FQ: How much of your poetic observer is really you?
LOVELADY: The observer in Grief and Her Three Sisters is me. The entire first section of the book, “The River Gods,” was written at a semi-secluded retreat: a camp house which my wife and I own and maintain, built near the banks of the Sabine River in rural East Texas. “Our Cabin in the Woods” has spawned many poems in this book, though the ones which are pertinent to this section are some of my favorites.
FQ: While much of this work focuses on sadness and frustration, the ending piece, “Move Your Mountain,” seems to suggest hope and renewed determination – will that be the theme of your next collection?
LOVELADY: It is too early to tell which direction the new book will turn. I am leaning toward a whimsical collection, and also toward a collection which concerns itself exclusively with observations about human interactions, since that is more in the realm of what I am doing now, teaching high school English. There will be more sorrows and fateful predetermination discussed in this new book. I am also inclined to write about a tendency that we have developed as a society to ignore the fundamental values of human beings who are often overlooked because of their physical impairments and predicaments, or their social status. These topics will certainly be an important focus of the next book, judging from what I have compiled so far.
Of course, once one commits to a course of action in writing he is doomed to mold his thoughts toward that end. I prefer to let the creative process provide its own direction, much like the transcendentalist poets of the mid- to late-19th century did. They believed that knowledge could be obtained outside of the school house and the church house through keen observations of nature. They considered their most important ideas and encounters to be gifted to them by way of spiritual experiences.
I specifically cite Mary Oliver as one of the most important examples of a modern-day transcendentalist poet. I feel that poets of her generation and mine are still drawing inspiration from the early transcendentalist pioneers like Walt Whitman and Emily Dickenson.
I consider the transcendentalist movement to be a traditional, ongoing poetic movement which I intend to follow, and support to some extent, in all of my further creative works.
FQ: Did the isolation of “Covid times” spur you to write more, share more, about sorrow and loss?
LOVELADY: I had not really thought about “Covid times” having caused me to frame the mood of this book in such a downcast way. Covid may have “subliminally” set the mood of Grief and Her Three Sisters, I don’t really know. My first book, Other Worlds, in Other Words, came out during Covid times, but most of the poetry in it was written prior to the beginning of the pandemic. I intentionally left out any poetic references to the pandemic in Other Worlds, hoping that it might avoid being lumped into the category of “Pandemic poetry.” So much poetry had already been written about this sad and very unfortunate period in world history. Instead, when I wrote Grief and Her Three Sisters, I wanted to get out ahead of this trend, using the collective melancholic mood generated by Covid to focus the reader’s attention on healing our collective grief, and surviving the emotional aftermath of the pandemic.
FQ: What writer/poet has influenced you most in your creations?
LOVELADY: Walt Whitman’s writings have provided me with the most fertile ground for planting poetic seeds. I find his views on spiritualism and his transcendental philosophy to be both fascinating and alluring. The way in which he turned his phrases has always appealed to me. His ideas about people living beyond their suffering and death, becoming changed in one way or another, or transfigured into other forms, has plainly influenced my writings.
Robert Frost has had a tremendous influence on me, as well. His rhyming prowess and his use of simple characters whom he celebrates in his poetry always glows with such passion and fascination that I continue to be impressed. I have read practically every poem he ever wrote and still enjoy reading them again, and again. The way he detailed the changing times that he and the people of his generation experienced is still valid today, in my opinion.
Read “Out, Out–” which recounts the tragic death of a young man at a Vermont sawmill, and Frost’s perception of the callousness of society toward child labor during the later-day Industrial Revolution. The descriptive style Frost uses in this poem is conveyed in such a matter-of-fact way, relating what one might consider a particularly horrific incident, that the reader gets the feeling it probably happened all the time back in his day. Such sorrowful events certainly are still occurring in other developing industrial societies around the world where child labor laws have not yet been instituted.
Then read “The Line Gang,” which seems to deride the onslaught of Progress, which reaches deep into Frost’s isolated, mountain community to bring the gift of communication to rural America, at the cost of throwing down the forests to achieve its ultimate, paradoxical end. These kinds of themes fascinate me. Frost's style of poetry is frank and honest, and filled with repeating moral conflicts; classic poetry laced through with “man vs. nature” themes. These are some of the reasons why I think that he has probably influenced me the most.
FQ: What is your favorite poem in this collection? Does it evoke certain memories?
