I’m winding up this week with Ginny Lowe Connors who is talking about her collection of poems called, Toward the Hanging Tree: Poems of Salem Village (Antrim House Books, 2016).
Ginny Lowe Connors is the author of three poetry collections: The Unparalleled Beauty of a Crooked Line, Barbarians in the Kitchen, and most recently, Toward the Hanging Tree: Poems of Salem Village. Her chapbook, Under the Porch, won the Sunken Garden Poetry Prize. She is on the executive boards of the Connecticut Poetry Society and of the Connecticut Coalition of Poets Laureate. She served as the Poet Laureate of West Hartford, Connecticut from 2013-2015. Connors also runs a small poetry press, Grayson Books.
Welcome, Ginny. Please tell us about your current release.Toward the Hanging Tree is lyric history; a book of poetry that looks into the heart of the Salem witchcraft mania of 1692, telling the story from multiple points of view.
What inspired you to write this book?
The topic fascinates me! The answers are not all clear, and that is always fruitful for poetry. When I was in Salem for the Mass Poetry festival a couple of years ago, it was clear that the town was capitalizing on the tourist-angle of this incredible event (even though the main events took place in the town now known as Danvers), but my thought was: There needs to be a poetry collection about this! The era of the witch hunt was rich with mystery, fear, and well—just all the human emotions. That’s poetic territory. I investigated and found nonfiction books and a few novels, but nothing much in the way of a poetry collection. So I set out to write one.
It also happens that my birthday is on Halloween, a day associated in some people’s minds with witches and deviltry. And at age eleven I acted in a college production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. They needed some young girls for the production. When I visited Salem, I remembered that brief acting experience and wanted to find out more about what actually happened in 1692. Miller took some liberties with his script, but his implied commentary on the way people scapegoat others and attack them was right on target. Of course, the McCarthy hearings were going on when he wrote his play, but the same kind of fearful turning against others in very hateful ways is still quite evident in our country today, as anyone who pays the slightest attention to political events is aware. Toward the Hanging Tree takes place in the seventeenth century, yet its theme and relevance are timeless.
What do you enjoy most about writing poems?To name something seems to make it more knowable, and yet so much of what we experience is hard to name and hard to comprehend. Poems try to find the words for those feelings that can’t otherwise be captured. I love that effort. Poetry helps us pause, notice, and reflect. In our busy, distracting world, that is a wonderful thing.
I loved working on Toward the Hanging Tree; it allowed me to explore a fascinating historical event and give voice to some of the people who were involved. The subject matter is a little mysterious and highly emotional—which works well for poetry.
I told the story from a variety of perspectives. Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone living through a traumatic event or series of events has a different way of seeing or understanding it. That interests me! Ultimately, I don’t believe that there is ever just one truth. The more facets one can examine, the more the complexity of a situation is revealed.
What form are you inspired to write in the most? Why?
I generally write in free verse, but have been known to write pantoums, triolets, some other forms and invented forms. My latest book contains poems in a variety of forms, some invented. The needs of the poem ultimately dictate the form used.
What type of project are you working on next?
I have been editing an anthology called Forgotten Women, which should be in print in the beginning of 2017. It includes poems about underappreciated women, some who were part of history, and some who represent ordinary women whose contributions are mostly unnoticed. Meanwhile I am writing various poems of my own, but not working on a book of my own poetry.
When did you first consider yourself a writer / poet?
I have always liked to write, including poetry. Calling oneself a poet doesn’t change the practice much. But it’s true that I have become more intensely involved in the poetry world during the past ten years. My children are grown now and I have just recently retired from teaching. That frees me to spend more time on writing projects.
How do you research markets for your work, perhaps as some advice for not-yet-published poets?
I read several journals and look at postings online. Poets and Writers Magazine is a wonderful resource. They also have an online presence. In addition, I am part of a writing community in Connecticut and we tend to share ideas and information.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I have difficulty coming up with good titles for my poems. That is usually the last part of my revision practice.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
At various times I wanted to be a clown, a teacher, a cowgirl, a veterinarian, and a writer.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Reading one poem a day is a practice that can quiet the mind and enliven the spirit. Of course, poetry addicts will need to read more than one a day, but even people who don’t see poetry as part of their world can find that they enjoy this practice.
Thank you for being here today, Ginny. And Happy (a little early) Birthday!