Laurel Radzieski is a writer, author and spontaneous poet. Throughout April, National Poetry Month, she will do spontaneous poetry in the area, using her typewriter and producing a framed final product. Her book, “Red Mother,” was published last year. Radzieski earned a bachelor’s degree from Keystone College and a master’s degree in fine arts in poetry from Goddard College. She is a graduate of Scranton High School and works as Lackawanna College’s grant writer. Radzieski and her husband, Michael DeSarro, live in Scranton with their fish, Buddy.
Meet Laurel Radzieski…
Q: What is spontaneous poetry?
A: Spontaneous poetry is on-the-spot poetry. It’s poetry that’s written in the moment. What I like to do is engage someone in conversation and just ask them about anything. They might want to talk about food, their family or vacations. As we’re having that conversation, I’ll write a poem. I talk to them for two to three minutes, and at the end of the conversation, I have a poem written. I use a lab notebook. It’s carbonless copy paper. I rip out the page for them. I don’t take any notes; there’s no draft. I just write the poem in the moment.
Q: When working in a short amount of time, what types of things do you look to for inspiration?
A: I’ve been doing this for about a decade, and it never surprises me how open a stranger will be if you ask the right questions. I think a lot of times people are used to not being listened to. If I say to someone, “What do you care about?” there’s an immediate response. I take a lot of inspiration from science and nature. I do a lot of research with my poetry. I don’t know a lot of other writers who do. Right now I’m working on a poem about coral reefs, so I have all these coral reef text books. It gives me a starting point, and if I can’t write anything, it’s time to do some research and read more. This project keeps it interesting because everybody has something different to say to me.
Q: Why do you think it’s important that the county supports this
A: I love poetry, so I am a little biased. I think that it’s something that’s accessible and useful. I can’t see anything negative about somebody sitting down and trying to express themselves and share that. This is a Ted Kooser quote that I’m rephrasing, but he says there are a lot worse things that people could be doing than writing even bad poems.
Q: How do you make poetry accessible and all age-friendly?
A: I love doing this with kids. When I went to the children’s library, most of the kids have never seen a typewriter before, so I’ll have them help me load the paper in, (and) we’ll finish the poem together. I think it’s something that’s tactile, and it gives poetry more life than just being on the page. I love English teachers, but I think that somewhere in school, everybody had a poem shoved down their throat and had that experience where they said, “I don’t get it,” but we’re told, “You’re supposed to get it.” I think of this as “let me give you an experience with poetry that’s personal.” It’s something that you care about to make it easier and see that maybe it’s something of interest. It also doesn’t have to be this lofty thing that you spend years on.
Q: Do you have a favorite poem or poet?
A: I’d say my favorite poet is Marie Howe. I don’t know if I have a favorite poem, but I have a corkboard in my office that whenever the poem of the moment that I’m thinking of (comes up), I’ll stick it up there.
Q: What is the most intimidating part of doing a live poetry reading?
A: I definitely get nervous about my choice of poems. I think that because of my theater background, I find that many of the poems I read are memorized. When I’m reading out in the world, I always try to have a few poems memorized so I can read and just show people this is me, there’s not a page between us. In that sense, I always have that concern of, “Do I have the right poems in my head for this reading?” Sometimes I’ll read those first two or three poems and it’s dead silence. I’ll realize these aren’t the right poems for this, so part of it is reading the audience.
Q: Tell me about your book, “Red Mother.” What inspired you to write it?
A: In the summer of 2015, I left everything and went out and lived at the Worm Farm Institute. That is an arts nonprofit in Wisconsin, and it’s also an organic farm. I’m gluten intolerant, so that really made me think about my relationship with food. For four months, I lived in a barn with a bunch of other artists; there was no heat. I went to the farm because I thought I’d write a book about food. Instead, I found that I was writing a book about intimacy. That’s where “Red Mother” came about. I figured there was nothing as intimate as having something else living inside of you. The book is from a parasite’s perspective, and it’s a love poem to the reader. I think it shows all sides of a relationship. I did a lot of research about parasites. When I came back from Wisconsin, I had filled eight notebooks, and the manuscript was about 150 pages. I thought I was writing a novel. I starting cutting it, and by the end, I had just poems.
Q: What other hobbies or interests do you have?
A: For non-work related hobbies, I enjoy board gaming. I have a very large collection of board games, maybe around 300. I love a game called Gloom Haven. I’ll put it in perspective: the box weights about 18 pounds. It’s a card game in a way; it’s something that my husband and I have been playing for about a year, and we’re not even halfway finished with it. We kind of build a story together. I found that instead of going out with friends to the movies or something, we’d go to someone’s house and play board games. I think it heightened my relationships and helped me work on teamwork.
Q: Have you had a specific moment or period of time in your life that helped shape the person you are today?
A: After college, I was working at the Dietrich Theater (in Tunkhannock). For five years, we performed locally, we toured the region, and we did multicultural shows. I know there was a point where I said, “I think I have a book, but I don’t know how to write it.” I said to my now-husband (that) I didn’t have a computer. A computer showed up at my house in the next week. He said now I can write. I told him I didn’t have anywhere to write. He cleared out a room in his apartment and made an office. I still didn’t know how to do it. He suggested grad school. I went to Goddard College, and I felt like that was a tipping point where I said, “This is something I really believe in.” I don’t think I would have written the book if I didn’t go there. My now-husband shares part of that because he kept saying, “If you’re a writer, go write.”