Poet, author, translator, editor, and playwright Annie Finch has published many books of poetry, including Calendars, The Encyclopedia of Scotland, Among the Goddesses, and Eve (recently reissued in Carnegie Mellon’s Classic Contemporaries Poetry Series). Her selected poems, entitled Spells: New and Selected Poems, has just been published by Wesleyan University Press.
Tell us about your relationship to your art.
My art is my primary channel to myself and to the larger self in which we all share.
What's a project (yours or another's) that has been exciting you lately?
I am writing a memoir called American Witch, which is both a spiritual confession and a handbook. I love the way the project is already connecting me with the lives of other women who would not have found my poetry.
Tell us a little of your motherhood journey.
I had my two children eight years apart, and each one has been an entirely different journey. I nursed them for a long time, practiced attachment parenting, did my best to get out of their way, not to interfere with them as they grew. They have rewarded me by being absolutely amazing and wonderful people. I was also pregnant with a third child whom I aborted. I feel that I found and grew a part of myself through my relationship with each of these three children.
What are some crucial elements of your process? How has that changed since having children?
Silence, quiet, solitude, mystic unity with nature and the world, have always been the core of my poetic process. So the main way it’s changed has been scheduling. Since having children, solitude just doesn’t happen in the same natural copious way, except in the middle of the night when everyone is asleep. But in exchange for the freedom and solitude, I’ve found a profound inspiration in my time with them that I used to think I could only find in solitude.
What are some of the ways your family and your art interact?
I am often inspired by the fundamental human processes of death, birth, sex, nursing, and so on. So my family sort of poses for my poems, as if I am painting them in an archetypal light. Also, I share my writing with them and ask for their input, so my whole family supports my art and occasionally provides opinions on all sorts of things from reading outfits to poems. So it helps bring us closer.
Do you find your attitude towards your art might be different because of your parenting / has it changed since you became a parent?
Absolutely. Before parenthood, I tended to feel I was writing as a solitary artist. Now I understand my art more as a way of speaking for and to a shared human community.
Are your children ever subjects in your art?
I was inspired to write poetry about my children when they were very young, before they really had lives of their own. Those poems are almost like nature poems. So far, I’ve been uncomfortable with using the details of their more mature lives in my poems, because children are vulnerable—and it hasn’t been hard to avoid, because my poetry tends to be pretty elemental, without much contemporary detail. However, I do love Stephen Burt’s poems about his toddler, perhaps because, rather then objectifying or romanticizing only the child, the speaker treats himself with an equal aesthetic distance. And, I suspect that I may find that it feels less objectifying to write prose about my children than it does to write poetry about them, as my new prose book develops.
My babies were very good travellers, probably because they nursed so much. I brought them all over the world with me to readings and conferences when they were young enough to have free airfare. I remember once nursing my daughter on a panel during a 1998 conference on women poets at Barnard, which caused quite a stir in those days; people were talking about it on the WOM-PO listserv. As they grew older, they needed to stay home most of the time because of school, but if it worked out for them to come along, my husband stayed with them when I was working, and it worked out fine.
What about promoting the arts with your own children--any fun projects to share?
I did all kinds of art projects with my children, including some poetry projects. My daughter helped me make some wonderful individualized poetry chapbooks for Dusie Press, with colored ink and animal stampers.
How do you escape?
When I can’t close the bathroom door, I breathe a moment of fresh air, a moment of darkness, a moment of poetry. And yoga is matchless.
What advice do you have for expectant mothers in your field?
Before the birth, read Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin. After the birth, watch the movie Babies by Thomas Balmes. Children don’t need things at all. And they don’t need nearly as much attention as our culture thinks. Before they are a year or two old, read The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff. Nurse, love, and keep everything as simple and nonmaterialistic and low-tech as you can, to make life easier, to stay out of their way, and to allow the poetry to shine through your relationship with your children more.