I was born, reared, and educated in Joplin. MO. (Yes, you’ve heard of Joplin because of the tornado.) I had a wonderful, free (almost idyllic) childhood. Growing up in a small town (pop. almost 40,000) in the 50s and 60s was pretty nice for white children. (There were very few blacks living in Joplin, and years later, I found out why.) Our family was probably poor but didn’t know it. My sister, brother, and I climbed trees, played kick the can, listened to songs on the radio, watched and played baseball. Our family attended First Christian Church, Disciple of Christ.
After I married in 1969, Bill and I moved to Charlotte, NC, where I taught for nine years. Then for a number of years, I was a stay-at-home mom. Fifteen years later we moved to Winston-Salem, where—after being out of school for 25 years and having a mystical experience that convinced me I must fight racism in the US forever—I attended Wake Forest University (MALS, 2000), studying creative writing and African American studies.
We now have two grown sons who live in a nearby town.
I loved the research I did for my classes and had the luxury of being able to spend two years on my thesis, “Making All Things New: The Redemptive Value of Unmerited Suffering in the Life and Works of Martin Luther King, Jr.” http://wfu.summon.serialssolutions.com/document/show?id=FETCHMERGED-wfu_catalog_11282851&s.fvf=ContentType%2CBook+Review%2Ct&s.fvf=ContentType%2CNewspaper+Article%2Ct&s.q=Helen+Losse+%22Making+All+Things+New%22
I spend the first year reading and the second writing. My favorite professor at Wake Forest, Anthony Parent, was my thesis advisor. Julie Edelson, who taught the class I took on writing prose and who is a professional editor, edited my thesis. And Robert Shorter, the professor who headed and the MALS program and who suggested I take a class in poetry from Jane Mead, completed my examination committee. All of them knew I planned to convert my thesis to a book, which I have not yet done.
I had toyed with the idea of writing a book about F. Scott Fitzgerald years earlier but had no idea how to begin. Now expert advice called for ten years between the completion of a thesis and its conversion into a book. I finished my thesis in December 2000, but in the fall of 1997, I had begun to publish a few poems in local journals.
Poetry seemed to call louder than prose. I now write prose only as book reviews.
No. But the idea of being a published writer held its charm. For me, the idea of publishing isn’t so much about fame as it is about having a voice that is heard. That’s how I feel about my chapbooks and books. Poems can go places I can’t. Books can hop into envelopes and encircle the world. Internet litmags do likewise.
I have been the Poetry Editor for The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature http://www.deadmule.com/ since Spring 2007. Valerie MacEwan is the publisher and editor—it’s her litmag, not mine—but Val has allowed me to share the joy of publishing others. I have all of the fun that being an editor can bring and none of the headaches of the internet. Robert MacEwan gets all of those. I make most of the choices about which poems are accepted and for what month. I enjoy giving so many good poets a place for poems, introducing new poets to our reading audience, and nominating poets and poems for certain prizes. As a writer, I didn’t imagine editing anything.
I almost always buy books from other poets at readings, because I would like people to buy my books at my readings, but it doesn’t always work that way. Part of the problem is that poets conduct workshops in which they insist that “everyone can write,” which is kind of true, but if everyone writes, who buys; if everyone made cars, who’d buy the ones from Detroit? It's Just common sense. In building an audience for poetry by encouraging others to write, do we hurt ourselves financially? Maybe. I know poetry books are basically a “one on one sell.” That means lots of readings, or workshops.
Because I have the luxury of eating without selling any poetry, I can concern myself with life outside poetry, too—like family, politics, hobbies, and watching NASCAR. All of these provide material to write about, of course.
What inspires you to write?
I studied poetry at Wake Forest University with Jane Mead. She, more than any other poet, influenced my work, but I wouldn’t say I write like Jane or even that I want to. My goal has been (and still is to a degree) to find my own voice. Dennis Sampson, who also taught at Wake Forest, helped me at a stage where I was impressionable.
Hickory poet Scott Owens serves as an example of what a hard-working poet can do. He is committed to teaching, promoting others, and writing and publishing his own poems in litmags and books on an on-going basis, and editing a litmag. He also reminds me to write a few book reviews each year. Doing so helps others and keeps my reviewing skills sharp. Hickory poet Tim Peeler reminds me that the best poetry is often simple. He writes a poem almost every night. I wish I were than committed. M. Scott Douglass and Carter Monroe remind me that publisher/editors were usually poets first and remain so at heart. Jessie Carty, a young Charlotte poet, reminds me of how much energy one must expend to live a writing life. Clare L. Martin, a poet form Louisiana, reminds me to celebrate joy daily, as does poet Curtis Dunlap.
Do you follow a strict writing schedule or just write when the spirit hits you?
Writing is rewriting. And if one doesn’t love revision—think, possibility—she’s sadly misinformed about being a poet.
Wind, rain, sleet, and snow blow away and wash away the cares of life—the cares that burden us and slow us. A deer runs through the yard, and my thoughts follow him into the woods. There are butterflies in the woods, fluttering over the shaded green moss. Nature cleans the soul and frees me to be. The sun begins to set, and the trees turn black against the sky: this most sacred act fills me so that I have something to write about.
In 2006 when I started my blog, I called it “Windows Toward the World,” because my computer is in front of a window that gives me a view of our back yard. I later added the subtitle “through the eyes of a poet.” The title also served as the working title for my first full-length book, Better With Friends (Rank Stranger Press, 2009.)
Sometimes human events become the subject matter for a poem, but with the world as it is, politics tempt one to preach. Preaching is fine, but it has no place in poetry. Poetry is about image, feeling, and emotion. From those, a reader can surmise the difference between right and wrong without being told what to think, which is a very good thing.
These two are among my best.
Editor note: I have received two additional wonderful poems from Helen Losse I'd like to share with all of you directly below:
Remember how the wind
held yellow leaves in airy fingers?
The last leaf,
in high branches, clung to the tree.
We walked through full sun,
wondering how we kept our footings
while acorns snapped
beneath our feet. Remember
the contumacious violets in brown
grass? Pretending the rain was
early snow, we chose the long way home
and sang off-key.
Note: first published in Domicile, later in Seriously Dangerous
By Helen Losse
I want to eat ambrosia,
dine with the gods. Dance.
Seraphim at the gate, velvet-winged.
“A plea is not a call,” says the tallest angel.
“One should not taste of success too soon.”
“Yes. Wait’s a word to ride the wind,”
says another. “And who will know the
mind of God?”
A celestial chorus in a quick response.
And I, reaching upward, raise uplifted palms.
A spurt of boldness: Each—in its own way.
The voices fade, and things I reach for seem too far.
Then just as silence slices through morning,
heaven’s jagged edge cuts my finger to the bone.
Note: first published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature
What is your opinion on self-publishing as opposed to traditional publishing?
All of my chapbooks and books have been published by small, traditional publishers I have published with FootHills Publishing (often closed to submissions), Rank Stranger Press (an invitation-only press), and Main Street Rag Publishing Company (http://www.mainstreetrag.com/.) Each publisher has his/her own business model. Some required pre-sales, and some did not. Publishers have to make money (earn their living) in some manner.
When and if I have another manuscript ready for publication, which I presently do not, I will have to ask myself all the same questions I have listed above.