Friday, June 12, 2009

In Illustration - Lacuna by Robin E. Sampson

What better way to illustrate the concept of Poetry Liner Notes than with an example? I'd been struggling with how to write up something that would describe what I'm trying to do here. I want to post a previously published poem along with the poet's answers to questions about the poem's origin. A friend suggested I post one of my own poems first with my question responses. As soon as she mentioned this, it made perfect sense.

~ an empty space or a missing part; a gap, a void

She traces edges, sees only minus.
Examines the negative space where
she resides, self-defined by lack.
Weathered fragments peel away
from her wall, litter the ground.
She struggles
to stabilize,
then repair
the damage.
Gathers shards,
collects pigments,
attempts reconstruction.
What is missing cannot be
replaced or even reproduced.
Separation forms the patterns, the
constellations are shaped as much from
blackness as from stars. Chaos creates order.
She will learn to value ma*

* ma ~ negative space, from the Japanese art tradition

© 2004 Robin E. Sampson
Previously published in The Bitter Oleander, Volume 10 Number 2 (Bitter Oleander Press, 2004)
and in Poem, Revised: 54 Poems, Revisions, Discussions (Marion Street Press 2008)
and in Undone. Poems by Shijin: a poetry performance troupe, (Hanover Press 2008)
and at, 2008
and in Lacuna, a self-published chapbook, 2009

1) What first sparked this poem?

While trying to describe the idea of something that is not there, I found the terms lacuna and ma. I liked the image of a crumbling wall. Then I was off and running.

2) Tell us about this poem's life.

The original poem was a bit longer, but not by much. I took copies to our weekly poetry series where we had a workshop period at the end of the evening. I got a lot of good feedback, especially about shifting lines around. When I got on my computer and started trying some of those shifts out, at first I didn't pay any attention to line breaks. As I moved lines around, suddenly the shape of the poem started forming. When I saw this, considering the subject, I started consciously working with the shape. What formed brought to mind two things; a profile of a person and an overhanging cliff. Because lacuna and ma are unusual words, I needed the definitions. I used one as an epigraph and the other as a footnote.

3) How long did it take to go from inspiration to published?

Less than a month or so was spent working on the poem itself. It was workshopped the first week, if I remember correctly. I kept working on it a little at a time. In preparation for a scheduled workshop day of one of the writing groups I belong to, I worked on it some more. It felt done and I liked it and sent it off somewhat hastily. I still took it to the group, which suggested some changes. Ha! But soon I heard back that it had been accepted. I don't remember exactly how long it was from inspiration to published.

4) Are you satisfied with the poem?

Yes. Over the years I've become very fond of this poem. I've never found myself wishing there was something different (a line, a word, an image), which does sometimes happen with published poems.

5) What in particular do you, the poet, like about this poem and why?

It has music to it and says exactly what I wanted it to say and people understand it. I like how the words flow in a way that lets the poem work as a performance piece as well as a page poem. As for meaning, I believe that no matter how clever a poet may be, if the reader/listener doesn't get it, then the poem has lost something crucial.

Robin E. Sampson has been published in the New Verse News, Bent Pin Quarterly, Connecticut River Review, Bitter Oleander, Wicked Alice & more. She has an essay included in the book Poem, Revised: 54 Poems, Revisions, Discussions (Marion Street Press, April 2008). Robin is a member of the Marathon Poetry Critique and Shijin a poetry performance troupe. She is host and bookings coordinator for Wednesday Night Poetry Series in Bethel, CT - Her website is