Every year, the English department nominates a student to represent Yale in the Connecticut Poetry Circuit. The contest judges accept one entry from each college in Connecticut, and from those nominees, five winners are chosen to participate in a reading series across various colleges in the state. Felicity Sheehy ’14, who was also a finalist for the nomination as a freshman, has been chosen to represent Yale in the contest this year.
Q. When did you start writing poetry?
A. A long time ago. A really long time ago. When I was home over the summer, I found poems that I had written when I was in the 5th grade. They weren’t particularly good, but they were poems.
Q. How would you describe your writing style?
A. I think I mostly do lyric free verse, which is what most people at Yale do. I draw from things that happen in my family, personal things, nature and so much more. I also write “persona” poems where you take on someone else’s voice and write from their experience. Philip Larkin has one persona poem where he pretends to be a newly wedded wife, and he’s an old English man! So that’s one example of how you can take on someone else’s voice.
Q. Which poems did you enter into the competition?
A. My persona poem, “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife,” was inspired by a work of art that I looked at in Louise Glück’s “Intro to Verse” class. And it’s mostly about the experience of a wife. For me, poetry is about trying to evoke a feeling and experience in the most precise language possible. That’s what I try to achieve in my work. It’s a choice of accurate images, words and imagery. For a persona poem, it’s almost as if you craft the essence of a person’s life. That sounds really vague and abstract, but you can achieve when you work with it really carefully. One of the poems, I wrote about my father. Another poem I talked about the experience of swimming. I tried to make the language “float,” if that makes any sense. Sometimes it’s difficult to talk about what a poem is about because what a poem is about is what it is. At its core, a poem is intuitive. It’s easiest and best when it’s intuitive.
Q. Speaking of Louise Glück, what do you think of the poetry classes at Yale and the poetry scene here in general?
A. It’s great — it’s really great. There’s real interest and support in the English department to enable and nurture young artists. There’s the Yale [Literary Magazine], the Yale Poetry Review … there are all these literary societies that allow people to feel comfortable about sharing their work. And being able to work with people like Louise Glück and Pulitzer Prize winners — it’s just inspiring. There are also groups in New Haven that are interesting. They aren’t young people, but sometimes it’s just interesting to hear things from people who are, say, 50 or from very different backgrounds. A lot of poetry writing is essentially solitary though.
Q. Take us through the process you go through in writing a poem.
A. In general, I walk around ideas and lines of words that have some spark to then. Sometimes I’ll find something in life that will just seem to fit. Revision is a really intense process. [United States Poet Laureate] Donald Hall supposedly writes 50 drafts or more. It’s nice to write, take a break, then look at it again. It becomes a routine. It can be both spontaneous and also just practice, you know?
Q. What is the hardest poem you’ve had to write?
A. The hardest poems are the ones you work the hardest on. A lot of times when I write something and I think the language has a little spark in it, that’s when I work the hardest. Those are the poems that are the most difficult — the ones that have the potential to be good. I’ve written poems that have had 40 drafts.
Q. Final thoughts about poetry?
A. In no way am I an expert, but this is my experience with poetry: I like poems that you can have a physical, visceral reaction to. Poems that you can feel in your stomach and in the back of your neck, poems that really make people feel something.