Interview with Poet Patty Paine (Part 2): Poetry Can Save You

Poetry, the reading and the writing of it, has saved my life. ~ Patty Paine

Patty Paine’s Influences

Years after her life-changing encounter with that GTA, Paine credits “many incredible and inspirational” teachers and peers as influences on her career. In addition to Sange, she singles out Greg Donovan and Mary Flinn for their “very high editorial standards”; David Wojahn, “a beacon of compassion, professionalism, and kindness” who has been “a huge influence”; Susan Settlemyre Williams, whom Paine met in her MFA program and who remains “a discerning and trusted reader”; and a close friend, not a poet, who “has a keen sense of language and is an insightful and astute reader. Our friendship is a safe space for me to create in, and her thoughtful and compassionate feedback and encouragement has made it possible for me to continue writing during the most difficult periods of my life.”

The Power of Story to Transform

A self-described narrative poet, Paine explains that she is drawn to and sustained by narrative poetry’s relationship to story. “My personal narrative is riddled with holes. I don’t remember my father or his family; I stopped speaking to my stepfather, or anyone in his family, when I was 18; my mother’s story shifted from telling to telling; and I never met any of my relatives in Korea. Perhaps for these reasons, I am impelled to create stories as an attempt to create something whole, something knowable.”

Storytelling accommodates Paine’s deep interest in exploring memory’s unreliability and poetry’s capacity to “make something more whole” from fragments; she is captivated by the way certain images and experiences crystallize in language to create something that is at once more personal and more universal.

Autobiography finds its way into Paine’s full-length collection The Sounding Machine, published in 2012, and in her most recent poems in which grief over the loss of her husband figures prominently. “Grief seems to exist in that tragic gap between what happened, what was lost, and what joy might be possible in the future. By its nature, I think, grief brings the past into the present in sometimes joyous, sometimes unbearable ways.”

In addition to life experiences, Paine finds “tantalizing and delightful” the idea that poetry carries within itself “the ambition of its promise” to transform. “I have been transformed both through the writing and reading of poetry,” Paine maintains, “but it’s difficult to articulate”; suffice to say, she continues, “I know, after a recent and profound loss—the death of my husband—that poetry has given voice to what I’m feeling [and,] like a raft, has helped carry me away from the deepest waters of grief.”

“I have been utterly humbled by loss,” Paine states. “I am less willing to be held back by my fears, and I am far enough removed from the trauma of my past that it doesn’t hold as much power over me as it once did. I hope this is reflected in my poems.”

Paine offers no long-term vision for herself as a poet but, she says, “as a person, I just hope that I can continue to grow and learn, and be grateful. I want the same things as a person that I want for my poetry, I suppose: to have integrity, to be authentic, and to make deep and meaningful connections with others.”

Poetry Can Save You

Reflecting on the months since her husband’s death, Paine confides that “poetry, the reading and the writing of it, has saved my life.” Turning to some of the poems she’s written recently, Paine concedes that the poems “were painful but necessary. I’m not sure I’m proud of them so much as I’m grateful for them, and for the way something almost alchemical takes place when one can make from pain something close to beauty, to truth.”

My Mother’s Soup

After hours packing artifacts —
a bowl of doll heads, lacquered box
of wishbones, bundles of shark cartilage
that claims to heal — I crave
the soup you made the last time
I saw you. I tear escarole,
dice scallions, cube tofu
and taro, and toss it in stock dark
with anchovy. The kitchen fills
with apparitions of steam,
and the smell of damp moss.
I turn up the heat, desperate
to quench this hunger, so raw, so large.

~ by Patty Paine, from Feral


Founding editor of Diode Poetry JournalPatty Paine is also an assistant professor of English at VCU Qatar, where she teaches writing and literature, and is the assistant director of Liberal Arts & Sciences. Paine is the author of The Sounding Machine (Accents Publishing, 2012), Feral (Imaginary Friend Press, 2012), and Elegy & Collapse (Finishing Line Press, 2005). She also is co-editor of Gathering the Tide: An Anthology of Contemporary Arabian Gulf Poetry (Garnet Publishing/Ithaca Press, 2011).

Watch Gathering the Tide Book Trailer.

Read Patty Paine’s poems “Merciless“ and “One should not try to write after reading Levis“ in Revolution House Magazine 3.3 (also available in pdf).

Read part one of Maureen’s interview with Patty Paine.

Featured photo by Teresa Alexander-ArabCreative Commons License via Flickr. Post by  Maureen Doallas, author of Neruda’s Memoirs: Poems.

Read about more poets in our growing collection of poets and poems.


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  1. says

    The apparitions in cooking… got me.

    I love the way Patty expresses the things inside her through the things she sees outside her.

    Beautiful finish to the interview.

    • says

      I think Patty’s a terrific poet. Thank you for the opportunity to interview her and especially to read her work. The anthology she edited is excellent also.

  2. says

    I love this sentence so much: “I’m not sure I’m proud of them so much as I’m grateful for them”.

    So much to love in this interview, Maureen. Thank you….

  3. Marcy says

    Before the move here we lived out and away but still in the city surrounded by three farms like the letter “C.” All vacant land but one still had a very old house, barn, long drive-way and a story to tell. Many poems I’ve written have come with this place in mind. Not having any knowledge of who once lived there I sat on the ground looking at this place and began to write. This poem turned into a story all about what I thought happened to the ones that lived there. To make a long story short the place happened to be the home of my Aunt’s best friends. Frances passed away at 99 just about five years ago. She had a daughter, my cousin Karen who I drove a long ways to see. I read the poem/story to Karen and I noticed things were real quite and Karen was crying. This is what really gets me, it seems the poem I wrote about a couple who lived there, all the things about her gardens, how she died at home was completely true. The entire poem, all eight pages were the life of this couple. Karen asked for the copy and thanked me so much. How could you know? I told Karen I didn’t know but just looked around inside and out and these were the words that came to me. Something like this leaves me wondering also, how could I know? Yet, it was a gift for my cousin Karen.


  1. […] that was born in a small place but could have far-reaching, long-term impact. If you have read our interview with Patty Paine, and if you think about the effects of poetry in your own life, you know that poetry can be, quite […]

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