What I’m reading

I’m reading Odi Barbare by Geoffrey Hill.

On Influence

The male, as an object in relation to other objects or other people, has been an influence. I spend a great deal of time watching men and boys: how we behave with one another; how we interact with the female or feminine; fathers and their children; sons and their fathers; brothers; male homosexuals; and, of late, old men—40 to 50 years my senior.

On Inspiration

I turn to particular poems for inspiration, but if I had to choose a book, it would be Carl Phillips’s Pastoral.

Favorite Line of Poetry—Ever.

“or so I say, and know I lie,” from Jay Wright‘s poem “Inscrutability“—though there are many more lines from Wright that are my favorite lines of poetry ever; and also many from Édouard Glissant.

On Contemporary Poets

On a personal level, Carl Phillips‘s poetry goes beyond mere interest! His work is invaluable for the intellectual and spiritual metamorphosis I experience every time I read it—the culmination of a millennia-long erotic, syntactical, and imaginative project that is a legacy of homosexuality. I am also interested in its antithesis, which is best demonstrated in the poetry of Valzyhna Mort. The level of association in her work is more plausible than any poet I’ve encountered since Pessoa (and his heteronyms) and that it manages to survive in several vastly different languages is the astonishing feat. Her images are exacting as a scalpel yet whimsical. If I had to compare the two, Phillips takes one’s breath away and Mort leaves one panting.

Amorous Shepherd is filled with beautiful “syncretistic Eros”—to take a line from a poem—which is both transformative and transgressive; can you speak to the function of Eros in your poetry and to the impulse that drives you towards it?

Eros, or eroticism, functions in my poetry as rhythm. Poetic thinking, as opposed to transactional thinking, is quite fast because it is associative—there is no formula on which the mind can rely. So, once the poem is born in my brain it has to be slowed. I often ask myself how the poem would sound if it were making love or lusting. Love and lust, of course, are very different rhythms. This is part of my composition process, including poems in which Eros is not apparent. I suppose the impulse that drives me toward Eros is a simple human one. As complex as humans like to think we are, sex is more important to us, far beyond procreation, than we like to admit. And that impulse manifests itself in our artistic production as much, if not more, than anything else.

You are a poet and a scholar—is there any peculiar “benefit” one discipline brings to the other? Alternatively, how do you resolve the “ancient quarrel” between the two—is there a quarrel?

I am no scholar or I am a very bad scholar. I have no aptitude for conventional study and my critical prose is a nightmare! I am, however, an intellectual. I think all strong poets are intellectuals—true autodidacts. And though I’ve written few poems that match my ambition, being an intellectual is a great benefit to being a poet. I’ve never felt like there was a quarrel but if one means quarrel as in “poets don’t belong in the academy” or “MFA programs are the ruin of poetry”, I don’t think that is the case. The only risk of having poets in the university is that our workloads might become too great and we cease making merriment with others or don’t use our vacations to discover something about the world we didn’t know before. And MFA programs, if successful, offer poets time and a means to be in community with others in our discipline—they don’t teach anything. As to how being a poet benefits a scholar, one would have to ask a scholar.