Tara Skurtu: Every poem I’ve ever written I didn’t want to write (Zest #13)

Tara Skurtu


Tara Skurtu is a Boston-based poet, writer, teacher of creative writing and poetry, and public speaker. Tara is a two-time Fulbright grantee and the recipient of two Academy of American Poets prizes and a Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship in poetry. She’s the author of the book The Amoeba Game, translated as Jocul de-a amiba.

Tara currently lives in Bucharest. We chatted over coffee about the fear of writing and editing, how to get unstuck when you’re not feeling creative, great poets, and one of Tara’s favorite objects in the world.

Fear keeps you from doing anything that matters. How am I going to express myself? What will people think about it?

I write myself through difficult times. Writing is a coping mechanism. Storytelling is a coping mechanism.

Keep writing. Write through your fears, write through your doubts. It’s like getting on a treadmill for your brain.

🎧 Listen and follow Tara on Twitter!


Poets mentioned:

Lloyd Schwartz
Jill McDonough
Robert Pinsky
Louise Glück
Frank Bidart
Elizabeth Bishop
Andrea Cohen (The Committee Weighs In)
Lucille Clifton
Gwendolyn Brooks
Ilya Kaminsky
Jericho Brown
Ariel Francisco
Ani Gjika
Mary Ruefle


Interview notes:

1:50 I think everybody is creative. We have to constantly be aware of what we see, hear, touch, feel, taste to try to experience things as never before.

2:52 When I’m feeling stuck I play The Ceiling Game.

4:27 Everyone can write. But can everyone be a good writer? I don’t think so. But then the word „good” is subjective. There’s a certain amount of faith and trust that goes into your work and a lot of that comes from the editing process and developing your craft.

5:07 Good writing is simple, specific, but there’s also a logic involved.

5:35 Every poem I’ve ever written I didn’t want to write. There’s a need. It’s not just about the writing, it’s about what happens before the writing.

6:50 The keyword is intention. It’s very much like trying to remember a dream. For me, poetry is very much like dreams and math.

9:00 Any writer that tries to control a piece of writing is going to write really boring work and is never going to discover or surprise themselves.

10:40 Poetry is storytelling. Everybody knows how to tell stories, but some people think they don’t.

13:00 I teach specificity and basically vacuuming unnecessary parts out of sentences.

13:45 I’m dealing a lot with fear because fear keeps you from doing anything that matters. There’s a lot of fear about writing: how am I going to express myself and what will people think about it?

14:40 How Tara started to write poetry.

16:50 I have a treasure chest of things I’ve learned from the people I’ve studied from combined with instinct and practice.

17:10 Every single poem has come from something I’ve journaled. I document things that stand out and I also write myself through difficult times. Writing is a coping mechanism. Storytelling is a coping mechanism.

19:50 I spend a lot of time editing and reading aloud and thinking. To me, it’s a comforting, calming, peaceful process.

21:00 A lot of people are afraid of editing and revising. People are afraid of having their voice changed. Where I’m from, the emphasis tends to be on the editing process. Here and in many other places, the focus tends to be on the inspiration and on the first draft.

23:10 Most of the poetry I read I actually don’t like.

25:10 Creative writing is so important, it’s part of every aspect og life. I’ve gone into corporations and taught workshops on creative writing and they’re actually workshops on communication, leadership, and confidence.

30:20 Keep writing. Write through your fears, write through your doubts. Even if you don’t know what you’re writing about, write it down until something else comes. It’s really about getting started. It’s like getting on a treadmill for your brain.

31:20 Writing for the gaming industry is similar to writing poetry.

34:40 I love teaching. Teaching and writing poetry are the only two things where I don’t even think about time.

35:20 About one of Tara’s favorite two objects in the world and the artist who created it: Henry Mandell.


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