5/11/2017

the candour and the ardour

The book, the statue, the sonata, must be gone upon with the unreasoning good faith and the unflagging spirit of children at their play. IS IT WORTH DOING?—when it shall have occurred to any artist to ask himself that question, it is implicitly answered in the negative. It does not occur to the child as he plays at being a pirate on the dining-room sofa, nor to the hunter as he pursues his quarry; and the candour of the one and the ardour of the other should be united in the bosom of the artist.

- Robert Louis Stevenson, in a letter to a "young gentlemen" who asked the question "Should you or should you not become an artist?" You can read Stevenson's full reply here.

5/09/2017

a thing that attempts to completely represent the world

In the most basic sense, the point I am trying to make is that the continued persistence of poetry as a human activity, across time and cultures, has to do with something it does that is different from all other types of writing. How it refuses to be beholden to all the other things we use language for. How it turns distractibility, inconsistency, dreaminess, leaping, all those things that we scrub out of everyday life and functionality, into something to be treasured. How it continually prioritizes an interest in the very nature of language itself: as material that has a sound, visual qualities, feels a certain way in the mouth, etc., and also in the larger sense as a thing that attempts—and ultimately fails—to completely represent the world. It seems interesting to me to think about what connects Sappho to Rumi to Keats to Basho to Eluard to James Tate to Alice Notley to Victoria Chang. My instinct is that there is something.

- Matthew Zapruder, discussing his forthcoming book of essays Why Poetry? with Travis Nichols over at the Poetry Society of America's website. You can read the whole thing here.

5/08/2017

to find those truths and bring them back

After the election, in frustration and confusion and despair, I started to write something just to clear my head, that became an essay and eventually the afterword to Why Poetry. In it, I try to make the argument that it is not only possible, but necessary, to preserve a free space inside oneself for the imagination. Probably some of my feelings about this come from having grown up in Washington, D.C., in a home where the minutiae and tactics of politics was a source of endless discussion. It took me some time to realize that this kind of obsession, however well-meaning, can be a distraction. Politics as entertainment, as sports. I also have seen myself and others around me at times become stunned, drained, and less likely to act, the more they follow the minute by minute spectacle of degradation.

But really, my belief in these spaces is beyond the merely tactical. I think there are truths about being alive that one can only discover in the imagination by liberating oneself from all obligation. To find those truths and bring them back for others is the role of the artist. And to do so is not only to preserve oneself, but also to open up the possibility, however slender, that someone else you disagree with might do the same, and to cross some kind of border that cannot be crossed by argument or even fact.

- Matthew Zapruder, discussing his forthcoming book of essays Why Poetry with Travis Nichols over at the Poetry Society of America's website. You can read the whole thing here.

5/05/2017

the rude intrusion of time

Ever since reading Douglas Glover’s superb essay “The Drama of Grammar,” I’ve been in love with the humble conjunction “but.” She felt she’d been more or less happily married for 11 years, but … Along with equivalent words, “but” serves as a pivot or hinge, a semantic fulcrum, a switch shunting a sentence in a fresh direction just when you thought you knew where it was headed. “But” is not going to allow you, the reader – or you the writer – to pursue an easy, plausible arc. Nothing is as it seems. Something in the latter half of the sentence wants to delve under surfaces; “but” is a quick surgical cut through which the sentence can enter as it feels its way inward, closer to the core. “But” is the bump in the carpet that trips you up just when you’re hitting your stride. Not so fast: here comes a proviso, one that won’t cancel out what came before but co-exist with it. “But” says nothing is absolute, categorical, final. “But” is the rude intrusion of time – of limitation, mortality – into a phrase that starts off Trumpishly asserting that it knows, forever. No story begins until the word “but” appears and every story, for grown-ups, ends with an invisible “but.”

- Steven Heighton, in interview with some godforsaken questionnaire over at The Globe and Mail. You can read the whole thing here.

5/03/2017

a congregant of two temples

Jane Hodgkinson: What are some of the ways that you keep yourself connected to whatever moves you to write?

Stevie Howell: I’ve been working in hospitals for the last 6 yrs, but only since my first book, Sharps, was published—for the last three years—have I been working directly w/ patients. I’m a psychometrist (I administer thinking & memory tests). I work one-on-one w/ a single person for up to two entire days. It can be pretty intense. I am constantly moved by people’s backgrounds & challenges, how they heal or cope, & by seeing ordinary people doing extraordinary things for each other, all around me. It’s given me a devout belief in humanity.

My “day job” has benefited my writing in many ways, but primarily by reminding me that poetry has always functioned similarly to actual care, IRL—poetry is composed of these small & focused & deliberate gestures that might only affect one person, or a handful of people, & in private & imperceptible ways, like prayer. But that’s actually as epic as it gets—to affect, or be affected by, one person. I believe the health sciences & the arts are the height of our inventiveness, & the proof of our goodness. I am grateful to be immersed in both fields, to be a congregant of two temples.

- Stevie Howell, in interview with Jane Hodgkinson over at The Rusty Toque. You can read the whole thing here.