Today I have the privelege of interviewing a fabulous poet, Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer. As well as writing poetry, she also does performance poetry and is fondly called Word Woman. Once you see her perform, there is no question as to why. Rosemerry is vibrant and energetic and enthusiastic about her poetry, and about life, and this shines through in her work. She was Western Slope Poet Laureate here in Colorado from 2015-2017, she leads poetry and in 2016, she gave a fabulous TED Talk in Paonia, Colorado, The Art of Changing Metaphores, which is definitely worth watching if you wish to see how we can use metaphores to help shape our thinking, our lives and even the world around us. Please help me welcome this wonderful Word Woman to Writing to be Read.
Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an poet?
Rosemerry: I have a very strong memory of sitting on the floor in my fifth grade classroom in a reading corner, and finding a poem by Walter de la Mare in a magazine. It was about a snowflake, and it began, “Before I melt, come look at me, this lovely icy filigree.” I memorized it, only 12 lines, and fell totally in love with the sounds of the poem. I had no idea what it meant, I just knew it thrilled me, the way the sounds chimed with each other. I felt it in my whole body. I don’t know that’s so much when I knew I wanted to be a poet, but it is when the love affair began.
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of being a poet?
Rosemerry: Hmmm. Perhaps it is knowing that I have so much farther to go in my craft—that I am not yet writing the poems I feel I am here to write. Still so many layers of me to peel away, still so much to explore. And no way to get there except to write and write and practice and practice and read and read …
Kaye: Would you talk a bit about your personal poetic process?
Rosemerry: Since 2006 I have written a poem a day, and that daily practice is a huge part of my process. It makes it so that writing a poem isn’t just something that happens when I am sitting in front of a page, it’s something that is happening all day long. It completely changes the way I am in the world—how I pay attention, how I meet the moment. I’ll add that I am an avid reader of poems and read many every day—I am always trying to expand my poem horizons, see what a poem can do in other’s hands, and teach myself based on what other poets have done successfully.
Kaye: As a poet, you sculpt your words to form an image in the minds of those who are listening or reading your work. So, in a way, you are an artist and words are your medium. Are you creative in other ways, as well?
Rosemerry: It wouldn’t be painting (though I enjoy collaborating with artists!) But I do sing with a women’s acapella group, Heartbeat. We’ve been together since 1994, and I love pushing myself musically with them. And in the kitchen, I like to be creative with cooking and baking. And perhaps I am a creative parent? In fact, my son tells me he wishes I were more normal. And perhaps this is a good place to mention that I am currently finishing the first season of a podcast on creative process called “Emerging Form,” which I am doing with science writer Christie Aschwanden.
Kaye: How did you become attached to the handle of Word Woman? Is there a story behind that?
Rosemerry: About twenty years ago I was trying to come up with a business name that would accommodate all my language interests. At the time, I was an editor for a newspaper, freelancing for magazines, writing and teaching poems and performing a lot. Plus, my Master’s Degree is in English Language and Linguistics. I am obsessed with words, always have been. It just seemed to fit! It kind of cracks me up that it sounds like a super hero. The words themselves are the heroes. Poems have literally saved my life.
Kaye: Your book, Naked for Tea recently came out and was a finalist for the Able Muse Book Awards. Would you like to tell us a little about that?
Rosemerry: Such a thrill! I was sooooooo hoping to be published by Able Muse. I love their poetry books. The day that I found out that they were going to publish it, even so it wasn’t the winner, I was in the Telluride Library. When the text came through, I started jumping up and down, and was soon surrounded by a host of cheering and exuberant librarians! The library is a great place to find out about a book contract!
Kaye: Naked for Tea is an interesting title. How do you decide the titles for your books?
Rosemerry: Usually the titles come from lines in poems, and that’s the case here, too. The title poem is actually named, That’s Right. The first line is, “I showed up naked for tea.” And it’s the perfect poem to represent the book in that I feel that the whole collection is about the art of showing up as vulnerably, as authentically as possible. I joke that the poems are all about failure, and they are—about finding the beauty in our brokenness, our mistakes.
Kaye : Naked for Tea also has a very interesting cover. How did you come up with it? If you don’t mind me asking, did you serve as the model?
Rosemerry: It’s not me! The publisher, Alex Pepple, had no idea the stir it would cause, because it certainly does look as if it’s my naked spine and long brown hair. The name of the photo he used is Back Story, which tickles me—perfect for a book of poems. I am happy with the metaphorical suggestion of showing up naked.
Kaye: Would you talk a little about performance poetry and how you got into that?
Rosemerry: When I moved to Telluride in 1994, I was lucky to fall in almost immediately with Art Goodtimes, one of the finest performers of poetry in Colorado. He awed me. So physical. So playful. So powerful. Before that I had NO performance poetry skills. What luck to find myself in close proximity to a master—and one who was willing to give me honest, gentle feedback, too.
Kaye: Performance Poetry is really a physical medium, yet when you perform, your movements appear as if they were a natural part of your speech. Your movements flow smooth and graceful. Does it ever feel as if you are doing a dance with your poetry? Have you ever tried adding music to your poetry performances?
