Introducing the 2014 Fort Collins Poet Laureate, Chloé Leisure
Wolverine Farm initiated the Fort Collins Poet Laureate program in 2011. We saw a need to bring more attention to poets and poetry in our community. A few months ago, Chloé Leisure was selected by public vote to be the city’s Poet Laureate for 2014. A graduate of Colorado State University and resident of Fort Collins since 2003, Chloé writes daring and evocative poetry, and works with people of all ages on their own poetry and creative writing. We interviewed Chloé to learn more about her process, as well as her insights about the craft. Her year of service will include public writing workshops and readings for kids and adults, because, she believes, “. . .there’s a place for everyone in the strange, curious, and innumerable universes of poetry.”
Fort Collins Courier: What techniques are you using to generate work these days?
Chloé Leisure: I keep a regular journal, as well as a dream journal, although I’m not as diligent as I once was with a daily practice. I’m pretty good about jotting down a line or an idea as soon as it comes to me (during work, a walk, or in the middle of a conversation).
Sometimes, when I’m feeling too fused to an idea and it’s not really working, I’ll turn to a procedure. For example, I’ll pull 13 books off of my shelf, and I’ll write down the 13th line from the 13th page of each of the books. Sometimes it remains just a warm-up, or a break from my own head, but there are times when something poignant bubbles up to the surface. I also rely on using found (and overheard) language, tarot cards, and that which I encounter on walks in the woods.
What is the importance of poetry in the fabric of Fort Collins? How does this manifest in people’s daily lives?
I think poetry is extraordinary because it begs for freedom of expression. We all see, feel, and experience things in our own unique way. I might call the sky blue, but you might say it’s the color of your grandfather’s old Buick, and someone else might not see the sky but rather smell the electric air of a coming storm.
That said, I think there’s a place in poetry for everyone. I love the quote from Christian Wiman, the former editor of Poetry. It’s taped above my desk: “Let us remember…that in the end we go to poetry for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.”
Any anecdotes from your work with children about the power of poetry?
One of my most memorable stories was when I was teaching a 2nd grade class with “Literacy through Poetry” several years ago. The students were writing poems, I believe prompted by a model poem that had a character who swallowed something and had a kind of a transformation. Well, one little boy wrote a poem about a bear who lived in the middle of the woods and was rather sad since he was lonely. Until one night, the boy wrote, when the bear swallowed the moon and all the stars, and began to glow. He lit up the whole forest, and all the woodland animals gathered around the bear, and the bear was so happy because he finally had friends. It still gives me goosebumps when I think of this story.
Who has influenced your work the most?
I’m lucky to have had so many incredible teachers and professors throughout my education. From my 6th grade teacher to my college mentor to all of the fabulous poets I was fortunate to study with at CSU. The poet Barbara Anderson, at Northern Arizona University, taught me how to mine for material in my own not-so-exciting life.
Going way back, my Grandma Morrison was also an early literary influence; she gave me my first journal (and made me keep a travel record during road trips), my very own dictionary and thesaurus (I still use both to this day), and held weekly spelling and grammar lessons at her kitchen table during the summers for my cousin and me.
The writers who have influenced me, both in form and content, include Charles Simic and his narrative surrealism, Sylvia Plath and her rich details and constrained lines, Amy Gerstler and her narrative tales, and Matthea Harvey and her strange intricacies. I go to Mary Oliver and Gary Snyder when I need to calm and simplify my nature-inspired poems. I’m also haunted by specific poems. They’re like these masterpieces hanging in some strange museum. I worship them and use them to teach others and myself. They include “The Colonel” (Carolyn Forché), “A Story About the Body” (Robert Hass), “The Second Coming” (W. B. Yeats), “Learning to Listen” (Maxine Chernoff), and “Traveling Through the Dark” (William Stafford).
Name five books that have made you more attentive as a writer.
1. Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely
2. Jack Collom’s Poetry Everywhere
3. Sylvia Plath’s Collected Poems
4. Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye
5. The dictionary. I used to love thumbing through my parents’ big red Webster’s dictionary with its little illustrations of antiquated machinery and exotic flowers. I went through a (brief—I was soon discovered) phase when I had the bad habit of circling all the new words I’d look up. I still use the paperback dictionary my Grandma Morrison gave me in 4th grade. It’s missing its cover and several introductory pages, but there’s a soft familiarity to the edges of the pages that I love.
Find out more about Chloé Leisure and Wolverine Farm Publishing’s Poet Laureate program at www.wolverinefarm.org/events/fort-collins-poet-laureate.
This interview was edited for length.