POET INTERVIEW – SHERYL KAY ODER
Many of the poets who frequent Poetic Bloomings have come to us after meeting at Writer’s Digest’s Poetic Asides with Robert Lee Brewer. This includes today’s guest, Sheryl Kay Oder. In fact, Sheryl was part of Robert’s original April Poem-a-Day Challenge, back in 2008. Walt Wojtanik and I joined the fun in 2009, and have since greatly benefited from rubbing words with Poetic Asides poets such as Sheryl herself. It is my pleasure to present the poet behind the poetry.
One of Sheryl’s finest pieces (in my opinion) is an older poem written in response to an idea she suggested we use for this week’s prompt, “In this house.” I present you Sheryl’s poem of the same name:
In This House
In this house the cobwebs
creep out the window
and meet the climbing ivy.
Books are piled so high
an avalanche could occur.
The poet sits in quiet contemplation
unaware of impending domestic doom
as he sweeps the extra words
from his page, cleaning
up the meter of his lines.
© Copyright Sheryl Kay Oder
MARIE ELENA: Welcome, Sheryl! Let’s start with your blog: Sheryl’s Sporadic Word Tag . Such an intriguing title! I’m always interested in discovering why folks decide to begin their own blog, and how they settle on a name.
SHERYL: Many Poetic Bloomings poets have their own blog; I had none. I thought now is the time to start one. My goal is to reach more people with my poetry. It seems a shame to work on poems I enjoy without sharing them with others. And like any other poet, I love positive feedback.
I used the word sporadic to give my readers realistic expectations. Some people write every day; I do not. I want poetry to be a joy, not an obsession. The original name of the blog was Sheryl’s Sporadic Spurtings. That name uses alliteration, but it sounds like I am on a soap box spurting out whatever enters my mind. If my poetry is a game of word tag, as one poem calls it, then Sheryl’s Sporadic Word Tag makes more sense.
On my blog I call Word Tag my signature poem. Long ago I decided if I wrote a book of poetry, that book would be entitled Word Tag. Right now a book is not in my plans. The blog, Poetic Bloomings, Poetic Asides and any poems in the upcoming book, Poetic Bloomings, the second year, are quite enough for me.
MARIE ELENA: Please share one of your favorite self-written poems, and tell us why you chose it.
SHERYL: I could have chosen one of my more serious poems, but one that stands out is a poem I had great fun writing. Its shifting form speaks for itself. If its long phrases leave the reader wanting rest, he can understand what the month felt like to me. Don’t expect poetic perfection. Just go with the flow.
This April Is a Ragged Poem
This April is a ragged poem
I don’t quite understand.
Its rhythm, rhyme, and meaning
don’t seem at all well planned.
It started out all lyrical
with trees and ponds and such.
But soon its form was upset and uneven,
and Dean got soaked, and I was stuffed in a closet,
and the horse was road kill, and Bill Hayer died.
Now I am home and keep getting tired even though I was feeling better yesterday–
good enough to unclutter for Matt to enter a reasonable-looking house.
And yesterday when I called my fellow small group gal
(the professional organizer
who had offered me a ride) her mind had been so unorganized she forgot the meeting.
It didn’t help that I had sent her e-mail to the wrong address (using a 2
not a Z) and she told me to remind her this week to come to the meeting
and so this month-poem has neither energy nor organization.
One stanza poured and poured and poured rain and whirled wind around
and created chaos all over some towns.
Another one chanted sunshine, drip, drip, sunshine, drip, drip.
My guess is a later stanza will be filled with mud
and track its unwelcome, unmetered mess
onto a newly metered floor,
leaving unwanted muddy melodies where cleanliness was desired.
of a segue
© Copyright Sheryl Kay Oder
MARIE ELENA: That one is great fun, Sheryl. No wonder you enjoyed writing it. So, when did you become interested in poetry, and what (or who) sparked that interest?
