Joan Murray and Alicia Suskin Ostriker visit UAlbany
By Janie Frank
Associate News Editor
April 28, 2015
Joan Murray and Alicia Suskin Ostriker may not be crazy, but they do hear voices.
The two women who visited the University at Albany on Thursday, April 23 as part of a New York State Writers Institute event, are poets. Both mentioned hearing the voices of their characters.
“I have to really listen,” Murray said.
When she feels as though a character is speaking to her, she writes down what she hears.
The poets explained that they believe it is their responsibility to share what is being told to them by characters they may create.
“We can get something said in lots of different ways but it’s our obligation as poets to write it in the voice that was given to us,” Murray said.
However, the poets agreed that they face subjects that are difficult to share in their personal voices.
“Usually when I get stuck with something it’s because I am trying to capture something in my net of language,” Ostriker said.
For a poet, listening to voices they may hear is easy. Those voices tell stories. Using their own voices to tell the stories is harder.
Murray offered some advice to aspiring poets trying to find their own voice.
“Read poetry,” she said. “It can be so completely different but they’re all ways to hear what your voice is as a poet.”
With countless different types of poetry, reading it can seem daunting.
Ostriker began writing poetry by counting syllables and lines before a friend of hers told her she wrote like she was stuck in the past.
“You don’t write like you’re in the 20th century,” she recalled him saying.
From then on, she began writing free verse more consistently. However, she never again referred to it as that name.
“It’s open form,” she said. “It’s like improvisation.”
Ostriker admitted that, in this sense, poetry is similar to jazz music. While there is an element of music in her writing, she explains that there is a story as well.
“Human beings love stories, human beings love narrative,” she said.
The two poets agreed that poetry is not just song and not just story.
“We’re making art here,” Murray said.
Poetry is made up of countless different pieces.
“When you write from your own depths,” Ostriker said, “If you find the language, if you find the music, if you find what translates the nonverbal stuff in you into language, then it will come across to other people.”
While finding a topic to write about can be difficult, the poets agreed that it is something that comes from their own minds.
“What a poet does do if they want to be really powerful is pursue his or her own obsessions,” Ostriker said. “Whatever you can’t stop yourself from brooding about, that’s your subject.”
Ostriker’s most recent book, entitled “The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog” was released last year. Murray’s latest collection, “Swimming for the Ark: New & Selected Poems 1990- 2015” was published this year.