I loved reading and writing from the time I was very young. My mother frequently took my siblings and me to the Portland library, where I felt such awe — pounding heart! I'd load up with as many books as were allowed. My father was a builder, and his work reflected his perfectionist and artistic nature. Being at the jobsite with him — imagining the house as I was standing in it — made lasting impressions on me. I once wrote a poem in which I compared a builder creating perfect corners as he's siding a house with a poet working with line breaks.
As a Whitworth student I was mentored greatly by English professors Laura Bloxham, Tammy Reid, Leonard Oakland, Phil Eaton and Lew Archer. Laura and Tammy were my first models of female intellectuals. Lew's and Leonard's literary passions illuminated my beginning work with poetry. In Phil's courses and poetry workshop I finally made contact with the poetry I'd been waiting all my life to discover.
I didn't think very much about a career path; I just wanted to keep studying and writing poetry. I was fortunate to be accepted to the master's in fine arts program at the University of Montana, where I studied with the poet Richard Hugo for three years, and then I entered the English literature doctoral program at the University of Utah, where I studied with Mark Strand.
I am drawn to poetry's compression of language, its imagery, the drive of poetic language to exist both on the surface and beneath the surface of reality and experience. Poetry does something that brings us close to what we desire so deeply, which is to make contact with the tangible things of the world that delight and inspire, yet also point to the gates of the mysterious.
My poems explore the particular, they explore the ordinary experiences of being human, and they try to illuminate what "ordinary" means. For me as a writer, it means really to notice what is around me, which is simply to be aware of being alive: to suffer pain and loss, to be in relationship, to be created by God, to try to understand what is beyond our understanding.
Other writers inspire me most, primarily Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Bishop, and more recently the poets of witness, who write political poetry of extremity and survival, doubt and faith.
Donald Hall has been my mentor for nearly 10 years; this has been a life-changing, unexpected gift. He is a kind, fierce teacher. His love of poetry and his contribution to American poetry in the past 50 years are immeasurable. He has mentored many younger poets, and it's been a privilege to be one of them. He doesn't waste words with his criticism or his praise.
I don't have to look far to find the tiny particles or sound waves that end up creating poems. They arrive in the most ordinary and extraordinary ways, sometimes beautiful, sometimes horrific.
Most of what I write goes through many, many drafts. I work on several poems at the same time, each at various stages of development. It usually takes me months to write a poem; a few have come very quickly. When I sense a poem is complete, I let it sit before sending it to a journal. I've often revised poems years after writing them.
There have been two important turning points in my writing. The first occurred in the mid-1980s, when I was working with imagery that pushed closer and closer to surrealism. The second development occurred in the mid-'90s. In the midst of what felt to be many "erasures" happening in my life, the language and forms I had been using in my work were overwhelmingly, almost suddenly, insufficient. I felt like I had come to a dead end, and if I couldn't find a new way to use language and form, then I couldn't continue to write poetry — I felt it that strongly.
I looked for models of poetry that were stripped of imagery, metaphor and simile, poems that existed like a calligraphic line. Then, in 1994, I wrote the first "Pain Poem"; I found the door I had been looking for. Ten years later I've written more than 40 Pain Poems. They are very different in form and voice from the rest of my work, but my other work has greatly benefited from what I've learned from writing the Pain Poems.
In my office is a framed print of Jane Kenyon's poem, "Otherwise," on one wall, and beside it are images of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. I have two beautiful, big windows in this space, so I can watch light fade through a crabapple tree as I look north. It is an image I love seeing — singular, and yet different every day through the seasons.
On my desk are shells, seeds, a piece of driftwood. I have photographs of the Oregon coast displayed, and photographs of my beloved dogs, Li Po and Maude. And a ridiculous number of photographs of my husband! The poetry books and dictionaries I refer to constantly are within reach.
I'm fortunate in that my profession offers a flexible schedule and large zones of time on the days I don't teach, but I feel like I'm always scheming to find more writing time. I work hard to keep up with class grading and preparation, but I also to try to open up time in the evenings and during weekends for writing.
I've always been pretty obsessive in the poetry part of my life. It ultimately doesn't feel like discipline or choice when I work; it is what I do. It's the hardest thing I do, intellectually and emotionally, but when I'm engaged in working on a poem, I am free. I've never felt writer's block or burnout; exhaustion, yes. I've always felt like I have to make hard use of the time that I have because time is so precious.
For me, the process of making a poem is like the joy of seeing: to be curious, to be aware, to connect. Intellectually, I have learned more from writing poems and from studying poetry than from any other area of my life.
Poetry can make us think and feel in powerful and articulate ways. There is an inherent morality in poetry that I believe in. It challenges the complacent. The last line of Rilke's poem "Archaic Torso of Apollo" demonstrates how art can penetrate human consciousness to the point of epiphany and permanent change; the line is a charge of responsibility: "You must change your life."
In addition to her collection The Fork Without Hunger (CavanKerry Press, 2005), Lamon has published poems in journals and magazines including The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, Ploughshares and Arts & Letters Journal of Contemporary Culture. She was recently named a recipient of a 2005 Artist Trust/Washington State Arts Commission Fellowship; she is also the recipient of a 2001 Pushcart Prize and a 2002 Graves Award in the Humanities.