An Interview with Paul Moorehead

PAUL MOOREHEAD is an emerging writer whose poetry has appeared in "Turnstyle: The SABR Journal of Baseball Arts". He lives in St. John's with his partner, daughter, and cat, and works as a pediatrician when he is not writing poetry. 
You can read his poem Cracking Amber in the April 2023 issue of Pinhole Poetry.

Would you like to tell us a little bit more about your poem? For instance, how or why you wrote it, or perhaps provide some extra context?

This poem is about my daughter, who was only a few weeks old when I wrote the first draft. It’s also about the desire, in my view a childish one, to have something stay the same, and how that desire runs headlong into somebody that absolutely cannot stay the same, that exists only to grow and change.
The poem is a bit of a variation on a ghazal: the refrain, although it’s the same words every time, occupies different positions in sentences or is subject to different punctuation, so it changes throughout.

Do you have a collection of poetry or even a single poem that acts as a touchstone?

I always come back to Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky. It is probably the funnest poem that I know, and shows how a poem can be an incredibly condensed narrative. You’d never be able to tell a satisfying story in as few words of prose. It is also a wonderful demonstration of what a poem can accomplish with sound and rhythm. It’s very fun to read aloud, and even though many of the words have no meaning outside the poem itself, none of that prevents the story from having very clear meaning, both as a ripping yarn and as something that requires more contemplation.

If you didn’t write poetry, how do you think you might access the same fulfillments that poetry offers in your life?

For many years, I wasn’t writing very much, so I know the answer to this: I wouldn’t. Over the last few years, really allowing myself to commit to writing, and the writing of poetry in particular, has been a lifesaver. There was something very important missing from my life before.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a first collection, and am probably about halfway there. And I’m thinking about what project might come after that.

How or where or with what does a poem begin?

Just about anything or anywhere. That’s the beauty of poetry. Want to write a poem about a caterpillar or COVID or some poem you just read? Go ahead!

Are there other art forms that inspire or inform your poetry?

Math and physics and biology. I guess you can quibble about whether those are art forms. But for me they’re sources of incredible beauty in the world, and are the basis for so much of the way that I travel through the world and understand it. I try to get as much of that into my poetry as I can.

How do you make space for poetry in your daily routine?

With support from my partner, Chandra, who really allows me to make time and space for writing. Without her, this wouldn’t be happening at all.

What are you reading or watching or listening to lately that intrigues or inspires you?

I recently discovered Dean Young, and am fascinated by the way his work hopscotches around to create meaning that you can’t quite pin down. The last couple of years I’ve been listening to lots of the Mountain Goats; John Darnielle is a poet trapped in a musician’s body. I’ve also recently been rediscovering my love of Robyn Hitchcock, who is also a poet and a musician, but he’s not trapped anywhere.

Do you belong to a writer’s group? If not, where do you find poetry community and feedback?

I have a virtual writing group, George Murray’s “Front of the Line” community, which has been a great way to connect with established poets as well as other newcomers. And for the last few months, I’ve been very fortunate to participate in a mentorship program sponsored by the Writer’s Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Canada Council for the Arts: I’ve been working intensively with Douglas Walbourne-Gough, which has been fantastic. My writing has grown so much in a short time thanks to his mentorship.

In terms of poetic style or craft, is there a big question you are trying to find an answer for?

For right now, I think that that question is how to write poetry, poetry authentically coming from me, that really connects with a reader. For many years, when I managed to write at all, I was writing for myself. In taking the step of trying to get my work out there where other people can read it, I’ve had to transform my writing and have had to begin to learn to consider the reader. Who might this reader be? How do I open a poem up to invite them in, but also how do I leave some work for the reader to do for themselves? There’s a bit of a journey in a poem — whether it’s a pleasant stroll or a tough mountaineering expedition — and how do I use craft to plot that journey so that the reader wants to come along?

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