SHERYL: Mrs. Sammye Greer (now Dr. Greer) taught most of my college literature classes. When she read poems, I was mesmerized. She taught me to love the sound of poetry simply by speaking it. We had to memorize The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and I delighted in his use of alliteration. As I read that poem now, I can still hear her voice. Another poet she introduced me to was John Donne. I loved his many conceits. My undergraduate thesis was written about John Donne’s love poetry. Would I write about poetry to mistresses nowadays? No, but I learned much by writing that paper.
One disadvantage of studying poetry in college is that, as Billy Collins says in Introduction to Poetry, “…all they want to do/is …torture a confession out of it.” For a long time I left poetry alone. It was too much of a puzzle. Years later when I started writing poems I chose to be as clear as possible. Of course, we all understand ourselves, but we may not be as plain to readers as we think we are. In my Online class a teacher’s interpretation of one of my poems went way beyond my original intention. However, each person brings his or her own experience to a poem.
MARIE ELENA: “…all they want to do is torture a confession out of it” has me chuckling out loud, all by myself! I’ve heard that before, but it still takes my gullible humor bone by surprise.
Sheryl, what would you say is your goal as a poet and writer?
SHERYL: When I started writing poetry, I was hoping to make money one day. Now that sounds so funny. Most poets get paid in issues, not money. Because I love words, I write much of my poetry for enjoyment. My first poems explored writing or poetry itself. Now I try to express ideas or thoughts in a way that will interest readers or help them remember what I have said. The little poem Lasting Impression may be my “dark and stormy night,” but it reflects the goal many of us have:
Words imprinting the mind
like sharply defined footprints
in wet sand-
not being washed away
by waves of mundane thoughts
© Copyright Sheryl Kay Oder
Having my name or poem in print sounds great, but I am realistic enough to know many writers compose poetry better than I do. To have a few poems readers enjoy or identify with is my present goal. If some of my poetry lasts, I would not object at all.
MARIE ELENA: I like your attitude. It is grounded, yet dream-inhabited.
How do you go about writing a poem – in other words, what is your process? Do you generally begin with a title and work your way down? An ending, and work your way up? Perhaps you don’t know where the poem is going until you begin and see where your mind takes you?
SHERYL: Each poem presents its own challenge. Often once I have the first stanza written, I use it as a template for the whole poem. Does it rhyme? Which lines rhyme? How many lines does it have? Does it have a consistent rhythm? Can I count syllables? That way I am creating my own form for each poem. I am so glad this is an era in which we can be flexible in our writing styles. I am not good at starting with a form and then deciding what to write. I do hope to achieve that skill one day. I appreciate those poets who can write sonnets or other formal poems. Yes, I have managed to write a villanelle or Sestina for PAD on Poetic Asides. However, I rarely have the time to spend thinking my way through the words needed to express ideas through certain rhythms or rhymes. That makes poetry more work than joy.
Sometimes when I am writing from a prompt that does not lend itself to poetic language, I will write my idea in prose and then figure out a more poetic way to say it. Often I feel I am simply trading paragraphs for stanzas, but putting my prose into poetic form means I whittle it down to as few words as possible.
Many poems start out one way and take an unexpected turn; I’m sure a poet’s subconscious mind is quite busy. With other poems, especially about my own life, I am simply telling a story or vignette, so I know exactly where I am heading.
Early in my poetry-writing days I carried a poetry journal. Austin Gardens, a small local park, has given me ideas for two poems. In one I heard a bird concert, spied the muse scampering like a squirrel, and saw her wink. In another one (about forgetfulness) I used a description of a butterfly landing on my purple dress, imagining I did not know whether I wore that dress or a yellow pantsuit.
Unless I am working from a title prompt, I choose the title last. By the time I have written the poem, the title is often easy to figure out.
MARIE ELENA: Thank you, Sheryl. Your response is idea rich. It seems you could hold a seminar on writing tips.
You write often about your love for God. Were you raised in a God-believing home? If so, what experience caused you to take on your belief as your own? Or at what point in your life did you recognize that you believed in God?
