Q&A: Paul Killebrew

When Paul Killebrew came in to talk to my class at Tulane in February 2012, we sat on the lawn and he recited “Soonest Mended” to us. What, among the essential things, hasn’t been better since that day? — AS



(February 2012)
What’s exciting you about poetry right now? Why should I be excited about poetry?


So much, so many reasons. I like to think of poetry as the cheapest date in the arts. Consider: of all the various art forms, which has the most attenuated relationship to material success? Poetry. Even the poets who sell the most books, people like Billy Collins and Mary Oliver, make no more than a middle-class income from book sales. And that’s in their best years. I’m saying this is a good thing. Why? Because so much possibility opens up and so many wasted questions never get asked when you’re outside the searing glare of an active market. I really do believe that poetry has advanced where other art forms have foundered simply because there is no way to make money off of it.


The other thing is that my favorite human beings are all poets. Sure, like all artistic communities, there are some real doozeys out there, but I’ve always felt like the most interesting poets I know are actually the most interesting people I know, by a long stretch.


Your poems seem to walk a line between celebrating the ordinary and tapping into the abstract (often stemming from the ordinary). How does “ordinary” work next to “abstract” in your poetry? What do you hope to achieve by this juxtaposition?


I have a feeling this will come up a couple of times in the questions that follow, so I’ll offer the following explanation and refer to it in later questions as the “cognitive rhythm thing”, which is a very pretentious way of putting it, but basically I mean that some kinds of writing take longer to process than other kinds, and the time difference is attributable to the different forms of cognition in play. So, for example, reading “2+2=4” happens so fast that it’s almost not reading at all, we all know the statement to be obviously and boringly true, whereas something weirder, like say Noam Chomsky’s famous meaningless sentence, “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously,” cuts against notions of truth (if something is green, it’s not colorless) and ordinary meaning (what would it look like for an idea to sleep at all, much less “furiously”?), and so the mind slows down. Somewhere between these two extremes would be the narrative, expository, or syllogistic passages of which I’m so fond. What’s interesting to me as I’m writing is the arrangement of cognitive rhythms, speeding up and slowing down in a poem, and since my poems’ trajectory is generally aimed toward the end of the poem, I’m very interested in finding out how many ways I can set off the ending through the arrangement of cognitive rhythms throughout a poem. Other poets have written about similar concepts with far more coherence and beauty—I would refer anyone interested especially to Charles Olson’s essay “Projective Verse,” which can be found here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/essay/237880.


Now, to get back to the question, which was about the juxtaposition of the ordinary and the abstract, the cognitive rhythm thing seems like one explanation, but it’s probably not the only one. Much of the poetry I like involves the movement from the particular to the general and back, which is also the fundamental movement in law (laws are written in general terms, but they usually arise because of a specific circumstances, and they must be applied to specific transgressions)—so maybe that’s just the concept the movie of my life is starring—and sometimes the movement from the ordinary to the abstract and back has a similar feel.


I’m interested in discursiveness as a strategy, and wonder what you have to say about it. I’m thinking of, for instance, the first stanza of “The Sweaty Intimacy.” I’ve frequently found discursiveness expressive of a sort of general boredom or ennui, a leveling of sensation that those emotions produce. Obviously where boredom is a deeply interesting condition. Do you see discursiveness in that way?


To take just the first stanza of “Sweaty Intimacy” (And let me add here a brief explanation of this title, which is embarrassingly overwrought. This phrase is how a legal academic named Alexander Bickel described the relationship of the three branches of government, saying that they must operate intimately, “even if it is often the sweaty intimacy of creatures locked in combat.”), these are basically four sentences that clearly do not add up together into a cohesive proposition or form a narrative or anything like that. Each is its own world.


A typical sentence in the English language carries some pretty hefty baggage about the relationship of beings in the world. Subjects do things to objects, and saying so amounts to a “complete thought,” or at least that’s the vocabulary I learned growing up. I guess because of this background understanding, it seems to me that there’s a lot of lyric possibility in situating “complete thoughts” from different worlds next to one another. Virginia Woolf wrote in A Room of One’s Own that “a book is not made of sentences laid end to end,” and when I first read that I thought, “But what if it was?”


Why is narrative so often the choice for you? How do narrative and prose function in your work?


