Every story has a backstory. This interview, the only one I can ever recall that took place entirely by email and over more months that I care to relate, would never have happened without the intervention of Marianne Boruch, another poet role model for the ages. Boruch, my first semester mentor at Warren Wilson, provided the introduction, via email for me with Perillo, who said something to the effect of “why?” Perillo had been nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award for On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths, and perhaps had done too many interviews. However, after a few emails back and forth, she agreed to be interviewed by email if the questions were sent ahead. She was marvelously prompt in her responses. She answered every question save perhaps three. Alas, our editor had a backlog of other work to accomplish and there were many postponements to the publication of this interview. It seems only fitting that I am only now getting around to posting this interview on my own website. But for anyone who didn’t see it, Perillo is not a poet to be missed.
My friend, the opera singer calls it raking the leaves, the way, a teacher at the Curtis Institute taught her to play the piano — especially how to sight read at the keyboard, keeping time without being flustered about how many notes her fingers were missing.
It’s a good analogy to writing practice, to the way a writer must be patient putting down her thoughts, later raking out the weak or inappropriate words, i.e. the deadwood, and passive sentences into a powerful, creative order. An order that good writers know is itself a form of music.
When writing out your draft: First, pen (or pencil) or type the lines you hear in your head onto the page. Then, read them aloud to yourself. Listening carefully for their “rhythm.” Now, go back (this is the Raking)! This time allow yourself to delete or cross out or decide which of the words you’ve put down are the ones you truly want, which ones should move onto the pile for the bonfire or be taken to the dumpster.
Don’t destroy the early drafts too soon. Drafts are mulch.
A writer is always re-writing. Like a gardener, we are always raking, clearing undergrowth, pinching the dead-buds allows the new to bloom faster.
Keep writing. Keep putting down the thoughts that come across your head. This is your voice. Your instrument tuned only to your moods, your feelings, your intellect. Your experiences. Don’t be impatient.
John Donne said it in poem. Patience: hard thing. The hard thing but to pray.