John Casteen recently published “For the Mountain Laurel” (2011), his second book for the VQR Poetry Series from the University of Georgia Press.
The book of poetry is also his second since joining the creative writing faculty at Sweet Briar College in 2007. His first, “Free Union,” was published in 2009. In a recent interview with The Southeast Review, Casteen talks about how the process of writing changed for him. “For the Mountain Laurel,” he says, came together more efficiently.
For every poem that made the final “Free Union” manuscript, there were three or four that didn’t, he says.
“I was learning how to approach the work, making a lot of missteps, and experimenting in every direction I could come up with. The poems in ‘For the Mountain Laurel’ were written pretty much in order, beginning to end, one by one,” he said, noting that this time, he started only one or two that didn’t survive. “So I was surprised by the sense of purpose and urgency that I felt, all the way through.”
The book suggests Casteen’s maturation as a poet and a person. The publisher notes he presents a “record of experiences of solitude, marriage, fatherhood, loss, and recovery” in the poems: “The Carolina chickadee can be heard in this work, but so can Emmylou Harris singing with Gram Parsons; these poems dwell in the music of language, the hard truths of those who are no longer young, and the pleasures of the reflective life.”
Casteen is the founder of the Sweet Briar Undergraduate Creative Writing Conference. He also serves on the editorial staff of the Virginia Quarterly Review. This fall he is traveling and teaching through Semester at Sea.
Reached by email from his position inside the Tropic of Capricorn, just east of Madagascar’s southern tip, he sent greetings to the Sweet Briar community.
“SAS is going beautifully so far, but nonetheless I’ll be happy to be back at the College in the spring,” he said.