My Read Local BC Interview Series is back!

Like in each of the last two years, things have been quiet here on the blog, as I am busily preparing for a deluge of interviews (8!) over Read Local BC. Starting tomorrow (April 1st - not a joke!), a new interview between me and a BC poet will go up on their site every Tuesday and Thursday all month long, culminating in a special ninth posting at the end of the month.

I can't thank Read Local BC enough for the space and support they've provided for this project over the last three years. It's an immense amount of work (I start the interviews in September), but I love doing it, and love having a partner who believes in championing BC poets as much as I do (and tolerates unreasonably long interviews!).

To show you how serious we are about this, the good folk at Read Local BC have made not one, but TWO promotional graphics for this year's edition:

All of the interviews will eventually make their way over to this here blog, to join the 70+ interviews currently on this blog (you can read all of my Read Local BC interviews from past years here). But if you like your interviews hot and fresh (and who likes cold, soggy interviews?) keep an eye on ReadLocalBC.ca, and the Read Local BC "#NPM2021" hashtag, all month long!


it’s never one poem that changes me

The revelations I get from reading poetry are so tiny and inward. It’s never one poem that changes me. For instance, I looked at Pam Rehm’s poems for a number of years and had very little response. I’d call her my favourite poet now. But it was not something that I recognized for a long time. It’s like falling in love, but in an arranged marriage over many years. Strangely, while writing my own poems, I’ve usually had to have one of her books in my hands. And this was going on long before I liked her poems. I was dependent on the tactility of that book just to write my own stuff. Could I have acquired a taste for her poems through my hands? (Now I’m thinking about Oliver Sacks.) What’s certainly true however: I spend significantly more time with books of poetry that are easy to tote, hold and to flip through than ones that aren’t. If I had larger hands, it’s very possible that I’d love other poets.

- Emily Tristan Jones, in conversation with The LeHave Review, which profiles one poem/poet each season. You can read the whole thing here


more than one thing happening at one time

The problem of emotion in poetry is twofold: 1) Direct statements of feeling, with notable exceptions, generally fail to elicit that feeling in the reader. People who talk about their feelings all the time are tedious and so are poems with similar inclinations. 2) Unalloyed emotions - pure grief, pure terror, pure joy - don't tend to be very interesting written down. They're pre-verbal, they activate primitive brain regions too far from our language centres. They either write white or purple. The most authentic and the most poignant emotions tend to be the mixed ones, and mixed feelings defy articulation because there's more than one thing happening at one time. Which is the same thing language does in a poem. So there's a kind of black magic involved in trying to write something that instills emotion in the reader. Shortcuts are always tempting, but they almost never get you where you want to be.


- Zachariah Wells, from his interview with Jesse Eckerlin entitled "Deep Time, Black Magic and Ugly Stuff", as published in Wells' Career Limiting Moves: Interviews, Rejoinders, Essays, Reviews. 


wrestling chaos into music

The present can definitely “deform” the past in the sense of blurring it, making it formless, but also the present can warp the past, I think, by objectifying and decontextualizing it. Poetry’s artifice objectifies, too—things like rhyme and meter do—by introducing tidy patterns of organization. Paul Fussell says the first way meter means, for example, is by reminding us that someone is out there, wrestling chaos into music.

- Allison Adair, in interview with the The LaHave Review, which profiles one poem/poet each season. You can read the whole thing here.


truthful and selfish

In my earlier poetry I was really fixated on the reader’s experience of my poem, not whether it felt honest to me. As soon as I started being truthful and, frankly, selfish, that’s when the poems started feeling important. And I needed to let go of the control that I thought was necessary to have over a poem. I learned to let my instincts lead, and trust that all the reading and studying had built enough of a framework of knowledge in me that the poetic merit would show through on its own.

- Molly Cross-Blanchard, in conversation with Manahil Bandukwala about Molly's debut collection, Exhibitionist, over at Canthius. You can read the whole thing here.


be intensely themselves and remain themselves

rob mclennan: What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be? 
stephanie roberts: My answer is paradoxical. The writer shouldn't give a fuck about their role in culture, and their role is vital. The role of the poet is to, as much as possible, be themselves intensely and remain themselves. Not to say who we are is static. I think the healthy psyche is subject to the same pressures [as] on a caterpillar to become butterfly. 
Wallace Stevens believed that poetry achieves more for the knowledge of human nature than history. In an essay on poetry and the imagination, he looked to Swiss historian Jakob Burckhardt for affirmation, "Burckhardt considers the status of poetry at various epochs, among various peoples and classes, asking each time who is singing or writing, and for whom. Poetry is the voice of religion, prophecy, mythology, history, national life and inexplicably, for [Burckhardt], of literature." I tend to agree. 

