Five Questions for... Helen Losse

The cover of your new poetry collection, Seriously Dangerous, has an arresting image of a burning cross on the cover. Tell us about the poetry inside and how the cover relates. 
I chose the cover hoping to shock people and to associate the “cross without a savior” mentioned in the title poem, “Seriously Dangerous” with the KKK. I begin the book with the epigraph from Oscar Wilde – “An idea that is not dangerous is unworthy of being called an idea at all.” Seriously Dangerous is a book whose aim is to get a person to question (re-evaluate) his/her own values; those who do not question themselves will not grow. The world is filled with more questions than answers. People who know all the answers might need some new questions. The first poem, “The Danger of Pretense,” poses the question, “Are we a people / apart from the fury?” Let me paraphrase, Are we all Americans, when it isn’t 9/11?, or Do we all feel the same about the Fourth of July? And then in “Evergreen Today,” “But what can I contrast beauty to, /if I don’t see abandoned ugliness, /through my window toward the world?” In the Western world, we have ben trained to think in terms of opposites. Or consider “Just Saying,” where no (stated) question appears.

Just Saying 

I have been suspended upside down
in a car.

Sliding off the road,
we rolled slowly, then hung

suspended by seatbelts

until free but claustrophobic.
We rested in a roof-cradle.
And when we escaped

by kicking a door open, I did not
think of anything but prayer.

But of course, there is a question I didn’t ask: How does what I believe, “suspended upside down / in a car,” relate to a burning cross? I’m a poet not God. Each of us must ask and then answer his/her own questions. And there is the cross that does hold a Savior. Does He matter?

Faith plays a big part in your writing, yet you're not pushy or radical about it. Can you talk a little about that?
Collin, I never back away from saying, I am a Christian, but I do try to disassociate myself from those who want to share their beliefs through fear rather than love. I’ve been a part of the high pressure tactics that aim to gain control of a conversation and then ask, “If you were to die tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?” I find that approach obnoxious, and I don’t want to be known as an obnoxious Christian. I’m happy to discuss my faith with anyone who asks, but I don’t know more about your life than you do. Honest. The reality is, more people have thought about their beliefs than one might suspect and not all questions about God (and life in general) are answered easily. It takes a lifetime to know what we actually believe, because our faith is (or should be) constantly changing—hopefully, growing. Not so, if you just pull verses out of context to prove your point, but that’s not the kind of Christian I want to be. I want to be a fully human Christian—one with more questions than answers. I think God loves everyone, and it is “seriously dangerous” to believe He loves some more than others.

You've worked with some great small presses, like Main Street Rag. Talk about your interactions with them and your feelings on working with small and micro presses. 
With two chapbooks and two full length collections of poetry, I’ve been published on four small presses. Gathering the Broken Pieces was on FootHills Publishing, and Paper Snowflakes was on Southern Hum Press, which is now out of business. I retain good relationships with the editor/publishers of these presses: Michael Czarnecki of FootHills and Jessicca Daigle Martin, who now teaches in Texas. My first full-length book, Better With Friends, was picked up by Rank Stranger Press in 2009. Seriously Dangerous, was published by Main Street Rag Publishing Company earlier this year. M. Scott Douglass, MSR publisher, has published more poetry books than any other small North Carolina press, so I was glad to get my book accepted there; I’m in very good company. Rank Stranger Press will be publishing Mansion of Memory, a re-publication of Paper Snowflakes, plus a few extra poems, early next year. Proceeds from this chapbook will go to Joplin Bright Futures Tornado Fund. Joplin, MO is my hometown, and I felt I wanted to do something to help with the re-building effort after the May 22 tornado.

Who are some contemporary poets you admire and why? 
I studied poetry with Jane Mead at Wake Forest University, where I got my MALS in December 2000. Jane influenced me more than anyone. I admire the risks she takes and how each book reflects her growth as a citizen of the world as well as a poet As a teacher, Jane encouraged each of us to find our own voices. Because of Jane, I think I have. I also met Dennis Sampson at Wake Forest. He encouraged me to write simple, straightforward sentences. Tim Peeler is a poet I admire for his work ethic and understated brilliance. He locates the unique detail in the ordinary image and makes crafting a poem look simple by paying attention to grammar. Then he shocks his reader with his vocabulary, which is vast. He writes about what he knows—lived or researched—in a natural way. He makes writing seem as natural as breathing.

You've been blogging forever – what's your personal take on the state of the blogosphere?
Blogging forever…sometimes it feels that way, doesn’t it? I’ve been blogging so long that I even forgot my own blogiversary last year. Do we still have those? I started Windows Toward the World in February 2006 as a place to showcase my poems. Over the years, it’s been a poetry blog, a place for political comment, and a place to post daily devotions. I’ve ignored it a lot in the last couple of years but still keep all my links there and update pages for my scheduled readings, comments and reviews on books. Facebook has taken time from my blog. As to my personal take on the state of the blogosphere: Not really sure. My blog’s name was also the working title for my first book—the one that became Better With Friends, when we learned of a friend’s cancer just as the book was about to go to press. I actually have a window, am looking through it right now, with a view to our back yard. I still like that title and may use it for a future book. Everyone’s view is limited, and we’re better off if we understand how those limits work. I still think about naming a book after the blog.

Visit Helen's blog at this link.

Comments

Maureen said…
Lovely, informative interview. I'm not familiar with Helen Losse's work but will take some time to read her as a result of finding her here. Great title and cover for her new collection.
Lisa Allender said…
Helen Losse is
a poetry-prophet of sorts. I like how her personal connection to God/Peace often manifests in her (various) poems. Thanks Collin for this remarkable interview. :Dja

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