I usually use narrative to vary the cognitive dynamic in a poem, not only to change the pace in the ways discussed above, but also to situate the poem between its narrative and more lyrical or discursive qualities, “Lucky Pierre style, and the poem is correspondingly gratified,” to borrow a formulation of Frank O’Hara’s in his essay “Personism” (available at http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20421).


What’s your sense of the line? Does it change much from one poem to the next?


As I mentioned when we met, I’m pretty terrible with line breaks. I’m not sure how important they are to what I’m interested in, and in many ways I side with Frank O’Hara when he says something similar in the essay linked above:


I hate Vachel Lindsay, always have; I don’t even like rhythm, assonance, all that stuff. You just go on your nerve. If someone’s chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don’t turn around and shout, “Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep.”


[. . . .]


As for measure and other technical apparatus, that’s just common sense: if you’re going to buy a pair of pants you want them to be tight enough so everyone will want to go to bed with you. There’s nothing metaphysical about it.


Many of the poems in Flowers have long lines, and my reasoning was that if line length sets the breath of thought in a poem, I wanted to extend that breath for as long as I could. Right now all the poems I’m working on have extremely short lines, like one to three words long, which I’m doing partly because I love the short lines of James Schuyler and Eileen Myles and partly because I like the idea of reducing lines to a poetic foot, though a foot conceived both as a conceptual element and a rhythmic element. On this last point I would refer anyone interested to Alice Notley’s The Descent of Alette, which creates poetic feet by placing chucks of lines in quotation marks—for example: “One day, I awoke” “& found myself on” “a subway, endlessly” “I didn’t know” “how I’d arrived there or” “who I was” “exactly”


What is your relationship to the sublime?


I like to think we’re on speaking terms. In Eileen Myles’s review of Anselm Berrigan’s most recent book, Notes from Irrelevance, she writes, “it [the book] generally has an only stoic relationship to meaning. Like meaning might be someone he has a working relationship with. They always nod when they see one other.” I wish I could say that every time I sit down to write it’s like what Stephen Dedalus says in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man—“I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race”—but usually I’m just trying to record what a drying puddle looked like or something I misheard or some snarky comparison that I’ll later try to revise into something that at least appears un-ironic and insightful. I’m much more in the camp of folks who write mostly to see what will happen. I do not expect to write the Great American Verse Novel. One of you should, though.


What is your practical relationship to metaphor? I’m thinking of the poem “For Beth Ward,” where the poem seems to tackle the question to a degree – “Does metaphor / contain us, or do we extend ourselves / out into it?”


There’s a metaphysical question of whether qualities are real entities that we perceive or just imaginative constructs that don’t exist independently of us, and if I’d majored in philosophy I might have something really interesting to say about that, but as it is I know just enough to refer to the existence of this question and leave it unsatisfyingly there. On the more practical level, I think I probably over-use metaphor and simile. I love David Berman, and both his book Actual Air and the lyrics he’s written as the braintrust for his now-defunct band Silver Jews are full of brilliant similes that I try to emulate at every opportunity.


Several times in Flowers, there are short, title-less, italicized poems. What function do these serve? How do you want them to relate to the rest of the work as a whole? Why did you choose this particular device to separate or categorize the parts of your book? Are these to be read as poems in their own right?


I really wasn’t sure whether to use those in the manuscript. A friend said he liked that they gave the book some good “My mother is a fish” moments, so I kept them. The poems themselves were written through this bizarre process of intensely meditating in a public place and trying very hard to transmit words from the static in the air. I know that sounds totally mystical and goofy, but that was the project. I placed them the way I did in the book to give the reader a breather every once in awhile, I mean that’s one of the great things about short poems, the relief of seeing a page with so few words on it.


Certain words/images (such as swimming pools, the color orange) echo throughout your book. Was this a conscious choice? If so, why?


I love having stuff like that pointed out to me. Usually I have no idea. In an interview James Schuyler talks about having his manuscripts edited by Kenneth Koch, and Koch would always come back to him and point out all the interesting words he used more than once, with the implication that he shouldn’t have. To me it’s reassuring because it’s some evidence of a larger coherence that you’re not even aware of, that there are levels of coherence that exist whether you want them to or not.


In an interview with BOMBLOG, you expressed that in earlier incarnations of the manuscript there were lots of poems for specific people (many of them love poems). What lead to the shift towards what the manuscript is now? How do you decide what remains important?


