Deborah Burnham PhD is a Professor of English at UPENN, as well as the author of Anna and the Steel Mill and the chapbook Still. She is also a long-time member of the Philadelphia Stories poetry board. In her free time, Deborah is an avid gardener and has constructed many small gardens in Philadelphia.
1. When did you first become involved with Philadelphia Stories?
In the spring of 2007.
2. What role do you believe Philadelphia Stories plays in the local arts community, specifically poetry?
A very important role. It offers a venue for those who aren’t necessarily well known but who have something to say. It’s free, very attractive, and quite accessible.
3. As a long-time member of the Philadelphia Stories’ poetry board, you’ve had a chance to interact with submitted works and assist with screening selections. Have you noticed any common style, ethos, or attitude that tends to win the hearts of our editors?
Probably this: poems that are clear but not simplistic, that have a distinctive voice but do not pose or perform, that are rooted in the area but don’t rely on cheese-steak/Rocky/Iggles clichés.
4. When did you begin creating your own work? Was poetry your first medium?
I began writing seriously in graduate school, in my mid-20s. Poetry was my only medium, for a long time.
5. Do you prefer poetry that is more narrative or image-based?
Oh, that is a really tough question! I love both.
6. Do you believe that a poem is obliged to hold meaning or do other factors—such as beauty and sound—weigh more heavily?
Another good, tough question. I think poems can develop a set of meanings and be beautiful (visually, sonically, etc) at the same time.
7. How have the Internet, social media, and the growth of self-publishing affected poetry?
All of these arenas have made it possible for people to think of themselves as potentially published. This likely makes people write more, and more often.
8. What working local poets do you find the most exciting?
Eleanor Wilner, Susan Stewart, Elaine Terranova, Gregory Djanikian, Bob Perelman.
9. Are you currently working on any projects?
Yes. I have finished a volume of lyrics about a long marriage which is on the market. I am working on a volume of elegies which should be finished by the spring. I also have a novel nearly done, which I’m probably going to re-write for a young adult audience.