 - stephanie roberts, in reply to rob mclennan's 12 or 21 questions over on his blog. You can read the whole thing here.


great literature keeps on freeing minds to do other things

When I first became aware of the exhilarations of poetry as a community college freshman on the Mojave Desert, the poets who moved me were immaculately remote from my world. That was one of their attractions: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Jesuit priest, so incantatory I could barely understand him; John Donne, priest again, even earlier in the British lineage, and glorious crafter of something called c o n c e i t s. 
Lots of British priests in the poetry business, it looked like. Plus Emily Dickinson. I loved the strenuousness of it all, the rigors, the long lonely vigil of it, the doomed quality. Here, I thought, is fit meat for the mind. And the fact was that my mind was very hungry. Hungry minds — the selfish, burrowing, opportunistic minds of the young who will rip the flesh off anything that might feed them — these are the salvation of writers. I often think about this, how the readers who keep writing alive are comically self-serving; they are trying to find access to their own brains, some way in, some key to make their own heads work. They rummage and plunder with catholic zeal, accidentally performing a service to culture that no number of academics or disinterested readers could accomplish. They have demonstrated one more time how great literature keeps on freeing minds to do other things. 

 - Kay Ryan, from her essay "Fit Meat for a Hungry Mind" over at the Pulitzer Prize's website. The essay is also collected, as "Against Influence", in Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose. You can read the whole essay here.


poetry is the shape and size of the mind

A poem really has no beginning and end, although it does appear to. All the parts of a poem exist as a sort of plasma, simultaneously apprehended, existing in the mind all at once, as soon as we have become familiar with them. The word “blight” [in "Spring and Fall"] constantly and forever charges every word in the poem, shores every word in the poem. It is Indra’s net, everywhere is the center, reflecting all. This great capacity of poetry is seldom so well exercised as it is here. The fact that the mind can move around in a poem—is asked to do this—is why poetry is considered the supreme art. Poetry is the shape and size of the mind. It works the way the mind works. It is deeply compatible with whatever it is we are. We dissolve in it; it dissolves in us. 

- Kay Ryan, discussing Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Spring and Fall", from her essay "On a Poem by Hopkins" in Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose. You can read the whole essay here.


a poem means you're in too deep

Peppering [Robert Frost's] notebooks is the phrase "Dark Darker Darkest" standing alone, as though it were a code for something he kept working at in his mind. (The editor offers some context for it, but this doesn't explain away its perseverance.) On one occasion Frost does begin developing what he means—venturing well past the usual sparring tenor of the notebooks and touching the dangerously marshy places usually reserved for his best poems: 

Here where we are life wells up as a strong . . . spring perpetually . . . piling water on water . . . with the dancing high lights upon it. But it flows away on all sides as into a marsh of its own making. It flows away into poverty into insanity into crime. . . . Dark as it is that there are these sorrows and darker still that we can do so little to get rid of them . . . the darkest is that perhaps we ought not to want to get rid of them. . . . What life . . . craves most is signs of life. 

In Frost's poetry, of course, this flowing away and draining off of original strength is a deep, repeated thought (and fear). Think of how everything golden "goes down" in "Nothing Gold Can Stay," or even better think of Frost's dazzling and diabolical poem, "Spring Pools," where dark powers "blot out and drink up and sweep away" the freshets of life. Such a rare patch of deep probing in the notebooks, ending in a pronouncement ("What life . . . craves most is signs of life"), lets us see the greater genius of his poems. In the notebooks, Frost moves quickly to the abstract; in the poems, he steers clear of the abstract altogether and instead overloads nature until dark stuff drips out the bottom. Frost is riveting, prose or poetry, but in the poetry the rivets rust through. A poem by its nature operates beyond rational control, which is a great service to a mind as controlling as Frost's. A poem means you're in too deep. In "Spring Pools," for all its balanced, reflected imagery of pools and flowers and all its tidy buttoned-up rhyming, Frost has got himself just where he craves to be—in an elemental battle where he's not the boss. The best form can do is serve as a barricade, giving the illusion of containment to the forces he's unleashed.


