A poet, an advocate of art and literature, and a former Lecturer in Poetry, at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, Alice has authored several poetry collections including 20 CLASS A, When It Happens To You…, Elephant Girls, Mountain Mother Poems and String Theory which won the Georgia Poetry Society’s 2008 Charles B. Dickson Chapbook Contest.
Tête-à-Tête: Alice Teeter
(Rachna Singh in conversation with Alice Teeter)
The Wise Owl talks to Alice Teeter, a poet, an advocate of art and literature, and a former Lecturer in Poetry, at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. She has authored several poetry collections: 20 CLASS A (Morningstar Media, Tallahassee, Florida, 1975), When It Happens To You… (Star Cloud Press, 2001), Elephant Girls (Kelsay Books/Aldrich Press, 2015) and Mountain Mother Poems (Finishing Line Press, 2017). Alice’s collection of poems String Theory won the Georgia Poetry Society’s 2008 Charles B. Dickson Chapbook Contest, judged by renowned poet Lewis Turco.
Teeter is a member of Alternate ROOTS, a service organization for artists doing community-based work in the Southeast, a member of the Artist Conference Network, a national coaching community for people doing creative work, and a member of the Atlanta Women’s Poetry Collective. With her partner, Kathie deNobriga, she hosts a monthly Art Salon where artists of all kinds present finished work or work in progress to small, but appreciative audiences.
Thank you so much Alice, for taking time out to talk to The Wise Owl.
RS: You have penned several poetry collections (String Theory, When It Happens to You…, Elephant Girls, Mountain Mother Poems). Tell us a little about your journey as a poet. What attracted you to this genre? Who were the main creative influences in your life?
AT: I began writing poetry when I was in the fourth grade and I would say I was attracted to poetry because I was working on a mystery. Poetry seemed to be a good way to explore that mystery. My beloved grandmother had died and I was facing mortality for the first time. My parents were both avid readers and my father had shown me his poetry from when he was younger. There were poetry books in the house. I remember reading 101 Famous Poems and Robert Frost’s poetry. Wallace Stevens, Gwendolyn Brooks, T.S. Elliot, Lewis Turco’s Book of Forms, were other early influences.
RS: In your poetry you write about various subjects – Myth, emotion, generation gap, death, forgiveness, nature. Please tell us a little about your creative process when you are penning a poem. What are the subjects and emotions that inspire the poet in you to write?
AT: My dreams are a big influence – that amazing world full of mystery and surprising imagery. Mountain Mother Poems came out of a dream I had where my mother lived above me on a mountainside and dropped a bucket down to knock on my front door. The mystery of love has often inspired me. The mystery of where we’ve come from and where we’re going also. When I was younger, I waited for inspiration and did my best to grab onto it and write before it slipped away. These days, my process is to look around me and take off writing from whatever I am gazing at in the present moment – the rug on the floor, a picture on the wall, the clockface, the pattern made by sunlight through the leaves outside the window. Then I craft the poem, listening to the rhythms, the sounds of the words. I read it out loud and pay attention to where it flows and where it stumbles.
RS: Your collection of poems String Theory won the Georgia Poetry Society’s 2008 Charles B. Dickson Chapbook Contest. Tell us a little about what is special about this book?
AT: I was reading a lot of books about physics at the time trying to understand what physics, time, and string theory meant. Of course, I do not have the mathematical skills to understand physics in that way, but reading about it inspired many of the poems in that book. One morning as I was driving to work, after an evening of reading about physics, the title poem of that book came to me all at once. I missed my exit to work and was headed south towards Florida writing the poem in my head and trying to remember it. I did make it to work and was able to write the poem down.
RS: I really enjoyed reading your poem ‘Leaf Blowers.’ You talk about ‘mayhem quickly passes into peace.’ Does that echo your philosophy of life?
AT: It well could. I would say I approach the world emotionally rather than rationally and emotions are often mayhem but if I wait a little while, emotions pass and calm once again reigns.
