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INTERVIEW WITH BARBARA THOMAS

Describe the room you write in:

The room I write in is spiritual. It has pale sage walls, prints of Picasso, Greek memorabilia on shelves, a hanging fern, orange cat photos in wood frames, a stuffed dog with red ears my brother won at the fair and photos of my family. It has many windows, good light and musical vibrations that change with the seasons.

What writers influence you?

It is difficult to answer after three decades of teaching English which writers have influenced me, but I would say that stand out writers have been Chekov, Emerson, Shakespeare, John Donne, Emily Bronte, Emily Dickenson and Thoreau. I have read works of the above in earnest because of the writers ideas and sensibilities, language, diversity of style and humanity. Presently I am influenced by contemporary poets such as Mary Oliver, my poet friends at the Bagel Bards and many nature writers.

You taught at Brighton High School for numerous years. What did you try to teach your students about literature? writing? What were some of the challenges?

I was devoted to my students and when teaching at Brighton High designed a program that focused on literature and their writing and thinking called Literature, the Life-Cycle and Inner-Stories...the program developed from necessity. I needed to communicate with my students other than in a superficial, dictatorial way. I wanted to hear their stories, and they needed to learn about literature, writing, and themselves. I correlated each stage of Erik Erikson's life cycle to a work of literature. Then the students would read and discuss stage story and in their journals would record their personal experience about the theme of the life cyle and literature. For example for stage one which is trust versus mistrust with the accompanying virtue of hope, they would write their personal stories involving trust and mistrust and hopefulness. Their work was awakening. We focused on stage five, the identity stage, because this was their stage and read current, traditional and multicultural novels, essays, memoirs, poetry with the identity theme. Later in the year, they wrote an autobiography based on literature read and the written work in their journals. One year the senior class was invited by Joan Erikson to read their life stories at the then Erikson Center in Cambridge. It was a total thrill for them.

My students came from Santo Domingo, Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala, China, VietNam, Cambodia, Africa, Russia, Ireland....a diverse group. The challenges, of course, were discipline and maintaining their interest. I found that using their personal experience as a basis for writing in the framework of the life cycle was greatly motivating. Many were at first afraid to write because they came to high school with a history of having their writing red-marked and overly criticized. Their work was not read for the understanding of their budding ideas. Introducing open discussion helped a lot, although this was difficult. However, soon they were sharing their experiences and writing with each other. We made our own community.

You belong to a writers' workshop called, the Backstares Poets. Talk about your experience with this workshop. How has this helped your writing?

Backstares is a wonderful group. We meet on the average every two weeks and bring our poems to workshop. The poets in this group are excellent poets --cordial and helpful in their comments. I find that the input of a word or noting how the poem unfolds very helpful. The members of the group are good listeners and always encouraging. I enjoy our sessions. It keeps me motivated.

You attend Bagel Bards, a writing community gathering, almost every Saturday morning. What has this been like for you?

Discovering the Bagel Bards opened a new world for me after many years of teaching. I feel I fit in with this community of poets and writers. The people there are welcoming and full of humor and congeniality. Saturday meetings and conversations are refreshing and I always learn something new. I find out about readings and conferences. People communicate with each other via the Internet. I am very moved by fellow poets interest and support of each others work.

Talk about your new chapbook that Cloudkeeper Press just published , Seduced by Sighs of Trees.

I am thrilled to have my poems published. I worked very hard on these poems and they come from the heart. These poems are about my childhood in rural Connecticut, personal inner experiences and convey a strong sense of place. Many are nature poems. Putting the chapbook together was like giving these poems a home . I need to say that the publishing process was fun and a learning experience ..thanks to you Gloria. Your welcoming spirit and expertise put me at ease every step of the way.

You frequently visit Greece, talk about your visits and how it affects your work.

Each one of my trips to Greece was different. I went to Santorini with my father a year before he died, and wrote Santorini Blue which talks about our experience there and brings back poignant memory. On another trip I visited Epirus, a province very near where my mother was born and wrote the poem Voureous Epirus and that place still echoes in my mind. Most recently, I toured the sites of the ancient ruins and wrote Delphi, after leaving that setting with a sense of awe. I want to write about the voices I heard at the ancient theater of Epidauros and the fragrance from incense and flowers at monasteries of Meteora. I am inspired by Greece because my mother was born there, and by its physical beauty and history. Each visit is a new beginning.

Any last comments?

Yes. Thank you for asking me these great questions that bring together various aspects of my experience and my development as a poet.

 


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