SHERYL: I do hope I have made it clear that God loves me much more than I have ever loved Him. Just as the moon reflects the sun, our love toward God and other people is a pale reflection of His love. As I John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.” (English Standard Version)
I cannot remember a time I was unaware of the existence of God the Father and Jesus His Son. I believed my grandmother would be in Heaven, but I did not know why. The first time I was in a church service during communion I wanted to take part. My granddaddy told me I could not; we would talk later. Being a typical kid, I felt sorry for myself because I was missing out on something. I had no idea what communion meant.
When we came home Granddaddy explained the bread (matzo) represented Jesus’ body and the grape juice, His blood. He died on the Cross for my sins. I was not good enough to get to Heaven on my own. Only by placing my trust in Jesus and what He had done for me on the Cross could I become God’s child. I would then live in Heaven with Him forever when I die. Although my only awareness of my sinful nature was knowing at times I disobeyed my mother and needed a spanking for it, I (at the age of eight) placed my faith in Jesus. Soon afterwards I walked to the front of the church to affirm my faith publicly and say I wanted to obey Jesus by being immersed in baptism.
One disadvantage of coming to Jesus at a young age is it is too easy to take God and His love for granted, just like the air we breathe. Those who become believers as adults are much more aware of their need for Him and how messed up their lives were before they placed their trust in Him. However, I may never know what I have been protected from by coming to the Lord Jesus at such a young age.
MARIE ELENA: I completely relate to “coming to Jesus at a young age.” Thank you for sharing your heart and faith so freely, Sheryl. What role do you think your faith has played during the toughest times of your life?
SHERYL: When I look back at the painful episodes and situations in my life, I am reminded of Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (English Standard Version) It is God’s desire to see me become more like Jesus, so He uses the painful, not-good-in-themselves experiences I have to change me in ways I may not even be aware of at the time. Have I always handled those situations well? No, but they remain part of who I am.
It is good I had my grandfather and my uncle in my life at an early age. I did not meet my Daddy until I was age 10. Later my parents remarried. Much of our life together was good, but Daddy was a binge alcoholic. Sporadically he would get drunk and come home to pick a fight with Mother. They would awaken me with their arguing, and I would try not to let them know I was awake. At school I would try to act as if everything were fine.
My husband Dean’s parents often bickered also. Fortunately we have not argued much. The few times we have raised our voices to each other have been quickly followed by each of us saying, “I’m sorry I yelled at you, but…” Unfortunately, it has taken me a long time to learn how to express disagreement, but not be disagreeable while doing so.
One reason having God as my Heavenly Father is so precious to me is knowing how important earthly fathers are. Yes, I had my Daddy as a teen, but I can always come to God. He is the best parent anyone can have.
There was a time during my college days that Mother and I had little money. That experience has helped me be more generous with others. Most people in the middle class have little concept of what life can be like when you need to watch every penny or quit college until someone lets you know about financial aid. It was during that time we took my need to the Lord in prayer, and He answered almost immediately. The wife of one of my professors stopped by the bakery where I worked. She asked why they had not seen me at school and told me to see the financial aid officer. That resulted in my receiving federal aid, a small Women’s Missionary Union scholarship, and a loan from my church to live on while in school. Praise the Lord for hearing my prayer! I learned to be “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” I Peter 5:7.
MARIE ELENA: True stories of the power of prayer just can’t be beat. 🙂 I’d love to hear more about your family, too.
SHERYL: Dean and I met when we worked for the Social Security Administration. We started dating after we were working together on a group project (called a detail). I have no idea when we met, but we had known of each other for years before that time. Knowing what I do now about what can go wrong in a relationship (not ours) I would not recommend such a short time of dating and engagement. We dated for two months and were engaged for three months. We have been married for over 40 years.
Dean is spending his retirement taking pictures, playing his classical guitar every day, and reading, reading, reading. He takes part in a book discussion group and the Oak Park Photo Club.