The love poems just weren’t very good, sad to say, but they were written for the wrong people as it turned out, so there you go. I think the best way to put together a manuscript is to try as hard as you can to forget the impulses that led you to write any of your poems, concentrate strictly on the highest quality work you’ve done, and cut out anything that isn’t at your highest level. If you’re left with 10 pages of material, that’s much better than 60 pages of which only 10 are good, even if those 10 pages have zero coherence as a set of poems. Personally I had to give up on any idea of having a manuscript in which all the poems would have been written toward a common purpose or theme. Instead I took what I thought was my best work and tried to sequence it in a way that made it somewhat readable.


In your poetry, you refer frequently and explicitly to Nashville. Rather than rendering place abstractly, why do you choose to state the name of the place you’re describing? Is your intended audience someone who is familiar with the locale, or an outsider getting her first glance at the places you describe? Does an awareness of audience influence your work at all?


In Seeds of Contemplation, the poet and Catholic monk Thomas Merton writes, “If you write for men–you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world, for a little while. If you write for yourself, you can read what you yourself have written and after ten minutes you will be so disgusted that you will wish that you were dead.” As a Catholic monk, his advice is to write for God. I can say without shame that I write for the reader and that I consider myself my first and most important reader. This often means that within ten minutes I’m disgusted and wish I were dead, but things eek through nonetheless, and it’s like Vegas—sure the house always wins, but they still have to give you a little something every now and then, if only to keep you hopeful.


I think that the question of what audience to write for can be put many ways, but here are two formulations I find useful. Formulation #1: audience is a political issue about who’s included and excluded in the electorate of your readers—whose votes are you trying to get, and whose votes do you not even care about? My complaint with this formulation is basically what happens in the movie Sullivan’s Travels, which I would heartily recommend to anyone who hasn’t seen it. In that movie, a wealthy and successful director decides that he wants to make a movie about the common man, and so he disguises himself as a bum and rides the rails, with the idea of getting source material to make something like The Grapes of Wrath (incidentally his working title is O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which is where the Coen brothers got the title for their movie). But then through a series of mishaps, he ends up in prison and on a chain gang. The prisoners are miserable, the lowest of the low. One night, all the prisoners are taken to a church, where they are shown cartoons, and the prisoners have the most fun they’ve ever had. The director realizes that if he wants to help the common man, he should be making cartoons, not The Grapes of Wrath.


My problem is that I don’t want to make cartoons. So here’s Formulation #2: you’re trying to create beauty, and sometimes doing so requires you to scrape off the barnacles of tradition, to free yourself from the way other people write, and to clear a space for your own personal expression. Inevitably that means some of your writing will be unpalatable to some people, like those who like tradition or the kinds of writing that you feel compelled to banish from your own writing. The problem with this formulation is that while it gives you permission to write as bizarrely as you want, it doesn’t provide any kind of limiting principle or incorporate any competing values. I’m probably somewhere in the vicinity of Formulation #2, but because it’s ultimately a very permissive view, in practice the question of audience operates as a superego-type force, constantly berating me for not writing more user-friendly poems.


The color field painter Mark Rothko said that he thought the highest achievement in western painting was portraits of individuals in contemplation, and he wanted his own paintings to enact that contemplative experience in the viewer, which in my opinion they do quite beautifully. John Ashbery has said that this is how poetry can be political—a reader may have a contemplative experience with a poem that opens new perspectives or truths in a way that may even change the political commitments of the reader. At my most optimistic, this is more or less how I feel about audience, that depth can matter as much or more than breadth.


In your poem “I Love Country Music,” you mention that “Revision is a function of shame.” I wonder if this applies to your own poetry. How much revision do you do yourself – and is it more often small fixes, or total re-writes?


My poems must be awash in shame. The poet Aaron Kunin talks about how shame involves the same ergonomics as reading—head tilted down, eyes downcast, brow furrowed. The same goes for writing. But revision is, for me, basically what writing is all about. I have small bursts of original composition and long, long courses of revision. I love revising, I love the idea that any poem can be improved upon, I love that there’s no finish line. Pierre Bonnard would still go to work on paintings after they were hanging on a museum’s walls. For me revision tends to be all of the above—small fixes, total re-writes, throwing things away, whatever it takes.


