Conversation with Ann Darr, 1993, in Passenger, a literary journal published by the University of Baltimore

When did the metaphor of flight enter your life?
When I was three my mother was killed in an automobile accident. She was the only one of five of us in the car who was even hurt and she went through the window. I was told I could see my mother again by flying to heaven. And I believed it. I thought someday I would fly with my own arms, or wings, to see my mother. That was where the flying came from. It is such a poetic idea in the first place, flight; it has been a dream of human beings. Pegasus. Icarus. It is a power dream.

Who were your flying heroes?
I was enthralled with Lucky Lindy. "Lucky Lindy all alone, flew his little plane alone." I was more excited about Lindberg than I was about Amelia Earhart. I didn't know she wrote poems. When it turned out that there were courses being taught in Iowa City, civilian pilot training courses, I signed up and was the only woman in a class with nine men.

For someone who has always wanted to fly with your own wings and then realized your dream, did you find a difference?
No, it was almost as if this was a destiny. In my poem, "Cleared for Landing," I say, "Freud would have said this was a death wish, to join the conglomerate blue . . . but it was heaven I wanted to reach. . . "

How do you begin your poems?
I hear them coming. They are landing in me. They usually come on in groups of several poems. There is no connection between the subject matter of number one and number three. There is no logical explanation. For the longest time I found rewriting so difficult. I just couldn't do it. The poem would just flow out.

Do you remember writing poems, for example, "Gather My Wings"?

Gather My Wings

There is a part of me that looks
forever for a level land,
where rows of grain run
straightway to the wind.

Once you have trained
these senses, they stay trained,
and though I have no need
for landing, forced or free,
this noticing is part of me,

makes me check imprecisions of an eye,
correct for choppy heart beats,
hear a whipping tongue as dangerous.
(I must go and gather in my wings.)

Once prepared for landing forced,
one lives too much alerted.
One listens for a twitch of snake,
the thud of a seedy apple.

Oh yes. It is of course a metaphor for relationships as well as a forced landing of some other kind and it says, "this noticing is part of me." I think noticing is a very important thing for a poet. And this is of course my Garden of Eden poem, the twitch of the snake, the seedy apple. [This poem opened Ann's first book, The Myth of a Woman's Fist.] The acquisition editor Jim Landis at William Morrow who published it, said, When he came to the word "noticing" he knew he was going to take the manuscript. One editor of a small magazine returned it saying he liked the first two stanzas because the rhythm was right but it fell apart in the third stanza, which was what it was supposed to do. That was where you heard the need for a forced landing - the engine was not running properly. It should have been called "Forced Landing." "Gather My Wings" is a little fancy, though when I say, "I must go out and gather in my wings," it refers to moving the airplane away from where the wind is coming in a big wind storm, because we had those in Texas. It also means gather in my associations, the things that can protect me.

Who was one of your early influences?
T.S. Eliot. The little town where I came from in Iowa didn't have a library, it had a movie house. I went with my friend, we were both nine, to her music lesson. The music lesson was taught by the postmistress, Hazel Chapman. She said to me, "Why don't you wait for Eldred in here," and opened the door to her own library. I can still feel how it felt. I didn't know there were that many books in the world. There were floor to ceiling books. I pulled out from the shelf The Anthology of World Poetry by Mark Van Doren in a beautiful leather case, and I opened it up to "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and never recovered.

I didn't know what it meant, but I never knew you could use words like that. "Like a patient etherized upon a table. . . I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled."

The first line, "Let us go then, you and I," seems like such an invitation, especially for a nine-year old. What brought you to poetry as an adult?
I ran away from home to go to college after my father told me I couldn't go to college, because my grandmother had come to take care of me and my brother after my mother's death, and it was my turn to take care of my grandmother. And he told me this just at the end of my senior year. I can see that scene so clearly, standing on the porch, and the world just fell away below my feet. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I had a scholarship to go to the University of Iowa and he was saying that I could not go. Well, knowledge was going to be my escape. My metaphor is flight, in all its meanings.

Two weeks later, on July 13, while my grandmother and father and uncle were off fishing on a Sunday, my boyfriend came and put my trunk in his milk truck and drove me to Iowa City. I got a job as a student girl, as they called it, in the home of Wilbur Lang Schramm who was the first director of what is now the famous Iowa Writing Workshop. So all of the poets who came stayed with me. His wife Betty taught me to cook, and so I cooked for Robert Frost and Archibald MacLeish and Robert Penn Warren, who was my actual teacher. I adored Robert Frost. I was unhappy when some of the criticism came out making out to be such a dreadful person.

Does a particular kind of situation feed your writing?
Well, I wrote a lot when things are going badly. Most of those poems get deep-sixed. They are too raw. In fact, sometimes people tell me some of my poems are too raw. But I like that immediacy.

Ideally what does a poem have to satisfy?
It has to touch a nerve.