The Flapper Press Poetry Café Welcomes Pamela Hobart Carter, the Geologist Poet
By Annie Newcomer:
The Flapper Press Poetry Café features the work of poets of all ages from across the globe. This week, we are happy to feature the work of Pamela Hobart Carter.
After she earned two degrees in geology, Pamela Hobart Carter became a teacher. She wrote on the side; now she writes full-time and teaches on the side. Her plays have been read or produced in Seattle (her home), Montreal (her childhood home), and Fort Worth. Carter has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize and The Best of the Net and won her high school essay contest (a million years ago). During COVID, she added poetry lessons for children to her site. Her poetry chapbooks include Her Imaginary Museum, Held Together with Tape and Glue, and the forthcoming Only Connect.
We reached out to Pamela to talk about her work and passions.
Please meet Pamela Hobart Carter!
Annie Newcomer: Welcome to the Flapper Press Poetry Café, Pamela. In reading your bio and browsing through your website, I was touched by the multiple ways you engage in writing: poetry, drama, creating lesson plans for parents of young children (offered on your website), and—pre-pandemic—offering your time and talent in schools. Since this is a Flash Interview, with your permission, I would like to touch briefly on some of these achievements. My first question for you today is two-fold: how do you schedule your day to find time for all these varied important interests, and why is each important to you?
Pamela Hobart Carter: Thank you, Annie. It’s a pleasure being here.
Scheduling has been a hobby since childhood. It reassures me my projects will fit into my days and that I’ll finish them, even though I seldom stick to a plan. Because … I jump around a lot. I go “where it’s hot.” In November, I moved a back-burner novel to the stove-front, determined to arrive at a first draft SOON. In December, I interrupted it with some sonnet-ing when an intense experience prompted the first one. In January, I started a full-length script that had been lurking.
Often, I launch into the “hot” item first thing in the morning, reserve a particular project—currently the play—for timed writing once or twice a week, and let poems show up when they show up. My schedule is also affected by how social a writer I am. I meet with others for revising, generating, and critiquing.
Poems satisfy me because they allow relatively quick dives down whatever rabbit hole is attracting me in the moment. I’m glad for their density, concision, and inspiring strictures of form. At my Canadian school, we were required to memorize and recite a fair amount of verse, so writing poems also takes me back and gives me a sense of threadedness to my younger self.
Plays let me plunk onto the page the voices I hear (mostly when I’m writing!) that are attempting to sort out situations. I began writing scripts at that small Canadian school where we could put on our own plays. Then geology and teaching took over. About thirty years later, I started writing plays again.
Ever since I quit my regular teaching gig, my guest poet forays have fed the curriculum-maker in me. When the pandemic prevented those visits, I came up with my website lessons. I love exposing children to good poetry and to this strange way of communicating their dreams, memories, observations, and so forth. Seeing what they make is a thrill.
AN: In what ways have your degrees is geology played a role in your writing? How does science inform your writing?
PHC: I will always love rocks and earth processes. Time is a favorite theme and an essential variable in geology—a bit of an obsession. Many of my poems feature geological vocabulary and concepts, especially relating to the transport of rock grains by ice and water over the millennia (since glacial sedimentology was my specialty!). When I was studying geology, I loved fieldwork because it combined being outside and problem solving. Instead of academic papers, now I write poems about erosion; instead of fieldwork, I hike.
From the scientific method, I learned a way of being. Most useful of all, I learned to expect a degree of failure to accompany every enterprise. I think that’s helped me avoid despair over rejection and flops and kept me in my seat to edit. A close contender in usefulness is that I learned that experimentation is integral to progress—and I can go WAY out there because, why not? I love the idea that we can put anything on the page—drum up any character, take any direction, imagine universes that exist nowhere else but in our gray matter.
When I got to college, I thought I would major in art history, then studio art. (When I was a kid, I told people I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. Lately, I’ve been painting a lot again.) Geology surprised me my sophomore year when I took the required science. I loved the stories in it. I loved its abstractions embedded in vast time. I loved handling rocks and minerals and standing on outcrops. All these loves are in me still and occasionally assert themselves in what I write.
AN: In your cover letter for your submission you share that you found the Flapper Press Poetry Café through our interview with Amy Beth and Derek Wright. Don’t you find the Wrights' passion and devotion for the National Park System impressive? Congratulations on your selection into their beautiful anthology. Please share with our readers why Wayfinding is a valuable book to have in one’s collection and what it meant to you to have your work included in it.
PHC: Amy Beth and Derek Wright are good humans. Agreed, absolutely, they impress with their devotion to the parks and points of their eponymous site. I’m blown away by their creation of community. They’ve gathered a nature-centric group by publishing the writings of others, anthologizing for Wayfinding, curating readings that include fascinating presentations by park rangers and inviting a batch of poets to participate in a podcast by Skylight Books. Those are just a few of the things I know about the duo.
