What inspired you to write "How to Care for a Dogwood”?
It’s a beautiful story shared by two friends, Heather and John. As a young girl, Heather lived with her family on a small local farm. She loved to read, even then, and found a magical place to escape with her favorite book: high up and hidden in the perfect crook of a dogwood tree. Eventually, her family moved, but years later she became good friends with John and his wife, the new owners of the property. Last year, the dogwood tree died but John was able to keep enough wood to have a beautiful small box crafted for Heather by a local furniture maker. It was perfect.
John asked me if I would write a poem to put inside the box along with other gifts. It is one of the very few poems I have ever written by request and is dedicated to Heather who is every bit the good and lovely person you imagine that little girl would grow up to be.
What brought you to start writing poetry?
I fell in love with Richard Brautigan’s poems and thought, “I can do that!” I was wrong.
How would you describe your writing style?
I find I am constantly aware of the underlying flow and movement of a poem—the music. So, rhythm is important, not in a structured sense, but more the feeling. A good poem should move and point to that which is indescribable. “I don’t know what that means, but I like it,” is one of my favorite compliments. An incomplete list of poets I admire includes: Jane Hirschfield, Wendell Berry, Bob Hicok, Mary Karr, and I consider Mary Oliver and Jim Harrison to be my poetic parents. A strange couple perhaps, and I miss them both.
How do you balance your careers as a physician, poet, and musician?
Does one inspire the other? There is much they share, and I often feel they are different doors that open into the same plaza. I consider myself better at each because of the other two. Balanced? Not sure about that, but the three are becoming more equal friends by the day.
What is your writing process like? How often do you write?
I am fairly undisciplined regarding having strict writing hours, but instead, try to remain in a constant state of astonishment as suggested by Mary Oliver. I write much of my poetry as I walk or hike nearby trails. Very little is not potentially a poem; one must go out and find it. You’ll have something good to bring home. Sitting down and putting it on paper is the easy part.