Behind the Scenes with Nancy Dillingham – Asheville Poet
“Poems from the Heart”
As part of our continuing series, Inside the Artist’s Studio, this month we will be pulling back the curtain and learning more about the creation process behind Nancy Dillingham’s poems from the heart.
But first, did you know that Nancy Dillingham is a sixth-generation Dillingham from the Big Ivy community in Barnardsville, North Carolina?
She is the author of nine books of poetry and short fiction and a fictionalized memoir.
Her poems, short stories, and commentary have appeared in many regional literary journals and local newspapers such as the Raleigh News & Observer and the Asheville Citizen Times.
Plus her volume of poems Home was nominated for a Southern Independent Booksellers’ Alliance award (SIBA).
She and her co-editor Celia Miles have published four anthologies of WNC women writers.
Behind the Poems of Nancy Dillingham
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Though I didn’t, as a child, consciously set out to be a poet, I believe my subconscious has always at work towards that bent.
I was a silent, introspective child—always a reader. I believe I was soaking up sensory memories all along the way, “ripe” to put into poetry– a sponge, taking in the world around me.
To this day, my senses are always on the alert. It’s a gift I continue to be thankful for. (In my tenth-grade English class, I chose to do my paper on Emily Dickinson—not bad company!)
When did you first realize you wanted to write?
I always loved words and the sound of words. I believe that poetry is maximum meaning with minimum words—words well chosen for their sound and power—evoking emotion.
How long does it take you to create a poem?
Poetry can be elusive.
Sometimes poems come quickly, but most often the process can be much longer and more complicated.
Several years ago I was walking around the circle where I live and a poem came to me, complete. Afraid I would forget a word of it, I kept repeating the poem until I arrived at my home where I could write it down!
At the time, I was working on my chapbook 1950: Poems so I don’t believe the poem “sprung” to life so immediately as it seemed.
I believe, instead, my subconscious was at work all along as I had been already been dredging up those childhood images and memories for the chapbook.
And sometimes, also, I have worked on a poem or story for years after having the “germ” of an idea or a certain phrase in my head. For example, “Providence,” the first story in my first book, New Ground.
What would you say is your interesting/funny writing quirk?
An interesting or “quirky” thing, perhaps, about my writing process is that I still, to this day, begin with pencil and paper.
I do not first compose on the computer. I usually work through many drafts before I go the computer.
Several years ago, I heard Mary Oliver speak and read her poetry at the West Asheville Library. She said: “It’s the intimacy of the poet with the paper that is important as opposed to computer where it’s already printed and ‘perfect.’”
I think that explained why I have always written things out by hand…the intimate connection between me and my readers.
Where do you get your ideas for your poetry and books?
I am a music lover.
As a child, I listened to country music on the radio with my father. When you hear the lyrics of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” the words and images are often simple but so very affecting—and powerful.
When he sings: “The moon just went behind the clouds/to hide its face and cry” or “the silence of shooting star/lights up a purple sky” you can see the image and feel the emotion.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love movies. When you see the beautiful imagery in Robert Redford’s movie A River Runs Through It and hear his narration taken straight from the book, it is powerful.
At the end of the movie, he reads Norman Maclean’s words: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. . . Under the rocks are the words . . . .”
That’s poetry and that’s powerful.
Do you hear from your readers? What kinds of things do they say about your work?
When people comment on my poetry they most often say that they are surprised that it is so powerful because they somehow don’t expect such power from what they perceive to be a quiet, unassuming person.
“Powerful,” they say. “Very powerful.”
I feel a sense of satisfaction each time I hear those words. I feel grateful and glad that I have somehow, once again, done my job as a poet.
What do you think makes a good poem?
Today, when I hear Willie Nelson singing: “Sometimes I think love is something/living on an island all alone” and “I can see it in the darkness/I can feel it in the distance” his words evoke powerful feelings of aloneness.
That’s poetry, words that evoke powerful feelings.
If you wish to read Nancy’s poetry for yourself, we invite you to come by Mountain Made and check out her latest book, Like Headlines.