A Classical Singer Turned Poet: An Interview With Poet Theresa Rodriguez

May 29, 2020 Updated: May 30, 2020

With deep emotion, “Longer Thoughts,” the third book of poetry by Theresa Rodriguez, presents poems on such topics as love, beauty, mortality, aging, and theological questioning.

The retired classical singer and voice teacher is a native Manhattanite, who now lives outside of Philadelphia. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in vocal music performance from Skidmore College and a master’s of music with distinction in voice pedagogy and performance from Westminster Choir College.

Her poetry has appeared in the Midwest Poetry Review, the Journal of Religion and Intellectual Life, an Anabaptist publication titled Leaf Magazine, The Road Not Taken: A Journal of Formal Poetry, Mezzo Cammin: An Online Journal of Formalist Poetry by Women, Spindrift, the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship, and the Society of Classical Poets.

Last summer, Rodriguez participated in a Society of Classical Poets’ reading at Bryant Park in New York City where she, James Sale, James B. Nicola, and Mark Stone each read from American poets, including Poe’s “The Raven,” and then read selections of their own work.

This year, on May 31, she is one of four featured poets who will be reading at the 2020 Society of Classical Poets Symposium. Her background as a classical singer has given her “the ability to render [her] spoken poetry in an interesting and engaging way without being overly dramatic,” she said as part of an email interview on April 3.

Theresa Rodriguez
Theresa Rodriguez will be one of four featured poets who will be reading at the 2020 Society of Classical Poets Symposium on May 31. (Courtesy of Theresa Rodriguez)

Carol Smallwood: Why did you call your new collection “Longer Thoughts”?
Theresa Rodriguez: As opposed to my previous collection of sonnets, “Longer Thoughts” contains many longer poems in a variety of forms as well as free verse. It is a small collection but diverse in its range of subjects.

Ms. Smallwood: How do you use symbolism and imagery in this collection?
Ms. Rodriguez: There are three poems in particular that use symbolism and imagery in “Longer Thoughts.” In the poignant free verse “China Crystal Fairy,” I describe a “delicate fairy creature,” which symbolizes a particularly fragile relationship that I had broken apart through my own clumsiness.

In another free verse titled “Full Circle,” I use the imagery of a tree and the fullness of its life cycle to symbolize the aging process. In the sonnet “The Rise of Fall,” I also reflect on the aging process by comparing its phases to the four seasons.

Ms. Smallwood: One of your poems is about keeping a journal. When did you begin writing one and how does it help?
Ms. Rodriguez: My first poems began appearing as diary entries in junior high school. As I mention in the sonnet “My Journal,” the place where I write is “a sanctuary, hallowed space.” It is where I work out the rough drafts of my work, prune and hew and adjust and temper what I have done, as I craft it into art.

I am not a very fluid writer, and there are lots of marginalia and scribbled out lines and words in my journals. What I usually do these days is get the poem written to a basic condition, then type it up on my computer, edit it and prune it some more, and then again, and again, as many times as necessary, and then transcribe it back into my journal so that I have both the rough material and finished product in the same place. It helps to have a journal because it is my workshop, my studio, where I can work hard and get dirty and then preserve a polished work at the end of my endeavors.

Ms. Smallwood: When did you begin writing poetry? Do you do other kinds of writing also?
Ms. Rodriguez: I am sure I began writing poetry in earnest when I was about ten, and by high school had some poems published in my school’s literary magazine. In addition to poetry, I have written articles for Classical Singer Magazine on a myriad of topics of interest to classical singers.

When I was a young mother, I wrote a book titled “Diaper Changes: The Complete Diapering Book and Resource Guide” and had articles about cloth diapering published by various parenting magazines. My book “When Adoption Fails” explores my life as an adoptee in a dysfunctional adoptive situation.

In “Warning Signs of Abuse: Get Out Early and Stay Free Forever,” I provide encouragement and instruction to women in abusive relationships. I am sure I have a few more books inside of me yet to come! I have also begun writing book reviews as well.

Ms. Smallwood: Do you have ideas for your next book?
Ms. Rodriguez: I am currently working with Shanti Arts to publish “Sonnets” in an enlarged second edition. Since the first edition in 2019, I have begun writing in the Petrarchan sonnet form, and these as well as other new poems will be a valuable addition to my current sonnet collection.

Two Poems From ‘Longer Thoughts’

My Journal

Within my world there is a sacred place,
Where I can hide and then reveal my heart;
Where thoughts and feelings go, and become art;
It is a sanctuary, hallowed space.
Creating something new and touched with grace,
I put my mind to pen, and then impart
My soul’s outpourings through my mind, to start,
Then show my whole raw self with open face.

And when complete, I then perfect my words,
And get them ready for the world to see;
I take them from these pages, then display
Them out for those who read, and hear. This girds
Me up for naked vulnerability.
Indeed, I offer all I am this way.

The Rise of Fall

There were such pretty flowers in the spring:
The fragrant colors of a verdant time;
Such fresh potentiality, sublime
In all the loveliness that they did bring.
Then summer issued forth a deep wellspring,
Maturely ripening, where vines would climb
And trees begin to bulge. This is the prime
Of life when growth will dance and sway and sing.

But autumn is the time of now. I stand
Amid the harvests and the fruit. The change
Between the then and now, it leaves me jaded;
I barely have the bearings to withstand
This person of today. Indeed, how strange,
How much the beauty of the past has faded.

‘Longer Thoughts’
Theresa Rodriguez
Shanti Arts LLC
48 pages

Carol Smallwood’s recent books include “In Hubble’s Shadow,” “In the Measuring,” and “Library Partnerships With Writers and Poets: Case Studies.”