Gail Henderson recently collaborated with noted Oklahoma photographer Michael Duncan to produce Bare, a newly released book of poetry and photography that explores the enigma of womanhood in the world. She wrote Red Bird Woman, a collection of her poetry published in 2013 under the name Gail Wood. She has been published in ByLine Magazine, Creations 2014, Creations 2013: 40 Ways to Look at Love, and Creations 2012. As a board member for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, she honors the memory of her sister who suffered from bipolar disorder. She holds a Masters of Education in English and Social Studies from East Central University, Ada, Oklahoma. She loves hiking, gardening, cooking, and life. She taught junior high and high school English for 14 years in the small rural school from which she graduated and served as federal programs administrator for the same school for eight years. She is a member of Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. and Ada Writers.
1. Your latest book Bare was released this year. It features your poetry and artistic nude photography. Tell us about how Bare came to be.
2. Red Bird Woman is the name of your first book, but it's also a name that your Native American husband gave to you. Tell us how that happened and why you identify with it.
Neil and I were hiking when we heard a cardinal. It sang a three-part song ending in what sounded like “woogie, woogie, woogie.” He turned to me, squeezed my cheeks three times while saying “woogie, woogie, woogie.” It was so spontaneous and funny that he christened me Ohoya Hoshe Homma (woman bird red in Choctaw), which translates into Red Bird Woman. Neil understands my connection with Nature. Now the red bird symbolizes that connection.
3. Why do you write poetry?
I love playing with words, trying to find the best word or phrase to express a thought in a way that is pleasing to the ear and accessible to the mind. I’m not a good story teller so short stories and novels are difficult for me to write. Poems are everywhere. I don’t have to make anything up. I just translate little pieces of life into words.
My poetry is woman-oriented, personal. I love being a woman, and I love expressing all the heartache and joy that goes with it.
5. Name a few poems you enjoy and tell us why.
My favorite poem is “Patterns” by Amy Lowell. I love the way it sounds, the images, the emotion it contains--I cry every time I read it aloud. Lowell squeezed so much into that poem. I am amazed every time I read it. Also, I love Shel Silverstein poetry. It’s musical, clever, and always has twisty endings! My children loved it when I read his poetry to them so I have good memories of his poems.
6. What is your writing process? Do you use a pen or computer?
I might jot ideas down on paper, but I mostly compose at a computer. It’s so handy to have an online thesaurus. I wish I could say I were disciplined and wrote everyday, but I take spells of writing --unless I have a particular project, then I can work more steadily. Sometimes it takes me 15 minutes to write a poem--that’s rare. Most of the time I struggle with the poem until I finally let go and let it be what it wants to be. That can take weeks, but a good poem always wins.
7. Many people are turned off by poetry. How can they be turned back on?
I’m turned off by so much of today’s poetry! A poem should make sense, not be an obscure accumulation of words that involves detective work and a hundred readings to understand it. If you are writing for the literati, be obscure and intellectual, but if you want to be read by the masses, make sure your poems are accessible and appeal to the emotions. I would never make it in New York City!
8. What do you want a reader to take away from or learn from your poetry?
First, I want my reader to say, “I get it!” It is important that a reader understand the poem at some level. Second, readers must like the way a poem sounds--the music--even if they can’t tell you why. It is not necessary for a reader to identify alliteration or metaphor to enjoy the result.
9. What has been the best writing advice for you?
Be concise. Use the best and fewest number of words.
And what has surprised you the most about the process of publishing a book?
When you have good friends helping you, it’s easy.
10. What will be your next writing project?
Right now, I am helping my husband write the story of his journey to receiving his Ph.D. For my own project, I’m not sure yet. I’ve learned not to force myself to establish specific writing goals. That doesn’t work well for me--it sets up too much pressure and causes my creative self to rebel. It comes from too many years of proposal writing and deadlines. I keep myself open to ideas. I’ll recognize the next project when the words “I want to write poems for that!” leap out of my mouth.
I am considering a poetry project about my baby sister who died eight years ago of a drug overdose. I miss her everyday and writing about her would keep her spirit alive. My heart will know when the time is right for this very personal project.
To learn more about Gail and her poetry, visit her website Red Bird Woman.