What do you mean when you say there is no etiquette in the shower?


That, I’m afraid, is between me and my shower.


How do you organize a poem like “Nashville,” or explain something like “Poem For Cori” to a more tradition-minded poetry audience?


I’ve explained “Nashville” by comparing it to the badhat in Indian classical music—the badhat is an introductory section in which all of the notes that will later be used in the raga are played arrhythmically, and my understanding is that the idea is that the notes are being displayed one by one in an abstract way that will prepare listeners for what is to come. “Nashville” is sort of my badhat, and, as I explained when we all met, the compositional method was really just to meditate on Nashville and try to record words that seemed indigenous to the place as I knew it. Both “Nashville” and “Poem for Cori” are intended to be long, minimal, and tonally flat, to encourage the meditative state I was in when I wrote them. If someone finds the poems boring, I’d say that’s right on target.


Do you consider yourself to be in any relationship to the avant-garde, whatever that is?


So let’s face it, I’m a lawyer. As in, someone who works fully within the currently existing system of power. I like to think my job entails making the system live up to its promises of justice, but still. What I do probably disqualifies me from being in the avant-garde. At my most ambitious I’d say that I hope what I’m doing is advancing the art, though it seems comically self-important to claim that I’m advancing anything. Ted Berrigan completed his master’s degree in English at the University of Tulsa after he’d already moved to New York City, and so they had to mail him his degree. It came right back to the university with a note from Berrigan that said, “I am the master of no art.” Right on.


Incidentally, one of my favorite books by David Antin is What It Means to Be Avant-Garde, and he addresses this stuff much more eloquently than I could ever hope to.


What are you working on now? How does it feel to you, in contrast or complement to this work?


At the moment I’m finishing a very long poem that’s about 70% narrative and, as mentioned above, in very short lines. It’ll be the lodestone of a manuscript that’s basically done and supposed to be published in 2013. The working title for the manuscript is Ethical Consciousness, but I might wimp out and change it. It feels to me like the new manuscript will have a little less variation than Flowers, which isn’t a terrible thing.


Does/how does your work as a lawyer inform your poetry? Is it at all difficult to oscillate between the rigid linguistics of law and the more fluid linguistics of poetry? How similar do you find the meticulous attention to words in each to be?


Both involve careful attention to language, and the hard work of both is constantly revisiting verbal formulations to see if a little tweak here or there will get you just a bit closer to what you intended. Though sometimes poetry is nothing like that, sometimes accuracy is not at all what you want. So I don’t know. I can say that the balance between the two careers has turned out to be totally fortuitous for me. I enjoy being a lawyer well enough, but since I’m also doing poetry stuff I don’t feel like my legal career is the core component of my identity, and that little bit of distance makes it easier to withstand the natural ebb and flow of professional life. Conversely, poetry is much closer to being something like the core component of my identity, and because of that I’m thankful that it has no connection to how I make a living.


Do you feel that poetry is doing work today as a forum for discussing social or political themes? Should it?


I’ve always thought that questioning whether politics had a place in poetry was a little ridiculous. Would anyone ask if politics has a place in philosophy? No—of course politics has a place in philosophy. So are there topics that are available to philosophical inquiry but not to poetry? I certainly don’t think so. There are a lot of other ways to make this argument.


Another point that’s often made is that poetry, in W.H. Auden’s well known formulation, makes nothing happen. I can think of two responses to this. First, Auden is right—poetry makes “nothing” happen, it makes the presence of the void known. What could be more politically motivating than the void? And I mean this with some seriousness—I’m thinking along the lines of what I mentioned earlier about the contemplative experience having an effect on political commitments. The second response is empirical: look at the huge role that poets and poetry have had in the Occupy movements. Of course poetry is involved in politics. Thank god it is.


When it comes to the question of how poetry can engage with politics, poets are doing all kinds of amazing things—giving voice to the oppressed, disrupting the normal operation of language to highlight the power relations inherent in language, expressing the sensations of living through political events, creating narratives for political events, and on and on and on.


Are there any particular poets (or other artists or thinkers) who you would name as foundational to your development as or approach as a poet? Are there others who you feel moved by or spurred by in a very present sense? What is it absolutely necessary that I read?


