Chris: Welcome to Lyric Essentials, where writers and poets share with us a passage or poem which is “essential” to their bookshelf and who they are as a writer. Today Bianca Spriggs reads “Sky Seasoning” by Shel Silverstein.
I don’t even know where to begin, Bianca. So much fun and so many feels. Shel Silverstein needs no introduction, but what about your relationship with his poetry and other work? When did that start and what was that like?
Bianca: I was born in ’81, so narrative was introduced to me through the world-building of authors and artists like Jim Henson, Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis, and Shel Silverstein. Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic were formative in that, for the first time perhaps, I was introduced to the power of simple pen-and-ink drawings accompanied by poems. But at a sub-textual level, this was how I began to learn about poetry, how accessible and pleasurable it could be. I have been drawing since I could hold a pencil, but in terms of writing, through Silverstein, I was learning long before I even knew I would be a poet, if not so much as to wield, perhaps begin internalizing how word choice, syntax, and rhythm all work together to create memorable experiences for a reader. I wouldn’t really be exposed to that knowledge again until I started reading Shakespeare in high-school English classes and not much later, Hurston. But the fluidity and potential of language began, for me, with Silverstein.
Chris: So, how about this poem in particular. Of all things Silverstein what made you decide to read “Sky Seasoning?”
Bianca: “Sky Seasoning,” is a kind of ars poetica, isn’t it? A poet has an encounter or experience or we make an observation, and then somewhere in working through that maybe mundane thing, what often feels like some kind of combination of being in the right place at the right time or just dumb luck, the experience becomes heightened. Made new. Palatable. Delicious. Worth tuning over and over again in our mouths. Worth savoring. So, I love this poem for that reason. It makes me feel closest to Silverstein in terms of the creative process.
Chris: I’ve never heard poetry sound so tasty—I wish writing was like that for me. Can you speak more about your own creative process? Also, are there any specific lines or rhymes in “Sky Seasoning” that are particularly delicious?
Bianca: My own creative process sometimes feels a little schizophrenic because I’m a multidisciplinary artist and I write in more than one genre, so it just really depends on what I’m doing when. But whatever it is, when I’m making new work, the process is always fairly isolated and I protect that radio silence. I don’t know if you’re a Doctor Who fan, but I love how the Doctor talks about time as “wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff.” In other words, it’s nonlinear. As a teaching/working artist who spends a lot of her time working from home or the studio or on the road, time is more fluid to me than regular business hours where we’re all expected to be productive between brackets of time. I’ve learned to seek out or create pockets of time where I can access that silence, usually on late nights or weekends. So, these days, I don’t have much of a social life and I don’t even watch much television anymore but when I do, I’ll have something in my hands even then like a series of drawings I’m working on. I don’t know how to just sit still anymore and not have something to do with my hands. I also enjoy experimenting which means for every successful work I share with an audience, there is a graveyard of botched pieces somewhere on my desktop. I hoard those and often recycle them later into franken-poems. Even “bad” work teaches me something and I know I have to get through so many crappy pieces to get to the good ones.
In this poem, I like in particular, the repetition of “delicious.” The novelist A.J. Verdelle always says, “Repetition is holy,” and for me, because a poem is basically a confined space, when a poet uses a word again and again in such close proximity to itself, it calls attention to the word and the sensation the word seeks to create. So, I like the emphasis on “delicious” because of its urgency and the suggestion that the mundane has been transformed so completely into the exquisite.
Chris: You mentioned accessibility earlier. Is that a quality that makes a poem more successful? Being inaccessible probably wouldn’t be a good thing, but I would say there is a fair amount of esoteric poetry around.
Bianca: Agreed. I suppose it takes all kinds. But I feel like so much depends on taste when it comes to art. In terms of my own taste, I like poetry like I like my eggs—fairly straightforward. If I order a fried egg in a restaurant, that’s what I expect to have brought back to the table, not a soufflé. Some people are going to enjoy the soufflé because they enjoy the complexity over that of a fried egg. That said, in its simplest cooked form, let’s talk about the quality of a single egg. Where it comes from—Walmart, the local grocery, the farmer’s market. How you choose to prepare it—boiled, fried, over-easy, basted, scrambled. You can add a little butter, sea salt and pepper and dill to enrich the flavor. Mix it one way, you get an omelet, mix it the other, you get the soufflé. Personally, I like to be able to recognize my dish and savor each unique working part even when put together.
My point is, I feel the same way about poetry. For me, when it is shared with an audience, art becomes a conversation. In that sense, I prefer straightforward content with strong, fresh, and surprising imagery. I like tension. I like nuanced syntax. I like thoughtful line endings. I don’t like language to get in the way of the poem. If the poet is sharing the poem, then I assume they are initiating a conversation with me. I would rather not have to bushwhack my way through coded language or form to get to the point. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to work at all for the piece or not learn something new, but I would prefer that that work come from the complexity of the idea driving the poem and not what contains the poem. The idea behind the poem should feel multifaceted, rich, resonant, and it should billow. Maybe this sounds rather narrow, but I would rather spend time focusing on the poem’s content and not the poet—which for me, is what happens with those more esoteric poems. Drawing attention to how the poem is arranged over the content seems masturbatory. And function and form should be balanced. Basically, I just wanna eat the egg, okay, not the plate it’s served on, and I certainly don’t want to find a strand of the chef’s hair in it.
Chris: How about contemporary poets—who sates your appetite for rhythm and poetic umami?
Bianca: I always enjoy reading and am constantly learning from the work of Patricia Smith, Kim Addonizio, and Mary Oliver. But I really can’t crow enough about my Kentucky poets-in-arms. First, I am always over the moon about Bulgarian poet, Katerina Stoykova-Klemer. We are at work together on co-editing a second poetry anthology, but her own work is always thrilling to read and I learn something new every time I read one of her poems. She’s a master of pure, deceptively modest content delivered in the tightest of lines. And my goodness, Kathleen Driskell. Her collection, Next Door to the Dead revolves around living in a converted church next door to a graveyard that ended up still being in use. I have a taxidermy collection, so this book is of course, right up my alley anyway. But I really admire the mysteries in Kathleen’s content, the heavy muscle in her imagery, and also how she just makes writing poems look so damn effortless. And of course, there is Ada Limón, who Kentucky gets to claim as one of the home team now. I was at a reading with Ada a couple of weeks ago in Louisville, and of course, Bright Dead Things, her most recent collection, is an absolute triumph, but she read some brand new material that just had us all absolutely captivated. You know it’s too real when the whole room lets out a collective breath at the end. Ada maintains this tightrope walker’s agility to balance between narrative and lyric, and while she doesn’t flinch away from deep sorrow, she doesn’t torture the reader either. Her work feels inclusive. Like we’re all in this together. So, maybe I’m gushing, but these poets keep my pulse racing and my pen moving.
Bianca Lynne Spriggs is an award-winning poet from Lexington, Kentucky. She is the author of four collections of poetry including the recent,Call Her by Her Name (Northwestern University Press) and the forthcoming, The Galaxy is a Dance Floor (Argos Books). She is the co-editor for, Circe’s Lament: An Anthology of Wild Women Poetry (Accents Publishing) and the forthcoming Undead: A Poetry Anthology of Ghouls, Ghosts, and More (Apex Publications). You can find more about her poetry, collaborations, and multimedia work here:www.biancaspriggs.com
Chris Petruccelli escaped Fairbanks and is doin’ mighty fine in East Tennessee. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Appalachian Heritage, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Still: The Journal, Nashville Review, and elsewhere. Check out his chapbook Action at a Distance from UIndy’s Etchings Press.