elements of poetic composition are ruthlessly demanding, and necessitate an extremely high level of focus and concentration. My poetry is usually “muse-driven,” and I rarely know when I sit down to write a poem what it will be about that day. It often begins with a single image or phrase around which I start “building” the poem. Early in my writing process, I pay scant attention to “shaping” what I write. I let it flow as freely as possible so as not to stifle my creativity. And then the “perspiration” comes! I revise my work very extensively (through twenty or more revisions) until I end up with what I feel is a solid first draft of a poem. I will revisit the poem for several days after I have written the draft for final tweaking.
Although I feel that both inspiration and perspiration are central to the crafting of a poem, I sincerely believe that the perspiration is the more important of the two. A poem, as a work of art, should be crafted with consummate skill, and no poet, regardless of the level of her talent, can successfully complete a poem without the sweat of extensive revision.
When are you satisfied with a poem?
That is an excellent question which defies a simple response. In the interest of concision, I look carefully at each word, especially those in excess of two syllables, and eliminate them or substitute them with another word, unless I feel that the word is crucial to either the meaning of the poem or the poem’s musicality. I look especially carefully at modifiers (adjectives and adverbs) to see if the poem will work more effectively without them.
I can’t honestly say that I am ever truly satisfied with a poem, because I am an “imperfect” human being who strives to create a “perfect” work of art. After I have revised a poem as much as absolutely possible, I seem to know “in my gut” when it is time to lay it aside and begin another poem. That “gut” seems to improve with each additional year of my writing experience.
What has been the most challenging aspect of your career as a poet?
Not allowing myself to become disappointed with the size of my audience. Serious poetry has always enjoyed a relatively small audience, yet a most discerning and well read one! And the audience we enjoy is most loyal and supportive.