Barbara Hamby

One of my problems with religion is that it’s limiting in so many ways. I remember the first time I took a humanities class, I thought, I can’t believe this. This is fantastic. This is what I want my life to be. When I was a young person, I did a lot of dabbling in Eastern religions, and it was very satisfying in some ways, but there’s that limitation always, which I find myself bridling against.

I was raised in a strict fundamentalist household, and I always say that gives you a muscle of belief. I want to believe in something, but I don’t believe in what my parents believed in. Poetry has taken the place, or I think the arts have taken the place, of religion in my life. I wanted to see how that was working out through the poems.

Cynie Cory roams the outer reaches of the heart’s territory, from the snowy winter of family life to the tropical jungles of love. She wears her heart on her sleeve and it is as big as the country she writes about. Is she the quintessential American girl? You bet she is, part Annie Oakley, part Emily Dickinson—sharpshooting poet of wild nights. She zooms in on the detritus of love—the broken fragments, the fallen leaves—and puts together a collage that is as heartbreaking as it is beautiful. Watch out—she’s driving down your street.

When I was a young woman, I had this friend who was really beautiful, and she would talk about how she was losing her looks, that she wasn’t as pretty as she once was. She was gorgeous, and I thought, I’m going to stop this bad habit of self-criticism that I think a lot of women get into. You make a choice to be different.

I don’t know anything about chemistry, but I know that there’s a whole world of chemistry, of professional chemists. They have their prizes, they have their publications, they have their work. Just because I don’t know about it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. A lot of people say, “Isn’t poetry in trouble today?” Or: “Nobody really reads poetry anymore.” And I say, “You’re crazy.” There’s a huge world of poetry out there. You may not know about it, but it’s there.

I know that one of the things that I really did to push myself was to write more formal poems, so I could feel like I was more of a master of language than I had been before. That was challenging and gratifying in so many ways. Then with these new poems, I’ve gone back to free verse, because it would be easy to paint myself into a corner with form. I saw myself becoming more opaque with the formal poems than I wanted to be. It took me a long time to work back into free verse again. That was a challenge in itself. You’re always having to push yourself.

One of things I write about a lot is the role of women. An older friend of mine said that she feels like there’s always a tension between wanting to be free and wanting to be cherished. I think that’s one of the things that my whole book speaks to, wanting to break out of the confines of the roles that are prescribed for women and yet at the same time, not wanting to be totally free. You want to have intimate relationships. It’s that bursting out of confinement.

Everybody spoke English in my class, and they would turn to me and say, “What’s going on in your country?” I would try to explain to Austrians, Poles, Australians, Israelis, Costa Ricans – people from all over the world – what was going on in our country. I would have to say, “I don’t know what’s going on, either. It’s pretty evenly divided in our country. Sometimes one part’s on top, and other times, the other faction is on top, and right now it’s just crazy. We hate it as much as you do.”

I guess it was easier for me to find my voice in poetry than it was in fiction. I’m working on fiction again, and I find it a lot more difficult. It’s a struggle. At a certain point, you have your voice and you go to it every time, so it’s not like reinventing the wheel. That’s the way I see it at least.