Monday, November 19, 2007

Linda Gregerson in the Kenyon Review

Here are two poems and an interview done in March 2007 with Linda Gregerson in The Kenyon Review.

Highlights from the interview:
"I suffer from the can't-chew-gum-and-walk syndrome: it takes something remarkable to make me notice the world if I'm trying to move through it."

"...God knows nothing makes one feel the passage of time more keenly than staking one's heart to a child."

"...I feel the world can be measured by how it treats its children. I cannot bear the harm we do to them; it makes me wild with grief. And there's nowhere else to go with such grief--I mean one can, one must, try to do some practical good in the world but it's always such a pittance--so I go to words."

"It's always the hardest, and the truest, part of composition for me: reaching a point where the poem needs to go more deeply into itself by going elsewhere. Authentically elsewhere, somewhere I haven't pre-plotted. I often find that point by writing slightly beyond it, into a fulfillment that's too predictable. So I have to cut back to the precipice and be stranded there for a while. It's a very uncomfortable place; it drives me crazy. And it's where the thing either does or does not become a poem."

"I simply can't write the poem without a provisional shape for the stanza. So I locate the early phrasing, the language with which the poem is to begin, and try to "score" it against (that's a telling confession, no doubt: against) a pattern of lineation. And I throw it out and start again-it has to be on the computer by now - and fiddle with it endlessly until I have something I think will accommodate the pitch of diction, the relative pacing, the formality or informality of the voicing. Line five never, ever gets written until lines three and four are firmly in place."

"I work inside a tightly bounded metric; it's all I can do to vary the pattern with dactyls and anapests or to end a clause on an unstressed syllable. That's one of the reasons syntax is so important to me: if the syntactical units expand and contract, if they can be made to move with variable pressure, then there's something at odds with the meter."

"The world is so rich with the cumulative textures of material practice, the intricate dynamics of our own and other people's daily labors, the tenuous workings of human memory-it seems a pity if poetry is to leave them out."

"The students [at the University of Michigan] are wonderfully varied in their methods and aesthetics. Some are working on a shattered page, in fragmentary syntax, with conspicuous debts to contemporary music and visual culture. Some are working in a much more restrained and classical vein. Many of them have decided to test the parameters of their own 'found forms' by writing from time to time in a received or inherited form, even in rhyme. One is working on a Pushkin-style novel-in-verse. Several are experimenting with performance modes or collaborations with visual artists, videographers, musicians. Many poets now, not just the young but especially the young, are compelled by mixed genres. The possibilities are terribly exciting. The challenge, predictably enough, lies in tempering all this burgeoning possibility with some meaningful form of stricture. One wants the gorgeous, expanded palette of color and movement but one doesn't want to be a perpetual dilettante. The expansion of methods must somehow lead to freshening or intensification rather than a watering-down. The problem is daunting and thrilling at once: how to locate the hard edge, the limits, the embodied grammar that will give this new work its own center of gravity."

"I try to encourage in my students a meticulous attention to the elements of poetry: to syntax, image, idiom, cognitive pacing, tone. To punctuation, for heaven's sake. I try to teach them to be wary of paraphrase: to hunt down and banish all those poetry-impersonators we all let into our work from time to time, those moments of reporting-on-discoveries-made-elsewhere. I try to encourage them to think on the page. The real poets are those who make use of it all: they hone their craft to accommodate a single, foundational motive, a sort of cognitive hunger. Mindfulness, you might call it, or good faith curiosity."

"...I think we still, we Americans, suffer from underdevelopment when it comes to poetry and the contested, large-scale differentials of power we often refer to as 'politics.' Poets are dreadfully behind the writers of fiction in this regard, more so than the varying aptitudes of literary genre would require. We're desperately afraid of moral earnestness. But why should that be the reigning specter? We need somehow to enlarge and deepen the terms of engagement."

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