- Kay Ryan, from her review of The Notebooks of Robert Frost, originally published in Poetry Magazine and included in her essay collection Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose. You can read the whole review here.


the memory that might result from repetition

I don’t think I can speak at sufficient length about the importance to the poet of avoiding or ignoring Kodak moments. If a poet seeks to make or keep memories, how will she ever know which ones contain true power, which would assert themselves on their own? Perhaps her very definition of memory would change if she didn’t get her Kodak moments developed. Maybe memory would not hold individual scenes at all; maybe it would have no detail; maybe it would not rise up—the pines of that morning in Yosemite scraping the interior of her skull; maybe it would be nacreous, layered regions of pleasure and attraction in the mind. Any sense of tint in the depth of the gleam would arise so slowly as to be imperceptible. I am speaking of the memory that might result from repetition. I am interested in the long ways of knowing where the mind does not seek strangeness. We must be less in love with foreground if we want to see far.


- Kay Ryan, from her essay "Notes on the Danger of Notebooks", originally published in Parnassus Review and included in her essay collection Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose. You can read the whole essay here.


the humility necessary to listen

After a certain lecture which had as usual bewildered the sober note-takers (the serious people laboring to understand by writing parts down, making decisions about what was important to write down and what wasn’t, seeking a pattern in what was said, attempting to get a fix on it—determining its coordinates like an alien craft’s) a photographer came up to [Gertrude] Stein. He was elated, ravished by what she had been saying. It was no trouble for him to understand as it was for the audience which had come with the intention of understanding rather than with the intention of taking pictures for the local newspaper. His ease was no surprise to Gertrude Stein. The photographer had simply listened and therefore he had understood, since what Gertrude Stein was saying was always simple, plus she repeated it. The serious note-takers couldn’t listen and therefore couldn’t understand because they were trying to remember.

The serious note-takers intended to make sense later of what Gertrude Stein was saying, so they needed to remember the main points of her lecture. They would not have been pleased with the idea that they didn’t have to go back to their offices and make sense of it because it already was sense. One might say that they lacked the humility necessary to listen. One might observe that, paradoxically, what appeared to be submissive behavior on the part of the note-takers, taking notes, was in fact arrogance.

But of course the serious note-takers were not worse people than the photographer. The photographer’s humility was no more intentional than the note-takers’ arrogance. The humility necessary to listen cannot be achieved head-on, and that is what gave the photographer his edge. He was partly thinking about getting good photographs—about his equipment, about the lighting. He didn’t have to concern himself with these professional things very much because they were almost automatic, but a little. This slight distraction, this slight angle that his job as photographer required, along with the feeling that he was not a professional in the area that Gertrude Stein was talking about, made him more open to what she was saying. He wasn’t going to have to summarize her remarks or offer an evaluation. He was just the newspaper photographer.

Isn’t it odd to think that in order to listen we must be a little bit relieved of the intention to understand?


- Kay Ryan, from her essay "Notes on the Danger of Notebooks", originally published in Parnassus Review and included in her essay collection Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose. You can read the whole essay here.


visited but not carried away

Experience has proven that it is impossible to give away secrets. Even when I write them down as clearly as I can, people seem to receive another secret, which is secret from me. I like that. And that's not all: my own secrets can become secret from me again. Which is to say, having exposed them as best I can - in a poem, say - the secrets remain there, to be visited but not carried away. Is it as though I had never whispered them, I am so little changed by what the poem knows. 

 - Kay Ryan, from her essay "Derichment" in Synthesising Gravity: Selected Prose.


far greater difficulties

Poetry is superior amusement. I do not mean an amusement for superior people. I call it an amusement, an amusement pour distraire les honnêtes gens, not because that is a true definition, but because if you call it anything else you are likely to call it something still more false. If we think of the nature of amusement, then poetry is not amusing; but if we think of anything else that poetry may seem to be, we are led into far greater difficulties. 

 - T.S. Eliot, from his essay collection The Sacred Wood.