Honoring the Creators Who Came Before Us—Tatum Rogers Interviews ELJ (BLACKOUT Edition) Contributor Karen Poppy



TR: What are some of your personal favorite poems?

KP: I have so many poems that I love! Some in English include Tennyson’s “The Eagle: A Fragment,” Pinsky’s “Sonnet” (found in The Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry [1985], which also has many other wonderful poems by various poets), Zaccardi’s “The True Meaning of Love,” Plath’s “Lorelei,” Rich’s “Song” (1971), and Chase Sutton’s “Lithium and the Absence of Desire.” In Spanish, Federico García Lorca’s poems–especially “Murió al amanecer.” In French, Renée Vivien’s poems, such as “Sonnet de porcelaine.” If I could ever match in English the Latin of Catullus 63, my work would be done. Listen to it here in Latin and English translation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcYTpj2wb6g.


TR: When you write, do you find it to be energizing or tiring?

KP: Energizing! Creating feeds my energy. Yet, I also find that slight sleep deprivation helps with the creative process.


TR: What kinds of things inspired you to write “Genesis”?

KP: For “Genesis,” I found inspiration of course in The Book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, as well as science. I thought about how we humans come to create, and how we destroy even though it is our responsibility to protect the Earth and all creatures.

In writing this poem, Li-Young Lee’s poem “The Cleaving,” inspired me too. I recalled a talk he once gave about this poem, in which he explained that cleaving means to split or sever, and also the exact opposite, to attach to something. He writes about cleaving as to violence, change, and the human soul.

I write about cleaving in terms of how plants “cleave to the Earth / And cleave apart. Create / After their kind.” Even though we don’t have a full understanding of plant language, or likely even close, scientists are learning some truly interesting things through research. There is human metaphor there too, both in terms of how plants create and the language scientists have discovered they have.

I very much admire the brilliant non-fiction book about the social lives of trees, The Hidden Life of Trees. We have learned and are continuing to learn more about how plants communicate. The problem is, we only have our limited human understanding, our own lens. We can only understand so much, which is to say, very little.

The speaker in my poem takes on a harsher view, that we only pretend to know the language of plants. There is sometimes that difference between what my speaker says and what I personally believe, which I find interesting. I don’t often change it. Another example in this poem is that the speaker does not believe in signs from stars, whereas, I don’t have an utter disbelief. I find astrology interesting, and keep an open mind.


TR: What about poetry makes you drawn to writing it?

KP: I’m not so much drawn to writing poetry as compelled to write it.


TR: What, to you, is the hardest thing about writing?

KP: I came back to writing after a very long creative silence, almost 20 years. The hardest thing is honoring my reawakened voice, finding time to write every day (3-5 hours in the evenings after work and my child has gone to bed).

Also, making sure that I honor the creators who came before me. Maybe that is not the hard part, but the easy part. So much of my work is responsive to that of other writers, other creators, as well as to nature and spirit. We live in a layered world that provides so much richness, so much opportunity to create.



Tatum Rogers is a lover of brightly colored hair and all things fantastical. She is currently working towards a dual degree in Writing and English at Buffalo State College, and is a student editor for Elm Leaves Journal. In her spare time, she likes to write things that are fun, magical, and diverse.


Karen Poppy has work published or forthcoming in The American Journal of Poetry, The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, ArLiJo, Wallace Stevens Journal, and Young Ravens Literary Review, among others. She has recently written her first novel, is at work on her second novel, and is an attorney licensed in California and Texas. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.