Friday, April 3, 2009

Poetry Friday--with a Guest Poet!

For Poetry Friday and National Poetry Month, I am pleased to introduce you all to Courtney Hartnett! Courtney is a poet I met during a teen writing workshop I taught last August. Her first book of poetry, Eleanor's Angel, is due out April 15th from Wild Leaf Press.

I was fortunate to read some of Courtney's prose as well as her poetry and I can say she's got quite the talent. Her poems are full of voice and bring you right into moment.

Courtney grew up in the rural Northern Neck of Virginia. Her life in the country has inspired her to write since childhood. She has won awards through the international level for speaking and writing, including a national honorable mention in the 2008 Library of Congress Letters About Literature competition and first place in the 2008 United Nations Pilgrimage for Youth International Speech Contest. In her spare time, Courtney enjoys horseback riding, running with friends, painting, playing guitar, mandolin, and fiddle, and raising chickens.

Without further ado, here is an interview with Courtney:

Amber: What inspires you as a writer?

Courtney: I think one of the key aspects of the “writer personality” is that you can find inspiration in anything – as long as you’re looking. I’ve been inspired by passengers on buses and flowers in fields. I enjoy writing about animals, especially horses, who I think are really the most poetic of all.

Amber: I agree with you on horses. I'm having to study them right now for my new book. Who was your first inspiration as far as writing poetry?

Courtney: The first poem I remember writing was when I was about seven. It was about a sled dog who was pulling a crate of medicine to children who were snowbound in Nome, Alaska. I was really fascinated with sled dogs when I was little; I read Gary Paulsen books about them and watched Balto. It was really ironic that the poem rhymed, because now all I write is free verse.

Amber: I have a hard time with rhyming, as well. How does your poetry describe you?

Courtney: I think my poetry parallels my personality – I’m somewhat quiet, and I notice a lot. My poems are like that; they aren’t in-your-face, loud writing, but they’re perceptive. I like to write about little things we pass over in our day-to-day lives – the things we’d think about if we only had more time.

Amber: What do you hope the reader walks away with after reading your first book of poetry?

Courtney: I hope, most of all, that everyone who reads Eleanor’s Angel will keep reading poetry. Most contemporary people dismiss poetry as too esoteric and utterly academic to be a relaxing read. The book’s style is easier to read and relies primarily on rhythm and imagery – not obscure language, bizarre syntax, and barely perceptible allusions. I don’t want my readers to have to dig for a deeper meaning. I want the meaning to be right there, in front of them, so they can truly understand it, absorb it, and make it their own.

Amber: I write with loads of imagery, as well. It brings beauty and truth to the story/poem, I like to think. Your poems are like mine, except, well, much better! What are your strengths and weaknesses as a poet, if any?

Courtney: I think my greatest strength as a writer is my imagery. When Claudia Emerson judged my poems in a contest, she told me that my poems have strong, believable imagery. I also feel that my work has rhythm to it, which poetry really needs. My greatest weakness are my cop-out endings. You don’t see a lot of them in the book because I find them and edit them, but all too often, I can’t think of a good last line and I’m about to get off the bus or switch classes or go do something else, and I scribble down whatever comes to mind. Rushed endings really kill a poem’s momentum and leave a bitter aftertaste. I’m trying my best to stop writing them.

Amber: I think most writers, no matter whether it's poetry or prose, have that problem. You get to the end and you want to be done. Did you find any unusual hurdles in the publishing business since you aren't exactly an aged poet?

Courtney: To be honest, publishing a first book, especially poetry, is difficult whether you’re young or old. I worried that my publisher might have second thoughts when she realized I was 17, but all we had to do was add my mom as a co-signer on the contract because I won’t be 18 til July. Most of all, I try to put my best foot forward with all my poetry submissions. There’s a stereotype of the teen poet; most people think of the kid dressed in black who sits in her room and writes sing-song-y love poetry and morose, badly written breakup songs. I do my best to be sure people realize I’m not that stereotype.

Amber: I am guilty of having been that kind of teenage poet, except for dressing in black. My poems are too depressing, and I wasn't even "depressed." Your poems are true-to-life, like perfect snapshots of moments in time. Ok, now, the most important question of all: What's your favorite ice cream flavor?

Courtney: My favorite ice cream is coconut-chocolate-almond. I tried it once at an ice cream shop in Tappahannock, and it was absolutely delicious! It tastes like an Almond Joy bar as an ice cream cone. I also am a fan of pistachio ice cream; I thought it would taste odd, but it was really quite good.

Amber: My God-o'-Desserts, that sounds awesome. Thank you for visiting my blog, Courtney. I don't think people will read your poems and think, "that was written by a teenager." People will read your poems and realize they're just going to be reading your poems for many years to come. Besides, poets are Old Souls.

Ok, everyone, here’s the publishing info on the book: The publisher is Wild Leaf Press, a small poetry/short fiction press in New Haven, CT. The book can be pre-ordered by visiting the WLP site and clicking “forthcoming.” Please visit the Wild Leaf Press website and check out Courtney's poems! (I'd post one here, but I think it'd be better if you went to the website and looked around, so go! I'm sending you on a mini scavenger hunt for choice words!)

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