Annie Lighthart’s poetry collection Iron String was published in 2013 by Airlie Press. She earned an MFA from Vermont College and has taught at Boston College, as a poet in the schools, and with many organizations. Her poetry has been read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac and chosen by Naomi Shihab Nye to be placed in Ireland’s Galway University Hospitals as part of their Poems for Patience project. Her poems have been published in journals such as Cimarron Review, The Greensboro Review, and Hunger Mountain. She lives in a green corner of Portland, Oregon. Her poems “Hay” and “The Night is Large” are included in the Spring 2016 Premium Edition of Carve. Preorder or subscribe by April 29 for special savings and discounts.
Your poem “Hay” has strong imagery leading the readers to almost imagine the hay like a meal they are eating. What was your thought process when writing the piece?
I’m grateful that the images worked that way, even though hay would make an uncomfortable meal! When writing the poem, my mind was itchy with the thought of hay on a hot day. As I wrote, I tried to bring in words to help the poem feel as hay does— to stick and scratch with sound. Some of the words, like sift and grit, were planned, but many of them were happy accidents that came into the poem because they were farm words, like stack, thatched, pitched. Those basic farm words have a great itchy sound to them. Even though I live in a city now, those words immediately gave me back the sense of scratchy cut hay.
Was there a particular time in your youth that you pulled from in the writing of “Hay”?
Looking back at the poem, I think I pulled the writing from two youths: my own and my grandfather’s. I’d been in and around hay as a child and have never forgotten how hay felt— definitely how it poked and scratched, but also how beautiful it was to be out in it, both in the field and later cut, dried, and piled. The other youth I was thinking of was my grandfather’s, specifically a black and white photo of him as a teenager sitting with two friends in a field of cut hay. The photo was taken just before World War I. I’ve thought about that photo and its frozen moment a lot, knowing that he was soon to go into the trenches in France. The idea of haying came from the photo, as did the idea of being young and strong and working for an authority that had different plans for you, different ideas about the world and your place in it.
Are you aware of any words that seem to drop into your poems on a regular basis?
Yes, and I blush because I’m horribly aware of words that drop into my poems regularly. They too are like cut hay: they get everywhere, they just seem to slide into the poems, up my sleeves, in my collar. Darkness is one, rain is another, also fire – and here they are all in one poem! They’re elemental words and have become, I think, a kind of shorthand for, or a compression of, larger moods and atmospheres. Handy, but also dangerous if overused.
Was there a moment when you realized that you could write poetry? Did you believe in yourself right away?
I’m not sure if I slid into poetry, or if poetry ambushed me. I had been reading poetry for a long time, but I was committed to writing what turned out to be really awful short stories and essays instead of poems. Poetry itself ambushed me in a startling way: one night I woke up with a couple of lines about Marco Polo in my mind. I wrote them down and went back to bed. In the morning I was surprised to see that they were a poem. Those first four lines gave me a little jolt and so the next day I tried to write a second poem. And then the next. Eventually I was writing them every day—secretly. I was supposed to be looking for a job but really was in the library reading and writing poetry. After a few months I came clean, and a year later went back to school so I could study poetry intensely. I didn’t believe I was a writer even then, but I did believe that something was happening through the writing— that my eyes and attention and thoughts were changing because of this strange and amazing craft.