Donna Pucciani ‘s poetry has been published in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and Asia in International Poetry Review, The Pedestal, Spoon River Poetry, Journey of the American Medical Association, and Christianity and Literature. She is a four-time Pushcart nominee and has published books such as The Other Side of Thunder, Jumping off the Train, and Chasing the Saints.
Amoskeag: In Conjecture, your narrator is inquisitive and wishful of the world around him/her, placing various “What If” scenarios into the mind of the reader. He/she seems to be dreaming of a better future free of all worry and pain. How did they get to that point in their life? Why do they see the world the way they do?
Donna: The speaker of the poem represents most of the people I know: working families putting in sixty or seventy-hour weeks, both spouses working, squeaking by on child care from relatives, barely able to manage the shopping, laundry, cleaning and cooking on the weekends, driving kids to sports events or band practice, baking for children’s class parties at midnight. Frequently these same folks are taking care of elderly parents, often at great expense, because the social “safety nets” available in other civilized countries (whether prosperous or bankrupt) are unavailable here. That haunting picture of what America has become in just one generation, and the huge, growing gap between the rich and the rest of us, inspired this poem.
Amoskeag: Your poem begins with “What if sun and moon were to collide in space, spawning sparks of gold and silver, little gods and goddesses falling to earth to make everything right? Why did you begin “there”?
Donna: The ancients looked to the sky for answers. The Zodiac reflects their mythology of the relationships between gods and humans. We, too, often look to heaven or a God of sorts for answers, though science has inevitably discovered that what seems so peaceful on a starry night is really fraught with explosions, black holes, and a cruel randomness the ancients perhaps imagined in a different way.
Amoskeag: The end of the poem reflects upon the concept of life and death, and how the narrator wishes death would cause “surprise, not grief.” Did you see the ending coming, or did it suddenly surprise you? How did you prepare for it?
Donna: Being in the last one-quarter of my life gives me a totally new consciousness of the world. The desire to prepare for death and to see it as a natural part of existence very much informs the poem. That awareness is the basis of many of my poems right now, though I cannot say that I consciously wrote the poem with that particular ending in mind.
Amoskeag: Is your character’s view of the world reflective of the way you see the world? Or were you surprised by what they saw? How they felt?
Donna: “Conjecture” is very much based on my own particular world-view at present, but it also incorporates other strands of thought in which people around me seem to fluctuate between hope and hopelessness. The fact that some of my friends have “given up” on the political system, controlled by the greed and wealth of a few at the expense of the many, troubles me greatly. My own faith in democracy has certainly been weakened, though I continually struggle to believe in the goodness of the world, even as Anne Frank did in her diary a generation or two ago.
Amoskeag: The narrator is hopeful but also dissatisfied with many aspects of life and society. How did you construct the language of the piece? How did you come to hear and record the feelings of your narrator?
Donna: I really don’t know how I constructed the poem or made its particular “voice.” I wish I knew more about my own creative processes, but I don’t. I certainly don’t wait for “inspiration,” but instead confront the blank piece of paper and force myself somehow to find the words to express my thoughts.
Amoskeag: “What if their broken children could be sewn up like dolls, resurrected clean and desert-pink, arms and legs where God put them” Why does this line matter in this piece?
Donna: The image of broken children has emerged from the tragic killing of civilians in the Middle East for the past decade or so. While there has been a news blackout of photographs of dead or injured American soldiers and Iraqi and Afghan civilians, the information is out there for those who are determined to look. The American Friends Service Committee and other pacifist groups have supported my need to know about the horrors of each new war, my need to address my own conscience about how I have contributed to this situation and what, if anything, I can do about it.
Amoskeag: How do you feel when a piece gets accepted and readers that you don’t know are now going to complete the poem that you worked so hard at to shape?
Donna: I have a deep conviction that readers complete the poem, and that gives me great joy. I don’t often write poems that are as didactic as this one, but I do believe that words should and DO have meaning, that language is not just a word-game but should somehow reach into the core of what it means to be fully human. I write to evoke feelings in the reader, to spark something in his or her own experience, but not to tell the reader what to feel.
Amoskeag: What’s next for you as a poet?
Donna: As a poet, I probably need to become more involved in the online community of language. I still prefer the feel of paper and books in my hands, but am well aware of their effects on the environment. I have recently set up a blog of sorts, donnapuccianipoet.worpress.com, in which I post a weekly excerpt of one of my poems. Another blog, shutterverse2.wordpress.com, is a collaborative effort between an old teaching colleague and myself. X Woods and I taught together decades ago at a small college in Ohio, and have recently reconnected through the internet with her photography and my poetry in response. Woods resides in Boston and Berlin, I in Chicago and Manchester (U.K.), so the opportunity to connect over vast reaches of space is indeed a wonderful thing.
I’m also sending out a manuscript that I have been working on for many years, on my family in Italy and my discovery of them through my genealogical research. The poems have already appeared individually in journals, but I’d love to see them all in one collection. With each rejection, I work on it some more, and send it out again. After publishing five books of poetry, my advice to fledgling poets is to keep trying, even in the current rather difficult environment for the arts.