We have two adult children. Elizabeth and her husband, Dan, live in Seattle, Washington. Most of Dan’s siblings live in Washington State also. They love the beauty of the area. Elizabeth loves to hike. She has created many online classes in the past, and is now working within a large hospital system. Michael lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with his cat, Ada. Ada is named for Ada Lovelace, a woman involved with the precursor to the modern computer, and considered the first computer programmer. Michael is a computer programmer, of course.
My mother (almost 92) lives with Dean and me. This past March she fell and fractured her pelvis, but she is walking much better after taking physical therapy.
MARIE ELENA: I’ve kept up with your mother’s progress a bit on Facebook. I’m so glad to hear she is doing better. Bless her heart.
MARIE ELENA: Sheryl, if you could retire anywhere in the world, where would you choose?
SHERYL: Asking a soon-to-be 69-year-old (August 25) homemaker about retirement is funny. As I have reminded Dean, homemakers never retire. You could say I “retired” from my Social Security job in 1975 after Elizabeth was born. I told Dean either I would stay home with our children or he would have some big psychiatric bills on his hands.
MARIE ELENA: That’s hysterical!
SHERYL: That was an exaggeration, of course, but I am amazed at any mother who can handle a job and a family at the same time. I am grateful I had the choice to be a stay-at-home mom.
Oak Park, Illinois is a good place to live. The Chicago area has excellent transportation. Our library is where the photo club meets, and it is where I can borrow audio books to hear while in the kitchen. Oak Park’s parkways are lined with many old trees. It is a beautiful place. The village is a good compromise between a city and a suburb, so I am glad we live here.
It would be more fun to travel rather than move somewhere different. I love the times we have visited Elizabeth, both when she lived in Utah and now that she and Dan are in Washington State. We had hoped to travel to Canada with Elizabeth and Dan, but that opportunity did not present itself. Right now I am in charge of Mother’s medication schedule. Her sense of time is not good, and she often forgets if she has taken a certain medicine. Any traveling we would do would take some planning.
MARIE ELENA: You have a lovely family, Sheryl. Thank you for introducing them to us.
These interviews have brought to my attention that poetry and photography often seem to go hand-in-hand. You are no exception, with your poetry blog and Flickr photo site. What prompted your interest in photography? Do you take photos for the simple enjoyment of it?
SHERYL: I have taken snapshots since I was a girl with a Brownie® camera. However, it has only been since I joined the Oak Park Photo Club that I have enjoyed photography both as a hobby and art form. It helps to be married to a man who has taken many excellent photos. Dean often takes a camera when we go somewhere together. When we were first married I was bored while waiting for him to get his shots just right. Now I use photography as a means to become more aware of details around me. Is he now bored when he waits for me? I don’t know. I’m too busy taking pictures.
MARIE ELENA: That brought a smile to my face. If you can’t beat ’em … 😉 So, what about an object or scene makes you long to get a photo of it? Or what attracts your eye?
SHERYL: Just as reading poetry helps me see how I can improve my own poems, seeing the amazing, creative photos taken by the photo club members helps train my photographic eye. It is good to belong to a group in which people help each other learn. Two things I have learned are what leading lines are and how extraneous details distract the eye. I tend to zero in on what is important to me; the reminder that other people can be distracted by objects I do not notice is helpful.
Dean and I enjoy the photo club together. We have had our prints displayed in OPPC photo shows at our library and at several local businesses. One of my pictures was published in the 2011 edition of “The Old Farmer’s Almanac.” So far I have nothing else published, at least not yet.
MARIE ELENA: Excellent. That must be very satisfying for both of you.
Now finally, if there was only one thing we could know about you, what would it be?
SHERYL: I am a unique person made in God’s image. That means “…I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” (Psalm 139:14). That is what makes me worth knowing. Any talents I have are frosting on the cake.
Marie, thank you for this opportunity to share my poetry, pictures, and life.
MARIE ELENA: Thank YOU, Sheryl. It has been a joy.