4.27.2005

Ten Questions about Poetry

1. What is the first poem you ever loved? Why?

Two poems by E. E. Cummings come to mind: “what of a much of a which of a wind,” and “somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond.” I seem to recall both poems striking me as beautiful and important (at least, to my understanding of the possible range of “poetry”) for roughly the same reason: that is, you can do things with words that make sense in ways you do not learn alongside grammar and syntax. Visually, phonetically, etc., Cummings’ poems were, to me, like a crack in a painted window just large enough to see through, and through which I discovered a ridiculously wider expanse of possibilities.

2. What is something/someone non-“literary” you read which may surprise your peers/colleagues? Why do you read it/them?

I have received Sports Illustrated for some time, now, and love it more than ever. I hesitated to mention it, however, because the writing contained therein is, week in and week out, of an almost comically “literary” quality.

I am an avid reader of Calvin & Hobbes. Hardly a week goes by when I do not pick up one of the collections I own and lose myself for some time therein.

(I doubt if either SI or Calvin & Hobbes would be surprising to those who know me, though a stranger reading my poetry might be hard-pressed to guess either one.)

3. How important is philosophy to your writing? Why?

I believe that poetry is, at its core, beautiful words that mean beautiful things. I believe also that beauty and truth are intertwined in an interesting way: that is, while not all beauty is expressive of (capital-T) Truth, all Truth is beautiful. Philosophy is, at its core, the search for capital-T Truth. If I can say, then, that anything I have written was aimed at capital-T Truth, and actually hit its mark, it was necessarily also beautiful. I like to think that I do no try to make my words beautiful, but that Truth performs that work for me.

4. Who are some of your favorite non-Anglo-American writers? Why?

Kafka: who would not love such a tortured soul?

Ayn Rand: I do not agree, in large, with her philosophies, but I admire beyond my ability to describe, her efforts to couch her philosophical ideals in literary form. While it can be said that all literature is philosophical by nature, there is something different about Rand. She appears unashamed to be more philosophical than literary (if that is fair to say)

5. Do you read a lot of poetry? If so, how important is it to your writing?

I don’t read enough poetry, as it is, but the poetry I do read is certainly important to my writing, in that I use the poetry to which I am exposed to broaded my poetic awareness. That is to say, I use the poetry I read as inspiration, as a reminder that other people have written exactly what they wanted to, rules and assumptions be damned–or embraced–and so can I.

6. What is something which your peers/colleagues may assume you’ve read but haven’t? Why haven’t you?

T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. I suppose the main reason I haven’t read it is that it is a very intimidating poem, and I have yet to work up the courage or learn the necessary languages.

7. How would you explain what a poem is to my seven year old?

A poem is what you get when you put words together so they sound good and mean honest, beautiful things; the best poems are the most True.

8. Do you believe in a Role for the Poet? If so, how does it differ from the Role of the Citizen?

The poet’s role, so far as I understand it this moment, is largely the same as the role of the citizen, with two adendums: 1) the poet has chosen to make his life as a citizen an example, focusing his experiences, as much as possible, through a single voice, in the hope that some universal truths may be gained, that others may learn and grow just as he has. And 2) the poet has chosen the written word, privately perfected and perfectly presented, so far as he is able, as the primary vehicle of exemplification. The poet feels words swirling constantly within him as the pianist feels notes, as the artist feels color.

9. Word associations (the first word which comes to mind; be honest):


lemon - ice

chiseled - steel

I – me, mine

of - dissention

form - free

10. What is the relationship between the text and the body in your writing?


Burke has pointed out that there can be no action without motion. The body, then, moved to motion for the purposes of acting is foundational, and thus achieves a certain brilliance of stature. That is, while the sheer motion of pencil on paper, as moved by me, brings me no closer the apprehension of truth, the aesthetic appeal of said motion does serve as a reminder that beauty exists in many forms.

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