Luanne Castle has been a Fellow at the Center for Ideas and Society at the University of California, Riverside. She studied English and Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside; Western Michigan University; and Stanford University. Her poetry and creative nonfiction have appeared in Barnstorm Journal, Grist, The Antigonish Review, TAB, River Teeth, Lunch Ticket, Wisconsin Review, and other journals. She contributed to Twice-Told Children’s Tales: The Influence of Childhood Reading on Writers for Adults, edited by Betty Greenway. Luanne divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina.
Luanne Castle’s new poetry collection is Rooted and Winged (Finishing Line Press). Kin Types, a chapbook of poetry and flash nonfiction, was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award. Her first collection of poetry, Doll God (Aldrich), won the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for Poetry. Luanne’s Pushcart and Best of the Net-nominated poetry and prose have appeared in Copper Nickel, American Journal of Poetry, Pleiades, River Teeth, TAB, Verse Daily, Saranac Review, and other journals.
TBE: Congratulations on another feather in your cap. And thank you for taking time out to answer a few questions for The Bookish Elf. Having read and liked your previous poetry collections, Doll God and Kin Types, I was quite excited about your latest book. Could you please tell us more about your latest poetry collection, Rooted and Winged, that isn’t in the blurb? What is the significance of the title?
Luanne Castle: Rooted and Winged refers specifically to images of flight and rootedness found in so many of the poems in the collection. These images are from the natural world, as well as the spiritual world. But it also refers to my family roots as there are quite a few poems about my maternal grandparents. In the poem “Gravity,” this rootedness takes both physical and familial form as the child and the grandfather garden. The poem explores an ambivalent yearning for something greater, represented by the notion of flight.
TBE: How did you first get acquainted with the art of poetry? What aspects of it really piqued your interest? How did you first become involved in writing poetry?
Luanne Castle: I grew up loving both nursery rhymes and folk songs. I had a little record player where I could play both over and over. When my mother gave me an anthology of children’s poetry called Sung Under the Silver Umbrella I was well prepared. At first it was both the rhyme and the idea that words could be shaped almost like art that drew me to poetry. I started writing poetry at home when I was still in elementary school.
TBE: Over the course of the centuries, several forms of poetry came into being and eventually became the channel through which feelings such as love, desire, and revolution were expressed. How do you see some changes in form and thematic concerns across the centuries?
Luanne Castle: At first what we think of as poetry today really were songs, in ballad stanzas, often sung by minstrels. So poetry was a public event. Later, poetry became associated with both drama/playwrighting and specific forms, particularly the sonnet, as well as a continuation of the ballad stanza. Walt Whitman changed the idea of what poetry could be with “Song of Myself.” Poetry began to break out of some of the old constraints. Sometimes this change was through form, like Whitman’s work, which was often free verse. Sometimes it was through an acceptance of more subjects that could be tolerated or engaged with in poetry.
Poets in the 20th century wrote in various types of free verse, as well as sometimes in classic forms. However, for the most part, form became unpopular with some poets, at the same time that new forms such as concrete poetry that is in the shape of the subject matter were developed. Our current century seems to be exploring new forms, reviving forms from other cultures, and in some cases reinventing forms, such as Diane Seuss’ Pulitzer-winning Frank: Sonnets.
TBE: What or who first sparked your interest in poetry? The poems in your book are beautiful, but I’m curious where the ideas for them came from.
Luanne Castle: I see something and want to write a poem about it: a bird, a flower, a memory of the wrench in my grandfather’s hand while he stood in the pit underneath a car he was working on.
TBE: I was wondering if you could elaborate on the process you use to refine your thoughts and turn them into a polished piece of writing.
Luanne Castle: I wish I knew. I try to start with an image rather than a thought, I guess. It’s hard to take thoughts and turn them into images; it’s much easier to take images and turn them into thought processes or representations of thoughts.
TBE: Do you think poetry is an important form of expression and communication? Why?
Luanne Castle: Poetry communicates differently than other forms of expression. Poetry for adults is not meant to be direct, but comes at a topic “slant” (to use Emily Dickinson’s idea) so that the reader/listener can form their own reactions to the poem.
Ambiguity is good in a poem because it makes us think. That said, children’s poetry tends to be very literal, using very little figurative language, and relies more on rhythm, rhyme, and humor. That’s important, too, because that is what allows a child to love poems. When the child becomes older, the child will generally crave more complex communication from poetry. Otherwise, why not just read prose—or a cookbook or bicycle repair manual?
TBE: What would you say to a young person starting out on the road to exploring poetry? Who do you recommend when someone says they want to read more poetry?
Luanne Castle: Read widely from contemporary poets, classic poets, and poets of the 20th century. Get names of poets from a variety of people. Some of my favorites include Gerard Manley Hopkins, Sylvia Plath, Walt Whitman, Audre Lorde, John Donne, Victoria Chang, and Natasha Tretheway. I could go on and on.
TBE: Is there anything you are currently working on that may spark the interest of your readers?
Luanne Castle: I’ve just been finishing up a memoir about my relationship with my father, called Scrap: Salvaging a Family. The manuscript is not written in poems, but in flash nonfiction pieces which are a bit prose poem-like. I really enjoy writing both flash nonfiction and prose poems. I’ll be looking for the right publisher for this project.