Interview with Diane Beth Garden

by Kellie Webb


I recently had a chance to sit down with Diane Beth Garden who has an upcoming book, Measures to Movements, that will be published by Negative Capability Press. She is a very interesting and talented poet and person. I recommend her book to anyone intersted in art and poetry.

Until it is available, though, here's a little sampler of the auther herself. Enjoy!


1) Where have you taught and what did you teach?

I have a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from NYU. I taught part time at NYU in the Village, Rutgers in New Jersey, and St. Peter’s College in Jersey City while living in New York, all within commuting by the train. It was funny--while I was a graduate student at NYU I took the railroad out to Rutgers, and then when I moved out to Princeton I commuted back to NYU. I was always going the opposite direction, but it gave me time to grade a lot of freshmen essays. I taught here [USA] at the English department and at Springhill part time for five years, and then I went on to teach gifted high school students at first Murphy High School and then Daphne. I retired two years ago, but I’m going to do some volunteer teaching.

 2) What made you interested in poetry?

I took poetry workshops when I was at NYU, and it got me interested in the whole process. I joined around the same time a writer’s workshop in Princeton, New Jersey, called U.S. One, whose accomplished members helped and encouraged beginners.

 3) What inspired you to use art as the focal point for your book?

I’ve always loved art. I spend a lot of time at museums, and I have an Art History minor from college. I would just go to the museum and stand in front of the paintings. When you have a painting you’re already given a little advance because you start with some very rich material—like someone gave you ten points in poetry writing before you even started. The aim isn’t to reproduce it, not to just describe it. You have to add to it. You don’t have to be able to paint, but its almost like one step away from having a paintbrush. With the words you can paint.

 4) My favorite piece from Measures to Movements is "Snow At Giverny" based on the oil painting by Claude Monet. Do you have a favorite poem and painting?

That’s one of them, and “The Milkmaid”, and “Measures to Movements”, the title poem.

 5) How did you choose the art pieces and photographs to write about?

They choose me. I don’t go to the museum with an idea. Just one painting will grab me and I’ll stand there. When my daughter was four she would say, “paintings talking to mommy” because my husband would be several rooms ahead of me, and I would be way behind, not even making it past that painting. The painting chooses me because there’s something I’m responding to, some emotion, some theme in the painting is really grabbing me.

 6) Why did you decide to divide the book into five categories: Quiet Corners, Barriers, Desire, Defiance, Blessings?

Dividing it into the different themes is really one of the more common ways, but I couldn’t believe how it fell into those five themes. It just fell. I mean, it was as if I could have set out with these themes in front of me, and I could have said “all right I’m going to write five poems on Defiance”, but I never did that. They just emerged.

 7) There aren't any paintings or photographs in your book after 1956, nothing contemporary. Was that by design?

No. I was always interested in the nineteenth century. That’s the period that I studied in literature. It wasn’t intentional, but I guess it was a little bit by taste.

 8) Is this your first book of poetry? If not, what are the titles?

I have a chapbook, the Hannah and Papa Poems that was also published by Negative Capability [Press], and it’s autobiographical. Half of the poems are about my daughter and half are poems about my deceased father. I don’t think he had died at the time yet. They’re very personal, and interconnected.

 9) Is poetry the only genre you write in?

Yeah. Maybe non-fiction or magazine articles one day, but I don’t really see myself writing a short story or a novel. I’m just really dedicated to poetry.

 10) Any future projects?

I’ve written two or three poems since the book, and I’m letting it evolve the way I let this book evolve and see what happens when I have a book of poems. I have an idea, maybe a project, which I haven’t committed to or started exploring—maybe picking one painter and doing a whole book on one painter. We’ll see.

 11) What advice would you give aspiring poets?

I would tell them you have to be alone when you’re writing because, as everyone knows, writing is very solitary. I would advise them to get in contact with other writers, to join a writers group, or take a course at the university, and to read, read, read other poets, to go to conferences and to keep doing writing exercises and keep sending things out. Just to get yourself involved.