LOVELADY: It is so hard to choose which poem is my favorite. I think that it’s a toss-up between “Headstones Set in Rows” and “Relic.” Both are impressive to me for different reasons.
The former is extremely nostalgic and is written about my father, Huey Lovelady, and the great vacuum he left in my life after his passing. He attempted to leave a legacy for his children in the form of the land he homesteaded and maintained for six decades while his progeny eventually wandered away, leaving him and his dreams behind as they went about forming their own lives. He wound up instilling in me a different legacy: an attitude of perseverance, for which I am eternally grateful.
“Relic,” on the other hand, is a celebration of the perpetuity of life and its ever-changing nature. I was walking along the beach bordering the river near my cabin one morning when I came upon a fossilized seashell in the sand and began to wonder about the changes it had endured. All of the events which had transpired over millions of years came racing into my mind. I began to imagine all these changes had taken place just so that this fossil would be left there, specifically for me to find.
I then imagined myself as being that living creature and I described what it was like enduring the processes of decay, degradation, calcification, and finally redemption. I imagined that these processes brought me full circle, to the present, with the passing of time, till I wound up a trinket in the hands of a small child playing on a beach.
The opening stanza reads:
“Ocean employ your roaring, gurgling voice.
Tell me the number of my days
You patiently count
Grain by precious grain
Falling, ever falling.”
I used the tried-and-true symbols of the “ocean” for eternity and the falling sand for “measured days of time” to set a mystic mood for the poem. The rest was imagination.
FQ: Do you journal your thoughts and ideas, as suggested by some of the opening lines of the four sections of this volume?
LOVELADY: Yes, I do some journaling, but mostly I jot down strong impressions which evolve into more concrete ideas about poems, which I later develop, often leading to some interesting poetry. Most of my journaled ideas have never been published. They are in prose form and may lead to a book of short stories or memoirs some time in the future. I would have to write them as fiction because no one would ever believe some of the things that have happened to me in real life. I have nothing planned along that line right now.
FQ: Do you constantly “think in poetry” as you observe the world around you?
LOVELADY: I don’t walk around thinking about poetry all day. I often see or hear something happen that says, “Hey, that would be a great thing to write about.” Usually it is something that is sad which comes to mind about the human condition; there is so much of that surrounding us. I often think of this or that event as being “poetic” or representing poetry—the irony of life events, this or that occurrence playing out as if it were destined to happen. I don’t see life as being just a fortuitous, or an unfortunate set of circumstances which produces a specific outcome. Life is definitely more than that.
If poetry is beauty, I see beauty. If poetry is witnessing failure and ugliness, I see poetry in that. If poetry is enlightenment, I see it as enlightenment. When I sit still, enjoying the silence of the morning on my porch, watching the sunrise as the rest of the world wakes up, I feel nearer to something in a place where I think true poetry resides. I think that place has a vibrant life of its own and constantly seeks a way to intermingle with us. Perhaps I am obtaining small glimpses of the creation process spoonfed, a bite at a time, by some generous, creative intelligence, not wholly contained within myself. I still have to make an effort to get to that place each day that I write. I just have to open my eyes and my heart to see the messages waiting there for me.
FQ: What single piece of advice would you give to a person preparing to read your work with no previous knowledge of its content?
LOVELADY: The title of the book throws some people off. Grief and Her Three Sisters is not so much about surviving the grieving process as it is about celebrating the gains in happiness we may obtain by leaving behind what we have lost, and concentrating, instead, on what comes next.
There are probably millions of ways to do this. I believe in and practice appreciating others. I believe there is great reward in appreciating our own lives and the people who have helped us get to where we are now in the present. I see nothing to gain in dwelling on the sadness of our pasts. It is all right to see our pasts in a different way than how we first remember them. This is how the healing process begins for me each time I experience grief.
If you grew up and are still living in a dense-packed, urban environment, navigating the chocked full, tightly woven matrix of humans interacting with one another, try to view this book holistically.
By that I mean if you can visualize the entire world being a whole, then we, as individuals, must exist as one, whether we think of ourselves as existing in or outside of Nature.
Think of it all as just being different parts of that same whole.
By attempting to adopt such a view of ourselves within the world, reading what someone else says about Nature interacting with us in our own environment doesn’t seem so frightening or confusing.
Somehow we all find a way to relate to the feelings that are expressed in almost any poem, no matter what venues poets choose to showcase their feelings.