“Elements of the Heart”: An Interview with Author, Bernadette Barnes by Robyn Stone-Kraft
Bernadette Barnes is a poet, a photographer, a nature lover, and a free spirit. Her first book of poetry, ‘Elements of the Heart,’ is a reflection of the wistfulness of one who longs for the freedom of nature, while trapped in the fast paced world we humans have created for ourselves. Her own photographs inspire many of the included poems.
When did you start writing poetry?
I started when I was in high school as a kind of outlet for all my teen angst and wrote for a few years, but then life and children and such got in the way and I pretty much stopped. It was actually a LOTR related matter that started me writing again.
I bought a couple of Viggo Mortensen’s books (yes, mostly because he was the very hunky Strider) but also out of curiosity about this “new renaissance man.” What was his work like? In his book “Coincidence of Memory” I found a lot that stirred me, and before I knew it, I was writing a kind of reply to one of his pieces and the floodgate was opened. I’ve written pretty consistently ever since.
What made poetry become important to you?
For me it has to do with that “aha” moment in poetry when I recognize in someone else’s words a feeling that I thought was exclusive to me. So when I manage to string together some words that have that impact on someone else, it’s electric! Sheer joy, that sense of connecting at a very basic level.
I have always loved writing poetry as a way of venting my feelings; organizing my thoughts; expressing my emotions. But, for many years I wrote only for my own amusement and that of a few close friends. Then a friend encouraged me to share a few of my bits of scribbling with others on a LOTR related website and once I started to get feedback, to know that I was making that connection with people, that was when my writing became truly important to me.
What do you wish people knew about poetry? Poets? Your work?
The thing I hear most frequently that I’d like to address is the “I don’t get poetry” notion. I think, from my perspective, that there is nothing to really “get” n a poem, only something to feel.
For me, the great poets are much like impressionist or even abstract painters; they suggest, conjure, imply, and my job as the reader is to just open myself up to all the emotions of the work and let those emotions summon ideas and visions.
So with my work, I write hoping to touch someone’s heart, stir their soul, and even if what they take away from my poetry is not what was on my mind, it makes no difference. Actually, in many ways, I’m happier when it is something different than what I had in mind. What matters is that the words spoke to them, moved them. When that happens I feel like I’ve done my job well.
What is your favourite part of writing poetry?
I think for me it’s when the work takes on a life of its own and almost writes itself. Those are the magic times, when the words seem to flow and I’m almost recording rather than creating. Although, sometimes that is a bit frustrating too, because I sit down with a notion of what I want to say and on occasion, that is NOT what wants to be written. I have now given up trying to return the writing to my original theme when this happens and just go with the flow, so to speak. Sometimes the subconscious just has something to say, I guess.
What is your favourite poem? Favourite poet? Why?
Oh this one is hard! There are so many poets that I admire and enjoy, but a favourite poet, like a favourite poem, would have a great deal to do with what’s going on in my life at the moment. Poetry is like spoken music, so my mood and circumstances influence what moves me.
If pressed, I’d have to say Robert Frost as the poet and his wonderful “The Road Not Taken” as the poem. The calm perfection of his words, the visual image he conjures speaks to my heart and the message, well, it rather explains how I view life.
On the other hand, I am also a huge fan of a new young poet, Tyler Knott Gregson, who writes mostly trim, spare verse that can still hit like a right hook to the heart. He writes a lot of haiku that somehow manages to completely undo me in just 17 syllables; it’s incredible stuff.
How do you feel when you write a poem that you know is really good?
It can be a bit like giving birth; painful, but glorious. Although, I am frequently uncertain about how I feel about a completed poem. I’ll often wait a day or two, then go back and read it with fresh eyes. If it moves me then, that’s when I have a sense that it may be good. A lot of what I write never really sees the light of day and stays in a journal, for my eyes only.
But when it all clicks, when the words fall into place in just the right way and I think, “This works; people will feel this one,” those moments are joyous and fill me with hope and passion to go on.
How does inspiration for a new poem come upon you?
I believe I am a very visual thinker, so most of the time it is something I see; a sunset; two people on a bench; a bird in flight. Since I am also a bit of a photography enthusiast, I am often inspired to write when reviewing shots that I have taken. There are occasions, however, when a mental image will just trigger a first line and that will run around in my head a while until I gradually start to cobble a few more words together; that’s the point at which I have to get out the journal and the pen and start scribbling. Often that will then prompt me to go in search of a visual image that relates to what I have written.
What is your writing process?
More often than not, I start writing in my head. The first few lines gradually piece together and repeat, over and over as I rework them. Then once I am at about 6 to 8 lines, that is when I go to paper. And yes, it is old fashioned, but pen and paper are what works for me. I am really never without a wee notebook or journal of some sort, but have, upon occasion, written on the backs of old envelopes, paper napkins, or other odd scraps of paper.
My first pass at a poem is generally fairly quick, as though there is this burst of energy that I have to get out onto the paper. After the bones are written, I go back to tweak and refine a bit. Then frequently, I wait a day or two, read it over (generally out loud) and give it a final polish.
Is there anything you want people to know about your work?
Just that I believe we are all storytellers. Through poetry, prose, or just in conversation, we are constantly relaying information and trying to relate to other people and to the world around us. My work is just my way of trying to convey a bit of who I really am and what I feel about this amazing world; a bit of my story. Life is about hope and my hope is that somehow I am touching other’s lives with my words (and images).
‘Elements of the Heart’ is available from Oloris Publishing and was part of their 2015 National Poetry Month campaign.