Interview with the great American poet Terri Kirby Erickson

mai 11th, 2013

 By Rachid Filali


- I first want to congratulate you on awards obtained by the year 2013.

Thank you very much for your kind words, Mr. Filali.


- Poet  Terri Kirby Erickson  .. you lived bitter experiences with the pain, however, most of what you wrote are poems characterized by feelings of hope and the will to live .. How do you explain this paradox?

When difficult things happen to us and to the people we love, we can choose to become bitter and angry or we can allow our experiences with suffering to enhance our ability to feel empathy and compassion for others.  Think of how we gather together in times of sorrow…how we comfort one another in our grief and pain, no matter who we are or where we are from.  Kindness knows no boundaries. 

Also, there is such beauty in the natural world, and in the hearts and minds of so many good people.  I am always hopeful that no matter how challenging today might be, tomorrow will be better.  The sun will still rise in the morning; the birds will sing.  And come nightfall, as we sleep beneath the moonlit, star-studded sky—our dreams will carry us like the tides into another new day, where anything is possible. 

How can one fail to love a world like this?  How can we not have hope?  Add to the mix a sense of humor and a deep faith in the God of our understanding, loving friends, a supportive family—and we are blessed beyond measure.  What I feel most every day of my life, is gratitude…  This is the “place” in my spirit, from which I draw the words for my poems.


- You’ve published three collections of poetry, after many years of writing, and you have a fertile imagination.  Is a poem in your opinion, is a translation of a real experience or you write poems while often as you like that?

Every poem I write says something about life viewed through the prism of my own experience.  I do create “characters” and situations from my imagination, but at the core of my poetry, there is always is some kernel of “truth” about the world as I see it.  So in some ways, poetry is a translation of real experience, but that is not the entire formula.  There is a bit of creative magic involved in writing a poem as well—enough, we hope, to move and even captivate, the reader!


- Is the talent that is creating great poet or is it the study and mastery of the language?

In my opinion, a poet must possess both talent and a mastery of language in order to succeed, as well as keen powers of observation.  Words are the necessary tools of our craft, but we must also be mindful of what is going on around us.  It is the innate gift of being able to synthesize our thoughts, feelings, and experiences into a common yet lyrical “language,” however, that creates the kinds of poems that will hopefully linger in readers’ memories long after our poems have been read.


- In the era of wars and major crises and savage capitalism, do you think that poems can be a sufficient remedy for what ails humans

I believe that both writing and reading poetry soothes the soul, creates connections between people, and shows us that people all over the globe are much more alike than we are different.  If we could constantly bear in mind that we are all human beings who feel the same things, who want what everyone wants—to be safe, loved, and accepted for who and what we are—I think there would be far fewer reasons for discord among people and nations.  Poetry cannot solve all the problems we face in the world today.  But sharing even one poem that moves us with another person, who in turn shares it with someone else, is a wonderful place to begin.


–Do you read Arabic literature, and who is Arab writer do you like?

I own an anthology entitled, Modern Arab Poets from 1950 – 1975, which was translated and edited by Issa J. Boullata.  My favorite poem in this book is called, “The Song of Rain,” by Badr Shakir al-Sayyab (born in Iraq).  I love the way he repeats the word, “rain,” thoughout the work, as rythmically as raindrops, and the first verse is so beautiful:

“ Your eyes are two palm groves at the hour of dawn/Or two balconies from which the moon recedes./When your eyes smile, vineyards leaf/and lights dance like moons in a river/Which an oar shakes at the hour of dawn/As if, in their depths, stars are throbbing.”

I also admire Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet.  I was actually one of eleven winners/finalists in the 2011 International Nazim Hikmet Poetry Competition, which was a very great honor.


- And what is your impression in contemporary Arab women?

I read recently that the UAE Minister for Foreign Trade, Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, recently topped the list of the world’s 100 most powerful Arab women, (published by CEO Middle East), and her accomplishments are impressive.  Included in this list was Sheikha Maha Mansour Salman Jasim Al Thani, who made history by becoming Qatar’s first ever female judge. 

And no doubt many Arab women are making an impact when it comes to the creative arts, as well, although it would be wonderful if more of their books were being translated into other languages.

I very much enjoy the work of poet Naomi Shihab Nye, who was born in the United States to a Palestinian father and an American mother.  She and I share the honor of having been chosen as Leidig Keynote Poets for Emory & Henry College in Virginia.

Also, one of my fellow Press 53 authors (Press 53 has published two of my collections, Telling Tales of Dusk and In the Palms of Angels) is Hedy Habra (born in Lebanon), and her fine poetry collection, Tea in Heliopolis, was released this year.


- What is a book that is in effect strongly yourself?  Who is in your opinion the greatest contemporary American poet and is still alive?

The book of poetry that has affected me most strongly was written by our former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser.  It is called, Delights & Shadows, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.  It is a stunning collection.  A writer for the Library Journal says of him:  “That Kooser often sees things we do not would be delightful enough, but more amazing is exactly what he sees.  Nothing escapes him; everything is illuminated…”  In my view, Ted Kooser is the greatest living contemporary American poet.


- You are a teacher of creative writing, what are the most important advice you give to your students?

I teach workshops and periodically lecture to students of various ages.  The best advice I can give them is to refrain from continuously seeking distraction in computers, video games, cell phones, television, etc., and to develop an inner life wherein they pay attention to their own thoughts and feelings while experiencing fully, the world around them. 

Because if they choose to exercise their language skills and challenge their imaginations by writing stories and poems, it is important for young people to remember that we cannot hear our own inner voice—the voice that speaks in stories and poems—if we are constantly tuning it out and listening instead, to the voices of others.



Thank you very much, Madam, and I wish you a happy life.

Thank you, Mr. Falili.  I wish the same for you and your family.



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