Janet Tracy Landman


"Sinkhole" Janet Tracy Landman
Winner of the Marica and Jan Vilcek Prize for Poetry, 2011
Selected by Marie Ponsot


What inspired you to write “Sinkhole”?

Robert Lowell’s rhetorical question “Why not say what happened?” sometimes calls for a contrarian answer. This, I think, is one of those times.

I will say that the poem took off when I did some research on how sinkholes actually work. I think the word "vibrate" was a turning point for it.

What is your biggest challenge as a writer?

Full disclosure. I spent my career as a research psychologist (who also wrote and published poems). I’m a self-taught poet. Every summer I re-study my “textbooks” like Vendler’s Poems, Poets, Poetry, Nims’s Western Wind, and Hirsch’s How to Read a Poem. And I do close and multiple readings of one poem most every day, trying to figure out the secrets of its magic. But when it’s a poem of mine, the challenge is to defy the belief that I have no business doing this, that I’m a complete fraud. Also, I’m always having to unlearn the sciencese that was my lingua franca for over two decades. I don’t mean that as a poet I give up logical thought. That I keep, though usually not in the foreground. It’s the music and the associative thought that present the challenge for me—once I silence that voice declaring me an imposter.

Do you structure your writing before you write, or do you begin by writing freely?

With a poem I always begin by writing freely. Even with my nonfiction, I find that my initial outlines almost always end up being fairly useless, except to offer me some needed reassurance with those harrowing first drafts.

Is this poem part of a larger work?

Not quite yet. I plan to get back to work on a poetry collection later this year.

First I have to meet an October 1 deadline for delivering my forthcoming nonfiction book to Rowman & Littlefield. The book, which will come out in 2012, is titled Pursued by Conscience: Former Fugitive Katherine Ann Power or maybe Long Way Back: Former Fugitive Katherine Ann Power, or what about Story of a Conscience: Former Fugitive Katherine Ann Power.

Which writers have inspired you? What are you currently reading?

Over a lifetime of reading, so many writers have inspired me, sometimes different ones at different ages. For now, here is a short list: Virginia Woolf, Alice Fulton, Jane Hirshfield, William Trevor, Jhumpa Lahiri, Alice Munro.

The best book I’ve read recently is Marisa Silver’s Alone with You. I love the short story, and almost always end my day with one.

Purchase the issue containing Janet's poem.