Wayfinding is a handsome object. Reverence for and specificity about nature rank high in this anthology. Its works take readers to spots sacred to the writers and photographers. Wayfinding reminds me how much beauty surrounds us, how small we are—and how big the world is and how diverse are responses to this land and its inhabitants. The book makes me feel more protective of wilderness and more eager to return to it. I’m proud—and lucky—to share pages with those included. I’ve felt so welcomed by Amy Beth and Derek Wright. Because of them I’ve come to know the poetry of Rebecca Hart Olander and Debbie Theiss, among others. The Wrights expanded the chance I would come upon their lovely words.
Being published by the Wrights prompts me to mull—as I hike, and I love to hike—how to phrase my experience of the setting and move through it. I write more nature poems because of them.
AN: One of my first poetry teachers when I began this journey into the literary world emphasized to the class that if we wanted to become strong poets we should attempt to write a play so that we understood how to express our thoughts more clearly. So I immediately noticed and am impressed with your accomplishments in playwriting.
I found an interesting article on poets and playwriting, "The Space Between the Words—Poets Writing Plays;" it's not about words but the space between the words. Poets understand that space. A poet’s words point to what remains unsaid, and poems, like plays, resound with subtext—they cannot, in fact, succeed at a high level without it. And so it is with theater. How has your foray into playwriting and drama enhanced your poetry writing skills, and vice versa? Does your poetry ever evolve into a piece of drama?
PHC: This question got me immediately tooling my next classroom visit. The children and I are definitely going to act out the example poems we use as springboards for their creations. A layer of abstraction will be thrown aside. And I am definitely going to add a lesson or two in crafting a play-poem and in acting out poetry to my Make-a-Poem-at-Home page. Thank you!
All my imagining, as I write scripts, of the distinct speaking voices of actors, may help my sonic sense when I write poems. All my syllable counting and efforts to concretize, as I write poems, may help my rhythmic sense and inclusion of actions and objects when I write plays. “Flipping to Scripts: Why and How a Poet Becomes a Playwright” by Tammy Gomez quotes Alvaro Saar Rios, playwright, director, and poet: “As a playwright . . . my job is to use the least amount of words to tell a story. My skills as a poet have definitely helped. . . . The genre/form I use all depends on what story I want to tell.” I nod when I read this.
I do aim to write plays that could only be plays, poems that could only be poems. Meanwhile, I don’t find it contradictory that a play might be written in verse or a poem in play-form. Before any words hit the page, I seem to have decided whether they will be lines of a play or a poem—or something else. Last year I had a really good time deliberately blending modes for a short science play production in which Barnacle Sloan speaks almost wholly in verse, and once I wrote a poem as a mini-script, but can’t think of others.
In How Not to Write a Play, Walter Kerr advocates for scripting in verse. After reading that book, I rewrote an entire full-length in verse but undid it later, not liking the result. I couldn’t make it feel natural enough—despite the entire effort of writing being artificial, the versification somehow called more attention to itself as artifice than I enjoyed.
Often, I wonder if all our efforts when writing are to express ideas that even the best-chosen words and most-logical syntax on the planet cannot fully manifest. Translations between brain and page drop meaning. Maybe the spaces in poetry and silences in plays mark those losses. Maybe they remind us to patch them with our own inferences.
AN: Before we conclude our time today, I would like to reiterate that your lesson plans for poetry for children are wonderful. I would like to encourage parents to take a look at your website. Indeed, I plan to use some of these wonderful lesson plans with the young students I work with in Kansas City. Thank you for these, Pamela. Now it's time to ask you to share 3 of your poems and backstories on them. We also look forward to hearing more from you in the future.
PHC: This was a pleasure.
In "October Weave," I plunked my thoughts about families during a visit to family. I think my own extended family may be the patchwork that remakes itself, but I'm not sure.
Some do not find family
until we fabricate it
from strangers and oddballs.
Some find family strange.
We get labeled “oddballs,”
prefer “black sheep” and flourish.
Some strange families remake
themselves at intervals—
patch the quilt with fabric scraps
found on the closet floor,
discarded for a tear
in a matriarch’s blouse
featuring acorns and leaves
in browns and yellows—colors
of fall. The cloth spread now
accents themes once background.
We love the branches, hiding
before, their abrupt twists
away from the ground, up
or suddenly left, a warp,
believe it or not, of purple.
"3 Goals" I launched with hyperbole.
To win, of course! To become
a household name. Own
the dazzlingest collection
of blue ribbons, engraved cups,
accolades, and handshakes.
To get to the end, to the bottom,
to the other side, to understanding,
to the root, to the limits. To read
and report on each sumptuous title
stacked—electronically and IRL—
alongside the bed, and to share
with everyone encountered—friend
or foe—the wonders of each book
and where to purchase, and so to cheer
the writers and to converse
about common experience: the words.
To know names may be named
in many households. Collected, and warmed.
By love, by acquaintance, by mugs of dark hot chocolate.
To be easy about it, unless
the it is a democracy infringement,
a tank invasion, an adolescent denied childhood.