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Phyllis Hoge ( Nee )
Phyllis Hoge Thompson  (Pen name)


Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, USA. After completing her education at Conneticut College, Duke University and the University of Wisconsin, she was Professor of English at the University of Hawaii for twenty years. She has also taught at the University of New Mexico, San Francisco State University and the State Universities of New York at Binghamton and Buffalo.

She received the 1995 Hawaii Award for Literature, "in recognition of accomplishment
as an outstanding poet, educator and encourager of creativity".

Also, in 2001 she published "Letters from Jian Hui" (Poems) and in 2002 "The Painted Clock" (Memoir). Both of these publications received awards in the recent Writers Digest contest.

Inspiration and Process

  I can, like other poets, talk around the question but not really address what it is to be inspired.  I can often identify what life experience called a poem into being, but not where it came from and how it got where it is going..  There is something about how a poem happens which is as mysterious to the poet who made it as it is to anyone else.  Call it a muse, a kind of goddess who blesses us at her pleasure or who leaves us abruptly if thatfs what suits her.  Ifve known her as long as Ifve been writing.  I wrote a poem about her, gTo a Great Lady,h which appears  in my first book.

....Some men understand this—how you are a  woman....
Lust, they bring.  Poverty.  Labor.  Sorrow.
Their best hours.  Yours is the hard service.  For you,  Lady,
They leave us, and so be it, not one of us your equal.
They take you when youfll have them, with a prayer, that this
Sweet lay be not the last.  But you go where you will.

Yet I do not want to evade the inspiration question  altogether.  I can say that prior to writing gMuir Woods,h for example, which appears in my second book, I spent an afternoon there with friends, and we lay on our backs and looked up into the redwoods, that as we lay there, I felt first a sense of being human among trees, and that after a while I felt almost that I had become a tree.  Or maybe Ifm just interpreting retroactively, discovering that how I felt is what the poem told me I felt.  Maybe the understanding came from the poem..
  The poem which followed that one is, not surprisingly, gDaphne,h the woman who became a tree.  Perhaps I should say that the curious thing is that it did indeed surprise me. I had no idea that a summer afternoon among the redwoods would lead me to a wet winter morning on Mount Tamalpais  among the laurels.
The poem quite literally began with a complaint about the weather and continued with looking around at the laurel.  Then, as poems do, the scene led the poem to take off in its own direction, filtered through me and my own experience, as I began to wonder why Daphne changed into laurel as the god Apollo, who sang to the lyre, assaulted her.

Why would a woman loved by a god not respond in a friendly manner?  The poem itself, with a little help from Rilke, led me to an answer:

Winter:  hoarse, oracular.
The rain stings, suicidally bitter, like desire.
Why must my legs be bare
All the way up my thighs, cold,
And my soles wet?....
Stench of soft bark.
On my fingers the scent of laurel crushed
Freshens, but it does not heal
The darkness in the mindfs
I have seen bay branches with his eyes....
A god might mark them, quiet them,
Move in what is open
Of these laurel leaves
Most tenderly.

    Thus I moved from inspiration, my own mere description of a scene and my response to it, into a process of composition which led me, once it had been written, to an ginevitableh conclusion.

    That is a habitual practice for me. I begin writing with a sense of an immediate remembered scene in the hope of discovering something which makes that scene emotionally significant.  William Wordsworth said it:  gEmotion recollected in tranquility.h  And in that tranquility I try to find how the words, the language, the form will lead me to the meaning of the scene.   Thatfs how it works for me.

    Sometimes the direction a poem takes is influenced by more than chance, though chance always plays a part.  (See the poem of that name in my fourth book, What The Land Gave.)  gIn Urbino,h one of my longest and most profoundly exploratory poems, was ginspiredh by a trip I took to Italy with my friend the poet John Logan (who, incidentally, is decidedly not the you in the poem, even though he enacted  some of what happens in the poem and certainly observed the same scenery).

    If I had to pick one particular life moment which ginspiredh the poem, it would be when I stood at the same window where Yeats once stood, where Castiglione once stood. In that moment, many things coalesced for me—my love of Yeats, on whose work I wrote my PhD. thesis, my respect and affection for Rosemund Tuve, in whose seminar I learned of Castiglionefs Book of the Courtier, my love of architecture, my affection for my friend (who, being ill, was not even there with me), my love of Rilke, as well as my love of one particular man who also was not there, and then my love of love itself—that gsovereign happiness.h 
  How to meld all that together took long contemplation. Finally it was the building itself in Urbino and the architecture, enabling me to move forward in the poem, partly as an architectural travelogue and partly as a way of talking about what could be called stages the heart takes in loving someone.

   In the long run I find the initial inspiration often has little to do with the final product, for the reason that it is the writing process itself which takes the poem where it wants to go.

    There are of course inspired times, when the poem is ggiven,h which is to say that the words just seem to appear as if from outside of oneself.  Such a poem generally comes fast, asking little revision, if any.

    There are also times when a poem is artificially constructed.  That is, sometimes, not feeling ginspired,h I may set myself a problem, as if doing an assignment. I wrote a number of such poems back when I was learning how to make a poem, seeking my own voice and style.  Such a poem for me was gBlessed are They that Mournh from my first book.  Nothing occasioned the poem.  I was playing with ah sounds and oh sounds and au sounds, in association with Hawaiian imagery.  In a sense it embodies no feeling at all.  It is simply a product of a mind at work on a technical problem, as if it were a crossword puzzle.

    Process, where it differs from inspiration, seems to me a matter of technique or style.  I try to figure out early on what the poem wants in the way of form. If itfs a sonnet, I have to choose rhyme words which will enhance, not inhibit, the expression of meaning.  If itfs free verse, I have to find out what word music is suitable, where line breaks should occur and so on.  And always while I am figuring out the form—not imposing it but finding it—I have to be aware also of the logic of progression, so that the lines follow one another logically so as to express meaning in a sensible way, enabling a reader to figure out easily what Ifm talking about.  While Ifm doing that, I have to be alert to what the thought reminds me of, and then to see whether the reference would be just a display of some extraneous information or whether it really expands and deepens meaning.  Itfs where the personal life experience and education enter, all that surrounds the initial inspiration and that makes the poem into something more than personal, makes it embody  the universal emotion which all human beings can share.


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