Wyatt Townley on Moving from Practitioner (Poet) to Ambassador (Laureate)
This Week from The Common Podcast
Wyatt Townley speaks to managing editor Emily Everett about her poem “Instructions for the Endgame,” which appears in The Common’s spring issue. In this conversation, Townley talks about experiencing poetry in all parts of her life—in dance and yoga, in astronomy and physics, and in nature. She also discusses her time as Poet Laureate of Kansas, the pleasure of revising poems, and what it’s like seeing her work performed as an opera.
I’m an endless reviser. I am a lover of process—the whole bloody, messy, surgical process—really giving myself permission to mess up and to fail and to galumph around the page. With dance, all of your training and all of your rehearsal gets one opportunity in front of an audience to be shared. You get one chance. With poetry you get so many chances. Everything is just rehearsal on the stage, brainstorming and development and creation. It’s such a lovely way to be, to yes oneself forward, when nobody is watching.
The taking away of whatever isn’t the poem or the story, or the sculpture in Michelangelo’s case—that’s just so beautiful, letting go of all the unnecessary. What a privilege it is being able to shed like that. And if you can just find that one word with the right number of syllables and the right sound of vowels to make the line move right, it’s just euphoric.
On the connection between poetry and yoga:
What poetry does to the mind, yoga does to the body: expanding us into a spaciousness where we can exist more freely and without limitation. It’s a place—some people may call it “the zone.” There is a place where visceral and verbal are one.
On being Poet Laureate of Kansas:
It was actually a great challenge for me, moving from practitioner to ambassador. That was a huge leap for me as an introvert. That’s something we all face as writers—how do we move from private to public? It became my mission in life to bring people home to poetry, and to bring poetry home to people. That became my project: exploring what is home, where is home, and how does it intersect with poetry?
Wyatt Townley is Poet Laureate of Kansas Emerita. Her books include four collections of poetry: Rewriting the Body, The Breathing Field, Perfectly Normal, and The Afterlives of Trees. Wyatt’s work has been read on NPR, featured in American Life in Poetry, and published in journals ranging from New Letters to Newsweek, North American Review to The Paris Review, Yoga Journal to Scientific American. Formerly a dancer, Wyatt has developed and trademarked her own yoga system, Yoganetics, now practiced on six continents. Read Wyatt’s poems in The Common at thecommononline.org/tag/wyatt-townley, and learn more about her work at wyatttownley.com.
Emily Everett is managing editor of The Common magazine and host of the magazine’s podcast. Her stories appear in the Kenyon Review, Electric Literature, Tin House Online, and Mississippi Review. Say hello on Twitter @Public_Emily.