Interviews

Photo by Daniel Schlapbach

Conducted by Sørina Higgins as part of the “Where are we now?” series, via e-mail, October 9-13, 2010, shortly after the publication of The Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems (Story Line Press, 2010).

From the interview: “I write poems to preserve the people I love or remember. I’m concerned, too, with how the future blurs into present or past; the search for what’s sacred; distaste for money’s influence and authority’s corruption; the need to act as responsible stewards of the environment; and the need to acknowledge and protect the powerless. This last is the chief focus of ‘Hart Island,’ the new book’s central sequence, about New York City’s potter’s field, accessible only by ferry—so resonant of Dante—where, even today, prisoners bury the boroughs’ unclaimed dead. (I grew up on Long Island and am very interested in New York history.)”

Post-interview: One unexpected surprise was discovering that Bill Knott, whose poetry I’d admired for years, had read the part where I referred to him as “the brilliant, undervalued Bill Knott,” and posted a comment in reply: “thanks to Mister Ned for mentioning me in his list of admired poets . . .the big diff between me and those other poets is that if you want to read their poetry you have to pay cash to obtain it in their deadtree pubs, whereas all my books of poetry can be downloaded FREE.”

Long disenchanted with the usual route to publication (despite past volumes on Random House, FSG, various university presses, et al.), Knott nevertheless used print-on-demand to continue bringing “deadtree” copies into the world–a box of which showed up one day at my door via the U.S. Postal Service: a totally unexpected gift from a man so many remember as cranky, eccentric, generous, and immensely talented.

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Conducted by Lori A. May at Poets’ Quarterly in the spring of 2010, just after I’d learned that The Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems had been selected for the Donald Justice Prize by A. E. Stallings.

From the interview: “I’m from a blue-collar family—my adoptive father was a plumber and my adoptive mother a housewife—so there was no distinction at home between high and low culture. I read comics as a kid, watched old horror movies and Star Trek on TV, listened to the Beatles, and learned to play guitar—pretty typical boys’ pursuits during the ’60s. My second book, Lives of the Sleepers, includes pop culture in the form of poems based on Hitchcock movies, and even the sacred objects of working-class Catholics that fill the book—scapulars, prayer cards, saints’ legends—reflect a pop culture element (though other poems in that collection connect to literature or myth: Dante, Petrarch, the Seven Sleepers legend, Orpheus and Eurydice, et al.)

I think popular art is as deeply a part of our cultural heritage as the literature or high art we discover later, and it touches us profoundly: our first exposure to the arts takes place in childhood, and the icons and images of pop culture become enmeshed with memory. And, as we see in the cases of Poe or Hitchcock, the distinction between high and low isn’t absolute.”

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Curated by Eileen R. Tabios  at the Poets on Adoption bloodspot, March 2011.

From the interview: “My adoption experience has made me keenly aware of how alternate lives may shadow our own—how hope, desire, and chance shape who we are….Yet adoption also provided [my adoptive parents] with a son, and [my birth parents] remain together to this day. The complexity of the narrative makes its telling a real challenge, but telling is, I think, essential…Adoption creates families, however unorthodox the road, and we are all part of the greater human family.”

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Conducted by Toni Sciarra Poynter for Vassar Quarterly, Spring 1999.

From the article “Plotting the Light-Years Between People”: Poynter writes, “[In Galileo’s Banquet,] the narrator, like the astronomer, attempts to see clearly the reality of things and to find the truth of his place in the world…Images of the elusiveness of clarity run through the poems: the narrator as a boy, submerged in the swimming pool, gazes up through the hazy water at the two women who are his mothers; the same boy peers into the school bus window at a girl (his sister, he later learns), who blows ‘smoke against the glass’; the boy, now a man, is blinded by the sun striking a drenched garden.

…’In a way, the lack of answers and lack of closure . . . has encouraged me to more fully imagine these experiences and to tilt them in as sympathetic a fashion as possible,’ [Balbo] notes.”

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