Your interview interested me on a number of levels (your basic process, of course, but also, I've been thinking a lot about theme, and I was engaged by the way you said this book came together.)
But the reason I'm writing is because of this comment you made: "Nonetheless, I do believe that the music and the writing are linked. I write by ear: that is, I hear a cadence in a line or a sentence and find a word to fit the cadence. This is true no matter what I am writing: a sonnet, a free-verse poem, an essay, a Facebook status, a letter to my kid’s teacher. Always, the sound comes first."
I've been recently researching (okay, reading Wikipedia) about synesthesia, and I wonder if you've been diagnosed or have ever considered that your behavior of putting words to the cadence is beyond what a typical individual could do (in other words, that it is unique to your brain). In reading about synesthesia, I realized that I fit (at least slightly) into one of the many categories, which is that I picture numbers and time periods as following a path (always the same path), meaning the number four is at a specific position in a 3D place in my mind, as is, for instance, January. Anyway! I'm curious whether we all have some variation of this behavior (my husband associates numbers with colors). Any thoughts on this?
This was what I said in return:
No, I've never been diagnosed [with synesthesia], though whenever I've read about it, I've identified myself with the symptoms. As a child, I used to sense a strong relationship between individual words and colors. That's faded away to a certain degree now, mostly because I have a lifetime of experience and memories associated with particular physical things. But as soon as I try to reimmerse myself in the sensation of words-as-colors, I feel a clarity of impulse.
I've talked to numbers of other poets who also feel a cadence propulsion when they write. For many I think this is linked as much to the syntactical propulsions of the English sentence as anything else. We're so attuned to the expectations of grammar that we hear what "ought to" come next in a sentence even before we know what that something is. While I also feel this impulse in myself, I have an additional premonition of syllable stress, whether or not I am writing a formal poem. Although this premonition is still present when I am writing in prose, it is not nearly so insistent as it is when I feel a poem "coming on," so to say. A sense of rhythmic aura is partly how I know that I need to write, even when I don't have any idea what I need to write about.
And then this was what she said:
Thanks, Dawn, for this intriguing response. Rhythmic aura. This particular, careful description of your experience leads me into another area of thinking: the ways in which we choose to describe the activity of our minds. This, in itself, is perhaps a definition for poetry. The synesthesia (or whatever it may be) operates on a more unconscious (can something be "more" or "less" unconscious?) level, much like the muse.Have any of you had parallel experiences or reactions? And what do you think about her speculation that "the way in which we choose to describe the activity of our minds, . . . in itself, is perhaps a definition for poetry"? She's working herself up to writing poems about this fascination; and, as much as anything, I am excited to watch another poetic mind beetle into an obsession.