Working for his muse (Part 2): R. T. Sedgwick engineers his poetic vision

My first measure of a ‘good’ poem is that its attraction is lasting – I like it every time I read it.

Your first book (outside of the anthologies you participated in earlier in the course of your retirement), “Left Unlatched: in hopes that you’ll come in…” (2011) won the San Diego Best Poetry Book Award in the year of its release. Your second book, “The Sky is Not the Limit” (2016) was nominated for the same award in 2017. That’s quite a remarkable start. Is there a technique that you used to gather such positive reader attention and acclaim so early in your writing career?

I always kept (and still do keep) my poems in several file folders in my computer. The file names are: “Rough Drafts”, “Incomplete”, “To Be Critiqued”, “Needs Work” and “Next Book”. When I get enough poems for a full length collection (I like to have at least 100 poems) I put together a manuscript and submit it for publication. So each poem in every book has been critiqued, revised, and critiqued again and it must continue to arouse my interest each time I read it before it makes the Next Book File (my current one has 34 poems). So, I try to set high standards for each individual poem and I refuse to pad a book with any of my poems that do not meet those standards. (And I have plenty of those, which I never totally give up on.)

 

It sounds as if you are very organized in your work. I’m guessing this is a habit from your days in R&D. Are any of your standards for poetry quality directly “measurable” (and if so, how?), or is it all just about the emotions in you that the words evoke?

The stone house in which R.T. lived in from the age of 6 until he entered the army. Photo via R.T. Sedgwick.

The response I get from others, both in critique and in casual readings is also an important measure for what I call a ‘good’ poem. Of course, the word measure used here for poetry is qualitative rather than quantitative.

 

How do you select people with whom you’d gauge such responses to a casual reading? Is there a specific type of person whose opinion you value over others?

Basically, the people I respect and value as critiquers of my poetry are people who seem to like my poems as much as I do and have a strong desire to help me make them better. They are almost like babysitters you can trust. The ones I don’t consider quite as helpful are those who want my poems to be written the way they might have written them, with ‘rules’ such as no “-ings”, no articles, etc.

 

This year, you released your third book “Clipping the Wings of Chronos.” In what ways does this book of poetry differ from your previous works?

I am always hoping that my craft keeps improving as I write more poetry, so in that sense I feel the poems in “Clipping” are examples of my improving craft. Also, and it may be due to my own aging, but I am growing more conscious of time in my poetry, the quality of time and how it affects our awareness of time as we read or write poetry.

 

Do you mean by time the age from which the narrator in your work takes its frame of reference? Or is there another meaning to time that you were going for here?

Scientific time (if I may call it that) is fleeting and unstoppable in this life. Our inner awareness of time (subjective time) seems to be variable. Poetry mostly deals with the latter so time can be stretched of condensed. I like to think of moments of ecstasy as lasting forever (even though they are usually quite brief). So in “Clipping the Wings of Chronos”, it is my love poems and the immersing of the reader in them, that “time” for them can be slowed down.

 

You wrote a poem entitled “Dealing With My Muse,” which you featured within “Clipping.” Could you tell me a bit about what you intended to express with it?

Poets often refer to their “muse” as a source of their inspiration for writing a poem. I wanted to “personify” my muse by speaking directly to her, acknowledging the power she has over me as I compose my poems. In the end, I conclude that all her effort helps me to have a life “well spent” as I refer to the grains of sand that pass through an hour glass.

 

How do you picture your muse to be if it were an actual person? How would you describe her as a character in a story?

She appears out of the ceiling in the early hours of morning wearing a gauzy red negligee and sometimes wakes me up. She has a pretty face (classical like a 1930’s model) and lets me make vain attempts to seduce her as she remains in control. The moment I take control, she disappears, leaving me with a vague idea for a poem. So I guess she begins many of my poems and lets me finish them, since she only rarely re-appears during the writing/revising phases.

 

Outside of this poem, which sounds like it could present at least a part of what would be an interesting conversation, is there another favorite that you have within “Chronos,” and if so, why is that one a favorite?

It’s hard to pick a favorite (it would be like picking your favorite child) but I very much like this one:

 

Butterfly Kisses

When we first met      your gauzy
glances turned my sinewy membranes
to ashes and I felt as though I’d
perhaps invented sculpted glass
It’s the story of a simple man expecting
the woman of his dreams to embrace him
and you did just that     We threw coins
into places where pigeons were splashing
Sometimes you listened carefully to me
like a good silk dress in church
and other times you were as elusive
as one of the ghosts of Rome      When I
told you I’d never been served champagne
in a glass slipper      and you said you owned
a pair      my body burst into flames
like a wheat field in Tuscany      afire
with blood-red poppies      It’s hard to know
if we’re floating along with the Tiber
or standing on the bank watching it go by
But didn’t someone say that wisdom
is mostly knowing what to overlook
So many blank pages await us in this world
we must remind ourselves over and over
to try to forget those dog-eared ones
Thoughts like these seem to line up
and then complain about the extended wait
I sometimes feel like a printed page longing
to be cursive      Just think      a caterpillar kiss
could never make it at a time like this
that’s why butterflies are so lucky      Here
bring your face in      just a little bit closer
That’s it      Perfect      Now blink

R.T. Sedgwick

 

As to why I like it? That is hard to say. It is what I would think of as the beginning of a strong relationship. It is romantic. A story of a young couple getting to know each other while on a trip to Italy. It’s one of those stories you don’t want to end and I believe it would make a great movie scene.