Ellen Doré Watson speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about her poem “In Which Raging Weather is a Gift,” which appears in The Common’s spring issue. Ellen talks about the importance of letting a poem surprise you as the first draft comes together. She also discusses her thoughts on the revision process, her work translating poetry and prose, and the years she spent running the Smith College Poetry Center.
On the essential elements of a poem:
“Unless a poem surprises me when I’m writing it, it’s not going to make it. The two things I need from a poem, both as a writer or a reader, are intentionality and surprise. I feel like I have to be surprised whether it’s the turn the poem takes, or the language, or the music, or all of the above. And then I feel that everything in the poem has to be intentionally working toward whatever the poem’s raison d’etre is.”
On teaching writing:
“With writing, I always encourage people to play. When we’re writing a draft, we’re playing with our tools. This is what we do, this is what we love. I want them to keep that sense of ‘I don’t care whether it’s working out right now, I don’t have a will for it to fulfill, I’m just playing with my blocks.’ To just love that, and then not get attached to what you put on the page.”
Ellen Doré Watson’s fifth full-length collection is pray me stay eager. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Tin House, Orion, and The New Yorker. She has translated a dozen books from Brazilian Portuguese, including the work of Adelia Prado. Watson served as poetry editor of The Massachusetts Review and director of the Poetry Center at Smith College for decades, and currently offers manuscript editing and workshops online.
Read Ellen’s poems in The Common at thecommononline.org/tag/ellen-dore-watson.
The Common is a print and online literary magazine publishing stories, essays, and poems that deepen our collective sense of place. On our podcast and in our pages, The Common features established and emerging writers from around the world. Read more and subscribe to the magazine at thecommononline.org, and follow us on Twitter @CommonMag.
Emily Everett is managing editor of the magazine and host of the podcast. Her debut novel is forthcoming from Putnam Books. Her stories appear in the Kenyon Review, Electric Literature, Tin House Online, and Mississippi Review. She is a 2022 Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellow. Say hello on Twitter @Public_Emily.