Questions and Answers with Nancy Takacs
Q. Are you much of a worrier?
A. Yes. I think in these times, most of us are worriers. It isn’t easy to live knowing there are people who are in dire need of help both close to home and far away, the natural world continues to be desecrated, and everywhere we turn we feel we need to take some sort of action and still feel helpless. We find it difficult to find a balance in a dysfunctional world, and the Worrier poems, which explore aspects of this dysfunction, I think gave me a deeper knowledge of, and need for, the natural world, and relationships, to find some sort of center.
Q. How has nature become such an important part of your poetry?
A. I feel – how could it not? Nature for me is grit and beauty, with its unraveling skeins, snarls, and patterns constantly edging me into light. I have always felt a strong connection to nature. I come from grandparents who loved nature. One set had a farm, and the other set moved to the city just because Ellis Island was nearby, but they always had hoped to return to their native country and buy a vineyard near their Hungarian village. My grandfather and aunt, who lived upstairs from me, were always out in our small backyard garden, growing an abundance of vegetables, herbs, and roses. I was a city kid who spent time in the parks, preferring to be outside. In my twenties, I had the opportunity to see wildflowers in abundance for the first time on my in-laws’ farm. I was drawn to the idea of Nature as healer, and spent time on the farm, which was set up as a wildlife refuge, with my husband identifying weeds, picking heal-all and chamomile to dry for tea, or making violet jelly. Following this, life in Utah and then near Lake Superior, continue to enter my writing, because there are so many surprises here, and even though I can never explore all of it, knowing a few of these mysterious landscapes gives me solace, happiness, and a feeling of wildness. Nature heals and strengthens as well as provides the openness and complexity for continual discovery.
Q. How did the poems come about, in this unusual form?
A. The form came to me from an old notebook, where I had written questions to myself for a future poem. One morning I opened that notebook again, and decided to answer them. The poem was different from what I had been writing. Two voices, parts of the self perhaps, eventually led me to write more poems in these voices, to drift into themselves. It took some years, but the poems kept coming. In fact, I am still writing them.
As the sequence came into being, I felt the questioner and responder discussed topics related to mid-life, a love of and need for what is natural around us, and a mourning for our disappearing wilderness and the lack of compassion in our world at large. Each poem became titled “The Worrier” with different subtitles. Some of the first Worriers appear in a section of my book Blue Patina, published in 2015. At the time this book was accepted for publication, I was writing more of them and had a whole book of new Worriers. I found that what the poems needed to be could only be written inside this particular form. The form brought the language to me, and then the sequencing for this new book.
Q. The Worrier’s voices at times seems like a meditation, as if you have to be very still within yourself to hear this dialogue. Is meditation part of your writing process?
A. I feel I meditate as I write, that I love language so much, the act of writing calms me and excites me at the same time. It is a sensual act. I am happy to allow the words to take me to the place I never know where a poem will end up. The first poem in Blue Patina begins with the act of writing, bees in my apricot tree’s blossoms, and by the end says: “Go in, go in.” Allowing myself to go deeper, is meditation for me.
Q. Do these voices keep you up at night?
A. These particular voices don’t keep me up at night. However, sometimes their subjects do.
Q. Tell me about the dogs in your poems.
A. Emma and Vlad, as well as some of the dogs my husband and I have lost, appear naturally in The Worrier, because they are, and were, a big part of my life. My husband and I have always had dogs, mostly two at a time, and we have always learned from them – their faith and loyalty, their living in the moment, their fearlessness, and love, their wildness. I humbly bring them into my poems because they are such sensitive beings and I feel lucky to have them as my daily companions, who take me places.
Q. In “The Worrier - failure,” you say “I’m learning not to trust the map.” What bearing does that have on your own creative process?
A. It has a lot of bearing on my process.
I’ve written poems about the creative process before in other books and it seems to be a subject that doesn’t easily leave me. The poem you mention discusses both in living, and in writing, as well as in painting, which I do occasionally, that I keep reminding myself that jumping off into newness steers me through all the capsizing. Even though it was subconscious, the form has suggested to a few readers the book that it suggests catechism questions. I had to smile because I remember well the strict catechism tests in my Catholic elementary school. I hope the book strikes readers in ways that suggest the opposite of obedience.
Q. In a few of the Worrier poems, the poet paints. How do you compare painting with words, which you do throughout this book, with painting on paper or canvas?
A. I am enthralled with the physical process of painting, and the fact that you can have immediate color, surprise, and shape fall on the page with watercolor painting, especially when you soak your paper. It is similar to writing poetry, for me, -- a watercolor artist is aware of technique, light and shadow, what tastes and smells come to the artist and the viewer/reader through choice of color, and the sheer happiness of allowing pigment to find its subject through the mesh of imagination. What is in the curve of an elbow – but colors that are new, fresh, and that we haven’t seen before. What is inside --- what is inside, is what I think all art ask us to discover. This is similar to writing – trusting, remembering technique while writing, but trusting where the poem itself has to go.