Where do you draw the most inspiration for your writing?
I read mainly speculative literature—science fiction, fantasy, and horror—and that choice probably inspires my writing more than anything, but I’m also a fan of odd bits of news and factual information — especially in the sciences — and wordplay: unusual vocabulary, serendipitously misheard or misspelled words. I also write a fair number of ekphrastic poems. While not all my poetry is speculative, I am involved with the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association (yes, there is such a thing! see sfpoetry.com), where many of my favorite poems, as well as many of my soulmates, may be found.
What challenges do you face when writing a poem?
Because the speculative in particular is dependent on narrative, and I often begin a poem with just an ending or beginning line or a phrase I find evocative that descended from the blue-black, I’m sometimes temporarily at a loss for how to continue or fill in around what started the poem. But not for long, generally!
Have you ever found yourself stuck on a piece of your work? If so, what methods help you get around this?
If really stuck, I’ll add something completely divergent, then tie it into the poem. I find that the more bizarre the prompts I use, the easier it is to elicit an idea for the poem’s completion, so I’ve occasionally added prompts (e.g., word lists from spam, or an interesting epigraph) retroactively.
What made you first want to start writing poetry?
Reading it and thinking “I could do that.…”
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in writing poetry? (maybe something you didn’t know when you started but now know)
Read widely, and do read contemporary poetry— i.e., by poets currently alive. Abandon reading a poem when you don’t enjoy it, regardless of how eminent that poet is reputed to be, and pursue avidly the works of poets you enjoy — no matter how little-known. Let knowledge from outside poetry inform your poems. Try many different prompts and different forms. Never start with a big idea (e.g., “Love” or “Saving the Environment”); find an intriguing detail with no obvious meaning and go from there. A warning: the most destructive constraint any artist can self-inflict is to avoid exposing themselves to the works or ideas of others for fear that it might somehow “taint their natural style.” You don’t have a “style” when you start out as a poet; you create whatever style you want to have through informed decisions—and there is no need to restrict yourself to just one voice.
Read F. J. Bergmann’s writing here.