Sherrell Wigal, long time West Virginia Poet from the Parkersburg area, answers some questions about her writing habits and what inspires her. You’ll find her answers inspirational as well. And speaking of inspiration, Sherrell’s poem “I am the Daughter” fed the editors the anthology’s title and the poem’s mood and tone speaks to the sensibilities of the works included.
Where is your favorite place to write?
This may sound a little crazy/dangerous but I do a lot of traveling and this leads me to do a lot of drafting while driving. The majority of the drafting is in my head, and I do carry a portable recorder to get a few initial thoughts down. I then do most of the “work” on my computer at home – In a nice quiet room upstairs, a room overlooking the street where I currently live. Sometimes this makes me feel a little like The Lady of Shalott (Tennyson was one of my first poetry loves early in my life).
What inspires you?
Wow, what a wonderful question. There are so many things that inspire me, but I guess if I were to try to distill it down I would say that I am primarily inspired by life, the sun, the moon, the seasons and their constant turning and then by people who participate in this life and their reactions to their everyday lives. I am also greatly influenced by the resiliency of the people from this area (because these are the ones I know on a personal basis). To quote John Lilly I would say “the extraordinary lives of ordinary people.”
What made you decide to perform poetry?
From an early age my Mother’s family also loved poetry and would recite poems from their childhood. Long poems, short poems, epic poems, even poems they had written themselves. I fell in love with the cadence, rhythm and words. One of my favorite later memories was sitting on a farm porch, my Mother was in her late 80’s and my Uncle, her brother, was past 90. They spent the entire afternoon as a thunderstorm was rolling in reciting poetry back and forth between each other. If one forgot a word or line, the other would chime in with the missing phrase and they kept going for almost three (3) hours. Poetry is meant to be spoken, to be an audio and emotional experience!
Performance poetry was not something that I consciously made a decision to “take-up,” and I do not consider myself a “performance poet” but rather a poet who also performs her work. Performance seemed rather to fall into place for me. I believe you must put poetry in your own mouth in order to experience it completely. That poetry lives best beyond the page. I have always loved poetry and when one hears a poem directly from the poet’s voice (or anyone’s voice, for that matter) it opens so much more to the experience as I then experience the breath of the reader and their inflections for each word. Once I hear someone else read their work, if I then read it on the page I always hear that voice, inflection, cadence, accent, and breathing in my head. Also, whenever I read a poem on the page, I then like to read that poem out-loud as it brings even more to the poem. On several occasions in the past, I experienced someone else reading some of my poems out-loud, and I was a little disconcerted, not with the reading but rather, with the inflection given various words. So I knew that if I wanted a reader to breathe when I did and inflect when I did, to know my cadence, I’d have do it myself first. Kirk Judd definitely was an influence in my deciding to “go public” with my own voice, and he was a great encouragement to me and provided me my first opportunities at performance work.
Tell us about your current/recent class(s) in poetry.
I have taken many poetry classes throughout my lifetime. I have also conducted several creative writing workshops throughout the State of West Virginia over the years. Currently I participate in a weekly poetry workshop in Parkersburg, West Virginia, with the Sacred Way Poets which is moderated by Susan Sheppard. This workshop has been one of the most beneficial workshops I’ve participated in over the years. This workshop focuses on work in progress, rather than completed work for which one is seeking approval.
Who do you write about the most?
This is a difficult question to answer as it varies each time I sit down to write, but I guess I can say that whatever the subject, I seem to draw on my family and my life. I am drawn to writers who speak to the spirit in everything and try to use that a lot in my writing also. Nature and people seem to be a central theme in my writing.
Speak to this: Rust/gold leaf just floated past you on a soft-spoken West Virginia wind. Who or what is it?
The soft-spoken wind which winds sometimes through West Virginia,
Carries every breath and memory, every tear and joy,
Every gospel tune and ballad.
And once on the ridge of an un-named hill, a rust leaf floated down
Into the holler carrying my name, as only my family can call it.