Loretta Diane Walker will be the featured reader for the 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) on Thursday, July 14, 2016 from 7:15 to 9:00 p.m.
Loretta Diane Walker is a three-time Pushcart nominee. She has published three collections of poetry, including Word Ghetto, which won the 2011 Blue Light Press Book Award, and In This House, released by Blue Light Press in 2015. Loretta was recently named “Statesman in the Arts” by the Heritage Council of Odessa. Walker’s work has appeared in numerous publications, most recently Her Texas, Texas Poetry Calendar 2015, Pushing Out the Boat International Journal, San Pedro River Review, Illya’s Honey, Red River Review, Diversity: Austin International Poetry Festival, Boundless Poetry: Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival, Pushing the Envelope: Epistolary Poems, Perception Literary Magazine, Connecticut River Review, The Texas Poetry Calendar 2016, The Houston Poetry Festival, Siblings: Our First Macrocosm, and is fort coming in The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume VIII: Texas.
Loretta is a member of the Poetry Society of Texas, Pennsylvania Poetry Society, The National Federation of State Poetry Societies and Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. She teaches music in Odessa, Texas. Loretta received a BME from Texas Tech University and earned a MA from The University of Texas of the Permian Basin. http://lorettadianewalker.weebly.com/.
CH: What first inspired you to write? When did you begin to identify as a writer?
LDW: I have been fascinated with words since I was four or five years old. I was intrigued with Dr. Seuss’ books. He is still one of my favorite authors. Of course, I did not understand then what I do now. I was/am intrigued with the “power” of words. I used to scribble stories in my red Big Chief tablet. I did this before I could read or write. I started to identify myself as a writer about twelve years ago. At the time, I had been teaching music for twenty years. I was visiting my youngest brother and his family. On the way from the airport, he and I had a heartfelt conversation. He said, “You have only loved two things in your life, music and writing. You have spent twenty years focusing on music. Don’t you think it’s time you concentration writing?” I answered his challenge and started focusing more on writing. An aside, in the mid-nineties I took a writing class at our community college. The instructor returned my first writing assignment with a note. It read: You have no talent for writing. You should give it up. I was crippled by those words and I could not write for a while. I had lost all my confidence.
CH: You’ve had many successes with poetry, including your three collections of poetry, three Pushcart nominations, and numerous journal acceptances in addition to three collections of poetry. How have you gone about developing your writing talents?
LDW: I have an incredible mentor, Diane Frank. I started taking her workshops via email about nine years ago. I still take them. I attend other poetry workshops when possible, each summer I attend a poetry conference, I read heaps of poetry by various poets, and I read texts about writing poetry. My two favorites are Wingbeats I and Wingbeats II: Exercises & Practice in Poetry. I have a ten-one rule. I read ten poems for each poem I write.
CH: How has your career as a music educator influenced your poetry?
LDW: I have over six hundred little muses in my face Monday through Friday. Like my family, their lives are intertwined in my poetry. I get inspiration from the exchanges I have with my students and with the exchanges they have among themselves. I am often inspired by one of their expressions, a response to a class activity or question. In my book Word Ghetto, I have a section devoted entirely to my students. Those poems are based on conversations I had with students while doing lunch duty.
CH: As someone who works full-time, how do you make room for your writing? What is your writing practice like?
LDW: I write during my lunch time, after school, and on the weekends. If I eat out alone, which I do quite a bit, I will write while I am having dinner. I have written some of my most successful pieces in a restaurant. When school is in session, my goal is to write collectively at least an hour a day. When possible, I will write for a longer period of time. Sometimes I get twenty minutes here, thirty minutes there. I do the bulk of my writing during holidays and the summer. At those times, my goal is to write three hours daily. My writing time also involves my reading time. I have a ten one rule. For every one poem I write, I read ten. This has been my practice for the last several years.
CH: As long as I’ve known you, you’ve lived in Odessa. How has its various landscapes—geographic, vegetal, social—influenced your work? Have you lived elsewhere?
LDW: Although flat, open, barren and nestled in the breast of distance, Odessa poses characteristics of beauty resembling no other place. It’s a type of rugged beauty the natives have learned to appreciate. The landscape is a banner of fortitude, a reflection of many of the people here. Strength is important to me. I am fascinated with our sky. The sunrises and sunsets are stunning. The night sky is beautiful as well. In many of my poems, I make a reference to our sky. Usually, the reference is a segue to an unveiling or revelation in the poem. I lived in Terrell, Texas for one year and Lubbock, Texas while I attended Texas Tech. I was born in Dawson, Texas, but was very young when we moved away from there.
CH: Your first book, Word Ghetto, won the 2011 Bluelight Press Book Award from 1st World Publishing. How did you find out about the award? How did you select the poems that would go into that book?
LDW: After taking Diane Frank’s online workshops for four years, she encouraged me to submit to the Bluelight Press Book Award competition. Many of the poems included in the manuscript, I wrote in her workshops. If I received a poem from her with this message, “This should be in a book,” I put it in a file labeled Book. The remaining poems I selected based on these criteria: if it won first place in various state sponsored poetry contests, or if it was published in an anthology or literary journal. Over the course of four years, I discovered various themes and grouped the poems accordingly. Ironically, many of these poems were written using words or stanzas taken from my “word ghetto.” Hence the title. My word ghetto is a rather large file of hoarded words, stanzas and phrases that do not fit in one poem but work well or are seed ideas for others.
CH: Your most recent book, In This House, addresses a rich variety of topics—everything from desire for the ultimate steam iron to struggles with illness, including your own cancer diagnosis. How did you arrive at the vision for this book? How did you decide on its title?
LDW: Initially, this book was going to be about my mother. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I shifted gears and started writing about what I was experiencing. While writing those poems, I shifted gears yet again. I was battling depression; I had to focus outwards. I remember the day I said aloud, you’re not the only person “going through something.” After that meeting with myself, I reverted to writing about landscapes and other topics. I chose the title “In This House” because of the varied meanings of the word house. Its multiplicity allowed me to encompass all of the poems in the book.
CH: Writing poems of intimacy, especially about relationship with family, is a difficult task—one you handle with aplomb in In This House. How has your family received your writing, especially the work in which they appear?
LDW: My family has received my writing about them quite well. They are extremely supportive of me. I wrote about them in my other books. More than likely, one or more of them will show up in my next book. In In This House, I give voice to some of the emotions they were experiencing. They gracefully allowed me to do so.
CH: With so much success with your poetry, I would imagine you would identify primarily as a poet. But your website (http://lorettadianewalker.weebly.com) hints at an interest in writing a novel. How would you describe your identity as a writer? In what direction do you see your writing going now?
LDW: Yes, I primarily identify myself as a poet. I have published some short stories and essays; however, I feel at home writing poetry; it’s my passion. The reference on my website is based on a conversation I had with a friend. We were discussing an idea I have had stirring inside of me for several years. Actually, I already have a title for the novel. I want to write it after I retire.
CH: Please name a few poets whose work has influenced yours. What is the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?
Wow, this is a difficult task. There are so many! Some of my influences are Naomi Shihab Nye, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Diane Frank, Lucille Clifton, Jonas Zdanys, Gwendolyn Brooks, Larry D. Thomas, Karla K. Morton, Alan Birkelbach, Ted Kooser, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Katharine Coles, Natasha Trethewey, Robert Frost and several poets published by Bluelight Press and many other Texas poets. The most recent book of poetry I read is I Watched You Disappear by Anya Krugovoy Silver.