Here are some things that were/are very important to me:


John Ashbery, especially Rivers and Mountains, The Double-Dream of Spring, Three Poems, and Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.
Ted Berrigan, The Sonnets and the recording of Berrigan reading the whole thing available here: http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Berrigan.php; also the recording of his poem “Red Shift”: http://mediamogul.seas.upenn.edu/pennsound/authors/Berrigan/Berrigan-Ted_Red-Shift_Exact-Change_12_7-25-82.mp3
Frank O’Hara’s Collected Poems, especially a recording of him reading “For the Chinese New Year and for Bill Berkson”, which I put online for anyone who’s interested in listening: files.me.com/paul.killebrew/02lbmr.mov
James Schuyler, especially Hymn to Life, which you can hear him reading here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/james-schuyler#about. His novels are also fantastic.
Alice Notley’s Mysteries of Small Houses
Eileen Myles
C.D. Wright
Rae Armantrout
John Wieners, especially this recording: http://ubumexico.centro.org.mx/sound/dial_a_poem_poets/disconnected/Disconnected_20_wieners.mp3
Bernadette Mayer’s Sonnets
Joe Brainard, whose collected writings just came out
Tim Dlugos, whose collected poems just came out
Robert Creeley, For Love
John Koethe, The Late Wisconsin Spring
Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red, Men in the Off Hours
Nathaniel Mackey, Bedouin Hornbook
Jack Spicer
David Foster Wallace
W.G. Sebald
Larry Levis, Elegy
Christopher Isherwood, Berlin Diaries
Isaiah Berlin, Roots of Romanticism, Two Concepts of Liberty
Wallace Stevens
Arthur Rimbaud
John Keats
Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies
Henry James, The Ambassadors
Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions
Charles Wright, Negative Blue
John Godfrey, Midnight on Your Left
Tom Raworth, Visible Shivers, Writing
Jane Bowles
Tomaz Salamun, The Four Questions of Melancholy
Susan Howe, My Emily Dickinson
Fanny Howe, The Winter Sun
Anne Porter
James Tate
Jay Wright
David Antin


Some younger poets about whom I’m extremely excited right now:


Jacqueline Waters, One Sleeps the Other Doesn’t, listen to her poem “-Phil” here: http://andrewkenower.typepad.com/a_voice_box/files/canessa-park/poirier-sailers-waters/jacqueline-waters.mp3
Dana Ward, who you can listen to reading “Typing Wild Speech” here: http://media.sas.upenn.edu/pennsound/authors/Ward-Dana/Canessa-Gallery-Segmented/Ward_Canessa-Gallery_10-17-09.mp3
Catherine Wagner
Anselm Berrigan, Zero Star Hotel and Notes from Irrelevance
Jennifer Moxley, anything you can find but especially Clampdown
Dorothea Lasky
Ish Klein
D.A. Powell
Peter Gizzi
Rachel Zucker
Lisa Jarnot
Graham Foust
Miles Champion


As far as what’s necessary, the only thing I’ll say is that reading widely and constantly will improve your writing. There’s so much great stuff out there that I try not to waste time prioritizing or looking for a limiting principle.


Where do you go looking if you want something contemporary, in poetry?


The PennSound website regularly posts new recordings by interesting poets. I’m a regular reader of the Poetry Foundation’s blog, Harriet. The poet Eric Baus is running their twitter feed at the moment, and he’s extremely well read and always points me in interesting directions. Following poets on twitter is a great way to hear about interesting new work. I like to know who’s reading at the Poetry Project in New York. The best thing you can do is find the poets wherever you’re living and ask them what they’re reading.



(October 2013)
What can you say about the short lines that form the structure of most of the poems in Ethical Consciousness? Were they a generative device? Do you expect readers to treat the linebreaks in a particular manner?


I ended up changing the line breaks a lot as the manuscript came together. Partly that’s because I’m not, in general, all that rigorous about line breaks. My practice in the past has been to break between clauses in such a way that the lines are whatever length approximates the breath of thought the poem is trying to achieve. So I guess I think of lines in terms of mental distance and mental pacing, rarely in terms of phonetic meter, though the music is there and I’m sure I’m not completely unaware of it. I’ve liked long lines that stretch the mind’s breath, and I’ve liked long sentences for the same reason. Because I’m not super particular about the precise locations of line breaks, I’ve also generally made my lines all about the same length. For the poems in Ethical Consciousness, I was thinking so much about the present of the poem and how I myself in writing them tried to be as closely attached to the immediate last words and the immediately subsequent as possible and to push out of my mind the overall shape or direction of the poem. It seemed to me that I could represent those impulses graphically through short lines, but that didn’t come to me until most of the poems were already written, so I went back and changed every poem so that the lines would be two or three words long. Then I went back again and changed some poems back to longer lines on the advice of Josh Edwards, one of the editors of Canarium, who pointed out quite correctly that the short lines didn’t quite fit the diction of some of the poems.


