Feature Poet: Deborah Leipziger

Soul-Lit Interview with Deborah Leipziger, Author, Flower Map
by Co-editor Wayne-Daniel Berard

Do you remember your first interests in poetry, both as a reader and a writer? Can you describe these for us?

I have always inhabited the world of words. My very first memory is of words and colors. My parents had written down for me the names of colors in colored crayon. I began to read and write poetry in high school. I attended a wonderful high school in Brazil and they developed an independent study for me in poetry. I had an amazing teacher, Dona Emma, who encouraged me to write.  I would spend hours in the library reading poetry.  I felt like I was traveling. I remember the force with which poems would strike me. I can still reclaim the first time I read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. Having lived for eight years near Boston, I felt very aware of writers like Emily Dickinson, Emerson, and Thoreau. Writers were part of my landscape.

Why poetry, by the way? What do you find here different from, say, prose fiction or memoir?
Poetry pulsates! It is on fire and electric. I enjoy writing of all kinds and have kept a journal for decades.
I have also written several books on human rights and business -- so writing is a big part of my life.

Who are your influences as a poet?  And who would you recommend that aspiring poets read today?

Pablo Neruda and e. e. cummings are a huge influence. I was also very influenced by HD when I first began to write poetry. I love the poetry of Yechuda Amichai. I would encourage aspiring poets to read Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet.  Mary Oliver. Sharon Olds. Read Soul-Lit! I find the magazine Poets and Writers a wonderful resource for writers.

I had a professor in creative writing class who said that poets were either "miners" or "receivers."  He was a "miner" -- each day at a certain time, he'd sit in his study and try to "mine" his experiences, thoughts, feelings to create a poem. Others, he claimed, were "receivers," who waited for the inspiration to hit -- a line, an image, a rhythm. Which are you? Or are you some third?  Or a combination?

I am a receiver. Each day I walk around the reservoir near my house or in my town and the process of walking is generative. A word will come to me or a phrase. Often it is just an image that I feel a need to capture or a memory. From there, a poem emerges. I also have good friends with whom I share prompts such as "mosaic" or "the hidden and the revealed" and these prompts have encouraged me to write. Newspaper headlines can be filled with prompts. We are surrounded by poems just waiting to be written.

You have your first chapbook coming out soon, Flower Map (Finishing Line Press). Describe it for us?  Themes? Inspirations? And give us a representative line or two, please?

Ah Flower Map! It has been a wonderful journey. Flower Map is a collection of love poems - to the world, to my daughters, to people I have loved, to nature. The poems are full of images of flowers. I like to think that if Georgia O’Keefe wrote poems, she would have written Flower Map. My daughters are my three muses. I was also very inspired by visiting a tropical island full of flowering trees. Many of the poems in Flower Map were written as assignments in my poetry class with Jeffrey Perkins. I would never have written ghazals or sestinas otherwise.  The poems chronicle my journey to become myself.
Here are a few lines:
“Begin in the place of knowing
the place that venerates
summon stillness, kavannah…”

You are co-founder and co-editor of Soul-Lit, a journal dedicated to spiritual poetry. Mightn't someone ask, "Isn't all poetry "spiritual"? What does the term"spiritual poetry" mean to you? 
A wonderful question!
Co-founding Soul-Lit has been one of the highlights of my life. It is a joy to receive poems from all around the world and from people of all faiths. To me, spiritual poetry is many things. It is about finding the sacred in everyday life. It is reveling in nature or in joy. It is being on a quest or moving through despair to get to the other side.  To that extent -- a great deal of poetry is spiritual. Poetry, like prayer, often expresses longing. 

What else do writers and poets need?

Poets need community. I am very blessed to be a part of several communities of poets, including Bagel Bards and Voices Israel. The Poetry Fest at Temple Sinai which I founded four years ago and Soul-Lit are also supportive communities for poets. I feel so lucky to be mentored by so many wonderful poets, including Afaa Michael Weaver, Jennifer Barber, Harris Gardner, Kathleen Spivack, Judy Steinbergh, Jessica Harman, and Zvi Sesling. Thank you!!