Issue 35, Final Fringe

Cheryl Dumesnil: Falling Into Place

by Rachel Dacus Issue 21 02.22.2010

Cheryl Dumesnil

Photo: Tracie Vickers

Cheryl Dumesnil’s first collection of poems, In Praise of Falling won the 2008 Agnes Lynch Starret Prize and was published by University of Pittsburgh Press in Fall 2009. She is the editor of Hitched! Wedding Stories from San Francisco City Hall (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2005) and co-editor with Kim Addonizio of Dorothy Parker’s Elbow: Tattoos on Writers, Writers on Tattoos (Warner, 2002). Rachel Dacus caught up with Cheryl to ask her about winning a contest and about her life in writing.

What excites you when you read poetry?

I love sound, complicated sound. And when the sound is used to amplify the meaning of the poem, I can’t get enough of that. It’s like listening to good music. I have to read it out loud, to say, “Did you hear that?” Sound makes a poem resonate in a stronger way, and gives it texture, makes it an active expression of a state of mind. When you’re working with the power of sound, you’re speaking to your reader not only on a conscious level, but also on subconscious level because sound activates the senses, because sound carries meaning on a level deeper than just the definitions of the words.

In addition to sound, I love poems that have emotional content—poems that connect with the heart, not necessarily in lieu of connecting with the head, but a combination of both. I like poems to stimulate on many different levels simultaneously, but I really like poems that connect with the heart, that take my breath away with their insight into human experience.

For you, does inspiration or revision usually play the greater role in composing a poem? And do you revise over a long period of time or quickly?

Inspiration kicks the poem out of my head and onto the page. If that initial inspiration doesn’t have enough velocity to get a whole first draft out there on the first try, then I don’t have enough interest to fuel the revising process. If the initial spark is strong enough to lay down a first draft, I’ll stay faithful to that poem and revise the hell out of it until I either make it what it wants to be, or realize I don’t know enough about it yet to guide it to where it needs to go.

In the first case, I’ll do a lot of tinkering to get it just right—the time this takes depends on the poem. In the second case, I’ll put it in a folder for rediscovery at a later date. Even in the cases where an initial spark doesn’t produce a whole draft of a poem, just a few lines or an interesting image—I keep that too, for later use.

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Rachel Dacus

Rachel Dacus

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Rachel Dacus’ poetry books are Another Circle of Delight, Femme au chapeau and Earth Lessons. Her work appears in the anthologies Ravishing DisUnities: Real Ghazals in English, Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-Po LISTSERV, and Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose About Alzheimer’s Disease, as well as in numerous print and online magazines. Read more at www.dacushome.com. She interviews poets for Fringe and Umbrella magazines and blogs at http://dacusrocket.blogspot.com. The daughter of a rocket scientist, her name is on a piece of floating space junk.