Interview: Diana Raab

I recently had the pleasure of reading Diana Raab’s new poetry book, Dear Anais: My Life in Poems For You. Now, I have an interview with this interesting and thoughtful poet. Enjoy this interview.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer, and how did you first make that a reality?

I have been writing since a very early age. At the age of six when I went to sleep-away camp, my mother packed my suitcase with stationary. At the age of twelve, when my grandmother took her life in my childhood home, my mother gave me my first diary. On those pages I poured out my grief. In university I studied Journalism and health administration. I worked for a few years as a nurse until I ended up on bed rest with a high-risk pregnancy. Writing re-entered my life as I chronicled seven months in bed. Those journals became a published book to help other women with difficult pregnancies. Next year the book will be released in its updated 25th anniversary edition.

I loved reading Dear Anaїs: My Life in Poems for You. Tell me about how you first came up with the concept of dedicating a book such as this to Anaїs Nin. Did you write the poems with the late diarist in mind?

I have always admired the work of Anaïs Nin. Her words resonate with me. She put a voice to my feelings. There were also many parallels in our lives. She was born in 1903, the same year as my beloved grandmother. Nin and I were both shy little girls who hid behind the pages of our diaries. I was compiling the poems in this collection when I thought it was time for a title. Her name and image popped into my head. I couldn’t stop thinking about Nin so I decided to dedicate the book to her.

Why did you choose poetry as the vehicle for this book?

It just felt right.

I enjoyed the progression of subject matter from chapter to chapter in the book. Is there a particular section that is your favorite? Or one that you gravitate to the most?

No, I have a deep affection for each section because they are all poems written from a special place in my heart.

What do you hope people take away from reading Dear Anaїs: My Life in Poems for You?

I want my words to resonate with people in the same way as Nin’s resonated with me. I want to put words to other people’s feelings. I want my book to be a classic that people return to for inspiration and a sense of calm and familiarity.

Anaїs Nin is one writer who has influenced you very positively. Are there others? We all love recommendations on great works. Is there a book you enjoyed reading that you could recommend?

I enjoy a variety of writers depending upon my needs at the time. Anaïs Nin is always one of my favorites. Some other writers I enjoy are J.D. Salinger, Tobias Wolff, Gustave Flaubert, Billy Collins and Sharon Olds.

You’ve written a column entitled, “You Don’t Have to Be a Poet to Write Poetry.” I agree that poetry can and should be accessible to everybody. How do you convince someone who has never attempted to write poetry to give it a try? How do you generally come up with the ideas for your own work?

This is a very good question. I always say to start with a notebook. The writer’s notebook is like their playground. I began writing poetry seriously one year during the holiday season. My kids were little and I was very busy and frustrated that I didn’t have enough time to write prose. Poetry gave me instant gratification in a short period of time. It was very fulfilling. Thankfully, they were also very well-received.

My ideas are generated by living. I carry my notebook everywhere with me and jot down notes which are often used later to generate poems.

What is your next project?

Typically, I work on a few projects at once. I enjoy the diversity. I have already completed another book of poetry which I have sent out for various poetry contests. (but in the meantime, let me know if you can think of a publisher who might be interested in it! My husband thinks the next collection is even stronger—but I don’t know if he’s fair judge!)

I am also updating a book I originally wrote in 1988 on high-risk pregnancies. The updated edition to be released in Spring 2009 is called, Getting Pregnant & Staying Pregnant: Overcoming Infertility and Managing Your High-Risk Pregnancy. I am working in conjunction with Dr. Errol Norwitz of Yale School of Medicine. I am also editing an anthology called, Writers and Their Notebooks, forthcoming from the University of South Carolina Press in the Fall of 2009.

I also keep a running list of essay ideas and poems in my journal.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in your writing career? And in life?

Persistence and resilience are two very important traits for the writer who wants to be published. You must also believe in your work. It is important to learn from each rejection and to keep sending your work out. If you don’t send your work out, nobody will know that you write.

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