It would be wrong of me not to mention here that I am a great admirer of James Schuyler and Eileen Myles, both of whom have a lot of skinny poems.


As far as how the short lines are read, for me they seem to both speed up and slow down the sensation of reading. Speed up because I move down the page so quickly and because it’s hard not to read over the breaks (by “reading over the breaks” I mean that I can’t stand to actually pause at the end of each line, even in my head, because of how stilted it feels, and so pacingwise I begin reading as if the breaks weren’t there). But the short lines make me feel like I’m slowing down because the visual information forces me to pay attention to each line as a unit, a little like the way the quotation marks work in Alice Notley’s The Descent of Alette.


How does the process of writing a 30-pg. poem like “Muted Flags” differ from the process of writing a single-page poem?


The single page poems were generally written in one sitting, at least originally, and then revised in small bursts as the book came together. The long poems I’ve written, including “Muted Flags,” have taken shape over the course of several months, usually arriving in chunks and requiring far less revision when the last line hits the page because I’ve re-read and re-worked most of the poem so many times by then. So it’s sort of the opposite of the lack of awareness of the poem’s beginning and end that I described above. Though as I was writing it I didn’t really know where “Muted Flags” was going; when I got into the long narrative portion, I figured that the story would peter out and I’d go back into the kind of writing you see at the beginning of the poem. But then I felt like I reached the end of the poem within the story, so I hit “stop.”


Would you say that “Muted Flags” represents a culmination of your feelings toward public figures? Or is it more indicative of a floating set of opinions? In a broader sense, would you say that your poems, once published, indicate a finality of thought?


The amount of life energy that goes into status control, even in something as peewee leagues as the poetry world, is heartbreaking. I won’t even go into how bad it is among lawyers. Writing about someone running for office was a way to literalize this: here is a person whose complete meaning is the desire to be liked, and you can’t exactly dismiss him because his desire to be liked has deep justifications in our form of government. But I also thought it was important that you’re hearing the take you’re hearing in the poem from an artist; in my own experience, we as artists can be awfully quick to claim the highest rung on the ladder of authentic living, but I mean come on, this is what I was just saying: we’re all running for Congress.


As far as a finality of thought, let us all pray we never reach anything like that. Even writing about this now, I’m struggling to be coherent because I never thought it through systematically, like an essay. That just wasn’t the point.


How did it happen that “Actually Present” appeared in both Flowers and Ethical Consciousness?


The very ho-hum explanation is that when Canarium was laying out Flowers, the pagination worked out so that there were just enough blank pages to spare that we could fit in one more one-page poem. I’d just written the first set of poems that ended up in Ethical Consciousness, including “Actually Present,” so I sent that one to the editors, and they folded it in at what seemed like the right place. But the poem was completely woven into my idea of what the next book was turning out to be, so I knew even when I sent it to be included in Flowers that it would be in both books. I’m really happy it is, too, because I changed the line breaks for Ethical Consciousness, which, especially for that poem, felt like a way to explain myself.


How did New Orleans influence these poems? What kind of atmosphere does the poetry community have here, in your opinion?


The longer I’ve been around the poetry world the more I’ve come to appreciate what a poetry community does. Another way of putting this is that I feel increasingly guilty about how little I do to support other poets, given how much other poets have done to support me. The atmosphere in the poetry community that I knew in New Orleans was one of generosity and openness. It felt similar to me to the other poetry community that I’ve spent some time with–the community around the Poetry Project in New York City. In both the poets are as interested to hear about how you’re getting by as what you’re writing or reading. Someone wrote that Ted Berrigan reached out to younger poets because he felt that they could be too quick to give up on poetry if they had a few discouraging experiences. I think that’s absolutely right, and I think you can take it further and say that a lot of us have kept writing because people made it known to us that they’re interested.


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