Ingrid L. Taylor Interview

Punt Volat What prompted you to begin writing poetry?

Ingrid L. Taylor: I’ve written poetry for most of my life, which means I wrote a lot of bad poems before getting to the good ones. I read a lot of poetry when I was younger, and it seemed an accessible mode of expression for me. When I was ten years old, my poem about a horse won a contest and was published in an equestrian magazine, and I remember how wonderful it felt to be able to share my writing with others. Although there have been periods of my life when I took a break from writing (such as in veterinary school), I’ve always considered poetry my first love and something to which I’ll always return.

PV: How has your concept of poetry changed as you have evolved as a writer?

ILT: I’ve learned to write in service to the poem, rather than in service to me as the writer. This means that sometimes the poem demands that I cut images and concepts that I’m really in love with but don’t fit with what the poem needs to become. I’ve learned to let the poem speak through me rather than trying to control the narrative.

PV: Which adjectives describe the process of writing poetry for you: invigorating, exhausting, cathartic, painful…?

ILT: Honestly, all of these, at one point or another. But mostly, I think obsessive describes my experience. When I start a poem, I’m always pushing different angles until I find the way in and begin to see the shape and direction of the poem. Once I’ve found that, I can’t leave it alone. I keep working on the poem during any free moment until suddenly, I realize I’ve started to love it, and I feel it release its hold on me. That’s when I know it’s getting close to being finished—when my questions about it have been answered and I’m feeling this profound affection for it.

PV: What do you find tends to serve as a catalyst for a poem?

ILT: I always begin with an image or phrase that has really moved me or stuck with me in some way, and then I start playing with that image to see where it takes me. For example, in “Mermaids,” I was entranced by the image of the mermaids in the basement in Emily Dickinson’s poem “I Started Early—Took My Dog” and I wondered how I could turn that concept into something else. From the initial image, I then start to explore how I can introduce juxtapositions and twists, and sometimes that leads to a good poem.

PV: The tone of “Mermaids” is beautiful in its darkness and liminality, as of urgent speech obscured by underwater origins. The lattices, cellar, stacked cans, “seashell folds,” and “silvered nets” all enclose. Will you elaborate on what seems in this poem to be a purposeful ambiguity and this feeling of entrapment?

ILT: I was thinking a lot about inherited trauma and epigenetics (which are changes in gene expression that can be brought on by some types of trauma) when I was writing this poem. I was trying to express the feelings of inevitability and entrapment that can sometimes arise from having a violent family history, and the images—lattices, stacked cans, nets—all emerged from those feelings. I think the ambiguity comes from a reluctance to deal with inherited trauma and violence—it can be scary to delve into but if it’s ignored, one runs the risk of becoming entangled in the past.

PV: Does veganism or your veterinary work have an impact on your writing, or vice versa?

ILT: Being a veterinarian and a vegan have informed my experiences and by extension, these experiences inform my poetry. My poetry is an expression of who I am and where I’ve come from, but I never try to be didactic or push a certain agenda in my poetry. Instead, I rely on image and emotion and allow the poem to find its own form and meaning. It is inevitable that my own values and beliefs will emerge in my poetry. That is important and essential in creating a unique voice as a writer, but I write first and foremost in service to the poem and what it needs to express. When I approach my writing in this way, I’m often surprised by new insights. That being said, the sentience of other-than-human life and our interactions with other animals often figures prominently in my work.

PV: What books are you reading right now?

ILT: I just finished Jody Chan’s amazing collection Sick, and I’m starting Khalisa Rae’s Ghost in a Black Girl’s Throat. I’m also reading Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind by Peter Godfrey-Smith.

PV: If you could edit a collection of five poets or poems, which poets or poems would you include?

ILT: That’s a tough question! There are so many poets that I admire and who’ve profoundly influenced my work. If I had to choose, I’d love to include Vievee Francis, Donika Kelly, Gretchen Primack, Ruth Awad, and Ada Limón in an anthology.