Critique and Commentary
Amy Small-McKinney is the author of a collection of poems, Life is Perfect (BookArts Press, 2014) and two chapbooks of poetry, Body of Surrender (2004) and Clear Moon, Frost (2009), both with Finishing Line Press. She was nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, for example, The Cortland Review, ForPoetry, The Pedestal Magazine, upstreet, Blue Fifth Review, APIARY, Philadelphia Stories, SAND- Berlin’s English Literary Journal, and the July/August issue of the American Poetry Review. Her poem, The Porch, was included in the Main Street Rag anthology, Voices from the Porch. Small-McKinney was guest editor for the June 2006 issue of The Pedestal Magazine. Her poetry was included in a collaboration of women artists and poets for The Poetry Dress project at the 2011 Massachusetts Poetry Festival. She was the 2011 Montgomery County Poet Laureate, selected by poet, Christopher Bursk. She won the 2014 Open Reading Competition at the Green Line Reading & Interview Series, judged by poet, Teresa Leo, and will be a featured reader in the Monday Poets Central Library Series, February, 2015. Though primarily a poet, Small-McKinney has also published personal essays in a number of media outlets, for instance, the Broad Street Review, Philadelphia Inquirer, and Jewish Exponent. She continues to work as a writing coach for high school students navigating the personal essay required for college applications. Most recently, she has reviewed poetry collections, though, in the past, also had the pleasure of reviewing young adult novels and plays.
I am not loyal to any particular school of poetry, but find myself attracted, viscerally, to particular poets at particular times, and am always grateful to them. I love poetry, all kinds.
In my own process, I rarely choose the subjects for the poems. Indeed, I feel as though they select me and I must listen closely.
When working with other poets, I am not interested in having them sound like me. Rather, I want to understand, deeply, what needs to be said, and try hard to stay true to that particular poet’s voice and intent. It is a delicate balance, this learning to really trust oneself, while also learning to be tough on the poems.
I should also add that it sometimes seems impossible for me to amputate my voice, as a poet, from the world’s voice. I mean, I cannot speak for others, but when their stories enter me, they become, in part, my story. Obviously, this is not new. Muriel Rukeyser, James Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks— so many poets found themselves compelled to speak for their neighbors and community. When these poems emerge; however, they are generally not narrative, but rather more a Chagall, where pieces of this or that enter the poem and find a place, unexpectedly, beside other seemingly unrelated pieces. These are never dreams; rather, they are how the brain may work. As a Masters in Clinical Neuropsychology, I sometimes imagine a tiny conductor with her wand somewhere smack in the center of the pre-frontal cortex. How else to describe the comings and goings of all of these images?
I also readily admit that the self and the usual topics of love and death inform much of my work. At times, these poems contain breaks from common rules of prosody. It seems to me that these surprising line breaks and rhythms echo the discomfort and uncertainty of this world. At other times; however, there is nothing like form, perhaps a sestina, to capture the chaos inside and outside. I don’t want to pretend to know, precisely, where my work will go, because, as I have suggested, the poems lead me; I do not lead the poems.
I am only sure of one thing, that is, when I work closely with other writers, whether beginners or advanced, I love our exchange and shared learning. Ultimately, my mission is to help a writer trust her/his own internal editor.