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Volume 23 / No. 1 / 2012
Cornell University
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When a Poet Sees

A Conversation with Lyrae van Clief-Stefanon, English Van Clief-Stefanon
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Do you see yourself when looking into the mirror or how someone has described you? How much of what you see is being reflected back from society?

SNEAD: I envision that how a painter, writer, poet, or any creative artists see the world is reflected in their art. Is this true of your poetry?

VAN CLIEF-STEFANON: All the strange things I come into contact with—get obsessed with or fascinated by—find ways of popping up in my poems, which is exciting. For example, once I spent time at the Johnson Museum looking at bowerbirds. Later, I talked with my sister on the internet, and as we looked at them, trying to figure out their strange individual aesthetic, we also wondered how they would end up in my poems.

What was your fascination?

I’m fascinated by their sense of design and the things the males collect to attract a female, like little snippets of blue bottle caps, which they put around their nests. They’re using found objects for art, but it’s art with a purpose passed along in their DNA. If they don’t design a nest that the female likes, they’re not going to mate.

How do you think the bowerbirds will end up in a poem?

I never know how things will show up initially. I’m an avid researcher. Sometimes I have to force myself to stop researching and sit down and write, because I’m constantly collecting information. I don’t know how it’s all going to weave together.

Oftentimes, I’ll write a line, and the language shifts in different ways, like by sound. I can be writing about time. Get the word “hour” on the page, and suddenly, here comes that bowerbird, because I said “hour.”

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