Interview with Tory Adkisson, 2010 PR Poetry Contest Winner
Intern Marc interviews Tory Adkisson, the 2010 winner of the Potomac Review’s poetry contest for his poem “Scarecrows.” Entries to the Potomac Review’s 2012 poetry contest will be accepted through February 1, 2012.
Intern Marc: What was the inspiration behind your poem “Scarecrows”?
Tory Adkisson: “Scarecrows” was born out of a desire to write a poem that contrasted with much of what I had been writing up until the point that I wrote it. By that, I mean a poem not in first person and a poem that benefitted from a sonnet-like compression and rhetorical structure. My inspiration in terms of subject came from being transplanted from Southern California to the middle of Ohio—harvesting imagery was all around me, realized in the environment, the seasons. How could I not write about it?
Intern Marc: One of the reasons why I really loved this poem is because of how gripping the imagery was and its ability to immediately draw me in. How important do you feel it is for a poet to connect with their audience through their work?
Tory Adkisson: Thank you for kind words. I think it is important to connect to your audience as a writer, but formulating that connection is not something you can really control. Writing is often read (when we’re lucky enough that it is read) apart from the writer, without an understanding of who they are there to inform or how you should receive the work. Should this poem be read as funny? Serious? Grave? Erotic? I can’t answer that, but I hope my poems do say “something” to a reader. I’m less interested in dictating what is said than I am in knowing that something is said. And heard.
Intern Marc: Who are your favorite poets? Has their writing style influenced yours in any way?
Tory Adkisson: This is a tough question. I think my engagement with poetry really started with Wallace Stevens and his curious metaphysical mapping of the world. Poets like Donne are of significant importance to me as well, but as far as more contemporary influences, I’d cite Elizabeth Bishop, James Merrill, Frank O’Hara, John Berryman, and Allen Ginsberg of chief importance. Moving further into the present, I love the work of Henri Cole, Carl Phillips, Joanie Mackowski, Li-Young Lee, Louise Glück, and Jack Gilbert. All have had a profound influence on the way I understand the lyric, its many possibilities and limitations.
Intern Marc: What do you feel a poem needs to do/have in order to be successful?
Tory Adkisson: Poems succeed and fail on their own terms, and every poet understands this idea differently. I can only speak for myself and my understanding of what makes my poems successful (if and when they are.) For me, linguistic fluidity is important—a variety of registers, the use of words both familiar and slightly uncommon, but seemingly spoken by the same mouth. I think some sense of stakes, a thread of chaos, is also vital—the images in my poems are often a little whimsical. It serves to elevate the situations in my poems and balance incongruity with emotional clarity.
Intern Marc: Do you have any messages to poets who have not yet been published?
Tory Adkisson: I do. “Scarecrows” was the first poem I ever had accepted for publication, and for me, publishing something—anything—was a self-imposed requirement I needed to fulfill before I could think of myself as a poet. This attitude, I think, was a mistake, one that took time for me, a high achieving, lower middle-class, mixed-race, first generation college student to learn. My advice is don’t fret and rush to publish—when the writing is ready, as “Scarecrows” thankfully was, it will find a home on its own. (Well, you still need to submit it!) I’ve learned the value of sitting with the writing and understanding what its character is before sending it out. It’s made me more content with the work, overall, and more comfortable in the isolation this line of work so often affords.
Intern Marc: Are there any projects you are working on now?
Tory Adkisson: I feel like I am always working on many things all at once. Currently, I am writing my thesis and completing my last year as an MFA student at The Ohio State University, where I’ve also been teaching and editing poetry for The Journal, our literary magazine. I’ve applied to PhD programs and fellowships and hope to further develop my writing and work on my first book. I don’t have anything too formulated yet, but true to form, it appears as though myth, place, and the male body will be my subjects and concerns.
Tory Adkisson was born in West Covina, California, and is currently completing his MFA at The Ohio State University. He also serves as poetry editor of The Journal. His work has appeared recently in CutBank, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Salamander, and is forthcoming in Sou’wester, Cream City Review, Cave Wall, Third Coast, and elsewhere.