Rosemerry: I naturally talk with my hands and body, which, I think, is lucky for poetry performance, though I don’t doubt that the performance enhances it. There are small pieces in a few poems which I have intentionally choreographed, but for the most part, I just let my body do what it does. I have found, though, that it often will move the same way for the same poem, and that these repeated gestures are very helpful for memorization—it’s as if the poem gets in the body which helps it to lodge in the mind.
As for music, yes! I love adding music! Of course I sing myself sometimes—to enter a poem or within a poem—but to have someone else accompany me is one of my greatest pleasures! I perform frequently with my good friend Kyra Kopestonski, a cellist. She and I have so much fun playing around and finding ways for the music and the poem to speak to each other. It’s especially great for very short poems because those are very hard to perform successfully without musical interludes. But it’s especially great for all poems! And I’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with many different musicians—guitar, flute, bass, drums, even a whole band. I would love to be like Laurie Anderson and have my own band!
Kaye: What is the strangest inspiration for a poem you’ve ever had?
Rosemerry: Ha! I’ve written some mighty weird poems. Picking up a grave digger hitchhiker, perhaps? Black widow egg sacs? Wearing a tail?
Kaye: What is the single most important quality in a poem for you?
Kaye: What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Rosemerry: From David Lee, past poet laureate of Utah and a very fine poet and performer: Surround yourself by poets better than you are.
Kaye: What is the one thing in your writing career that is the most unusual or unique thing you’ve done so far?
Rosemerry: Tough to say … but here’s the first thing that comes to mind. Once I participated as a guest artist for the Art & Architecture Weekend in Telluride. The Ah Haa School assembled a team to support me. We used three-line poems (I have thousands) and they painted them on the walls, they made garlands with poems, I had a cream dress covered in poems, white gogo boots covered in poems … and then I stood in the middle of the decorated room at a table with a bowl full of words and the participants came in and either picked a word or gave me one of their own, and then, after a brief conversation with them about why they chose the word, I wrote them a personal three-line poem on the spot—87 in six hours. I felt so in the zone, the day whizzed by. It was absolutely magical. People wept, hugged me, kissed me, laughed. It was an incredible interaction. And then I was given the juried artist award for the whole event, icing on the cake!
Kaye: Imagine a future where you no longer write poetry. What would you do?
Rosemerry: I can’t imagine it. Really. I think if I were deserted and alone on a desert island, I might still write poems in the sand. But if I try really really hard to not be me and think of what else I would do, um, drive race cars. But I would never do that.
Kaye: It seems like poetry really is ‘in your blood’. Can you give me an example of how poetry flows out into the other areas of your life?
Rosemerry: Well, it does feel like an integral part of me. And I guess it does leak out! I have a little game with myself to see how poems might make their ways into the hands of people who think they don’t like poems. Part of that is doing readings. Part of that is leading collaborative workshops with other teachers, pairing poetry with meditation or painting or healing from grief. Part of that is writing short poems on river rocks and leaving them all over town (in stairwells, public bathrooms, on street corners, etc). Like a poetry easter bunny, any given day of the year. I’ve left many hundreds of rocks out there, and they are always picked up! But I would say that more than poetry flows out, it flows in. I feel as if I am always finding poems, other people’s poems and poems waiting to be written. That’s such a thrill!
Kaye: What’s the most fun part of writing a poem for you? What’s the least fun part?
Rosemerry: Most fun: The blank before the poem arrives. All that potential! And then the thrill of the seed of the idea showing up. That AND when the ending shows up and you know, “Yes, yes, that’s it.”
Least fun: realizing that I have already used the words blossom, sometimes, moon, shine and invitation a million times and I need to come up with another word.
Kaye: Which poet, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with?
Rosemerry: Only one?? And I think you mean besides the poets I presently hang out with. Hmm. Gerard Manley Hopkins. I think it would be awkward, but to be that close to greatness?? I would be happy to sit there in awkward silence as we ate our boiled potatoes.
Kaye: What advice do you have for aspiring poets?
Rosemerry: Surround yourself with other poets. Though the act of writing is solitary, as Ammons would say, you “sit alone picking away at your own liver,” the art of it and the communion of it is in community. Most of my best friends are poets—they inspire me, chide me, keep me in line, offer me a life line.
And of course, read. Read. Read smart—with a pen in your hand, taking notes on what you love and why. Read for pleasure.
And last, memorize, or, better yet, learn poems, as we say, by heart.
I want to thank Rosemerry for sharing with us today on Writing to be Read. Her energy and enthusiasm seems to be contagious for me. I hope it is for all of you aspiring poets out there, too. You can learn more about Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer and the amazing things that she’s done on her Word Woman website, where you’ll find calendar, book sales, writing prompts and more. Her poetry books are avaiable on Amazon and you can visit her Author Page , too. You can also find her daily poems here. Please take the time to like the post or leave a comment to show your support for Rosemerry and/or Writing to be Read.
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If you are an author, poet or screenwriter and you’d like to be interviewed on Writing to be Read, drop Kaye an email at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com with “Interview Request” in the subject line.