Forgiveness in Poetry: David Interviews Robin Gow


David Siew Hii, Shenandoah’s associate poetry editor, interviews poets! To showcase their voices, the questions in the interview were removed, leaving behind only the voice of the writer. In this interview, Robin Gow talks about the ways poetry differs from other art forms and allows more space for contradiction. Read Robin’s poem “Yard Sale” here.


Can you hear me? Ok.


I live in Allentown, like an hour and a half from Philadelphia.


I lived in Queens for a little bit and that was overwhelming just because everything exists, and it’s very busy and expensive.


Sure. I work at an LGBT center. I train people on how to not be terrible to trans people. Which is great but also sometimes tiring.


A lot of my poetry is informed by Pennsylvania. My next collection that I have coming out is about lantern flies, which, they’re invasive to Pennsylvania. A real ecological problem that’s happening.


I think sometimes writing a poem is less about forcing something and more like peeling away the things that you want to do to it. When that happens, I always feel like it’s a good poem.


Like when I’m happy with the poem, it’s released and not something forced.


I’m a very messy poet in the sense that I usually draft very quickly. I get ready for poems, collect my page of notebook paper for observations and thoughts throughout the day. And also while I’m reading other books. So, I have seeds.


Then, when I have time to write poetry—I usually write in the morning—I’ll pluck one of the seeds and write it.


“Yard Sale” is actually from that collection that I was talking about featuring lantern flies. Wait, maybe it’s not. I wrote two very adjacent collections that blended together to make a book.


One was about weeds, and one was about lantern flies, and they do kind of overlap because of shared ideas about what is invasive as well as relationships—what it means to belong in a space.



It started as just one stanza.


I usually view a stanza break as a place where you leap from one idea to another. Or it’s like a turn. And I felt this poem starting outward with the laying of the yard sale out then turning towards an inward yard sale.


It turns from those material things to moving towards ideas of self within a family or self within gender.


I will say if I’m being honest that I really enjoy a two-stanza poem because I think that it can kind of give space to tease out two ideas.


My intro to poetry has always been spoken word.


My brain usually just sees a line break a little bit differently, almost like an accelerator and less often like a pause. So, there’s always tension for me in what the line break means. Because I think it means something different to different readers depending on what people bring with them into a poem.


I think that sometimes poets have a subject that they continue to write about.


And for me that that’s usually gender. Um. I think it’s just interesting how you can’t really control, always, what a poem wants to give you, even if you’re approaching a different subject.


Favorite part about being a poet? I think poetry is one of the most forgiving art forms. And I really like that. It permits you a lot of space.


It feels so welcoming to discovery in a way that other forms don’t.


In a world where a lot of times my disabilities might have been bad, I think that oftentimes things that happen in my brain are actually generative and create more space for exploring an idea.


And there’s the general permission to not have to be cohesive when the world always asks us to be cohesive all the time and it’s so exhausting.


Yeah, poetry feels like a place where you can hold contradictions more than I think other art forms.


For further reading, Robin recommends:

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

bestiary by Donika Kelly

feeld by Jos Charles

any text by CA Conrad

Robin Gow (they/fae/it pronouns) is a trans poet and witch author from rural Pennsylvania. Fae is the author of several poetry books, an essay collection, YA, and middle-grade novels in verse, including A Million Quiet Revolutions (FSG Books for Young Readers, 2022).