RS: Who is your favourite poet (contemporary or traditional) and what is it about the poetry of this poet that inspires you?
AT: Feral Willcox, who wrote the “Glossary of Snow” poems, wows me with her poetry. We write very differently and I am amazed when I read her work because I become immersed in the sounds and flow and find myself mesmerized. Her poems are subtle and powerful and her work humbles me and fills me with gratitude that such a mind and talent is writing in the world today.
RS: You are working tirelessly to promote poetry and creativity in different forms. What challenges (if any) have you faced in this sphere?
AT: One challenge is to not get caught up in wanting attention for my own work and all the feelings that engenders – jealousy, competitiveness, envy, making comparisons, etc. Teaching is a pleasure and a challenge. I enjoyed coming up with ways to convey all the levels of poetry – the “sonic, typographical, sensory, and ideational” (from Lewis Turco’s The Book of Forms). I hated grading poetry. Performing my poetry in public is enjoyable, promoting it is difficult. Writing poetry is a pleasure, submitting it and keeping track of who, what, where, when is a challenge.
RS: For the benefit of our readers please tell us a little about the work you do in Alternate ROOTS?
AT: I’ve been a member of Alternate ROOTS for a long time, but not a very active member. My wife Kathie deNobriga is a long-time and very active member. She used to be the Executive Director and still participates. She’s helping to write a history of the organization.
RS: The concept of Art Salon sounds very innovative. Do tell us a little about how and why you started this monthly endeavour.
AT: My wife Kathie had some health problems and realized she wanted to focus on something creative to facilitate healing so we decided to host an almost-monthly Art Salon where artists of every stripe could share work in all stages of development. Kathie wanted to use the Washington, DC-based choreographer and educator Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process. From Lerman’s website: “Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process is a method for giving and getting feedback on work in progress, designed to leave the maker eager and motivated to get back to work.” This process was nurtured at Alternate ROOTS, where Lerman was an early member.
At the Art Salon, we would feature two or three artists identified in advance and also usually have time for someone at the last minute. Artists would take 10-15 minutes to share or perform their work followed by another 10-15 minutes of audience response and discussion. Usually we held the salons in our “barn” (a large free-standing double garage) although we would move inside the house in the worst heat or cold. The salon would go from 3-5pm the first Sunday of the month and we often had 30-35 people attend, although once in a snow flurry, we had only two. We’d provide beverages and people often brought snacks to share. We have not held the salon regularly for a couple of years now, but hosted one the first Sunday in December and are intending to host them quarterly going forward.
RS: You are a member of the Artist Conference Network, a national coaching community for people doing creative work. Our readers and viewers would be eager for some quick tips to hone their writing skills or skills as an artist.
AT: The Artist Conference Network has been a great help to me. It’s offered coaching towards being in action producing work and also has given me a community of other artists who give support, encouragement, and share their own work, all of which inspires me. It’s helped me get out of my own way by recognizing the beliefs that were holding me back and creating new beliefs that draw me forward. For me, good writing is centered in the body – in the senses. Paying attention to what one can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste and using those senses to ground the writing makes it come alive for me, draws me in. Another thing that’s important to me is not knowing. There’s a good book by Richard Hugo called The Triggering Town where he argues against the idea that a poet should “write what you know” and advocates “writing poetry based on triggering subjects and words. The trick is realizing that the subject that inspires you to write a poem is not the actual subject of your poem. The actual subject of your poem is the one that develops as you write the poem.” It’s important to me to be intrigued by what I’m writing and to be surprised by it – to not know where I’m going. In college, I wrote a poem because I heard someone say she’d had a beige childhood. I made up the poem from that phrase and thought it had nothing to do with me. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how true it was for me.
Thanks a lot Alice for taking time out of a busy schedule to talk to The Wise Owl. We wish you the best in all your creative endeavours and hope and pray that you continue to work for the promotion of literature and Art.