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Showing posts from March, 2014

In Conversation with Gjertrud Schnackenberg: Part One, Unstruck

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Photo by Mike Minehan Tuning fork. Detonation. Lute-string . When we talked via email this January, Trude Schnackenberg was packing for a month in Rome and going, as she put it, "full steam ahead until horse latitudes are hove in."  Here, in Part One of a conversation that will continue over the next few months in this space, she lays out several marvels.  Kung-note. Big bang. Honeybees . ~~~~~ SUSAN GILLIS: How did you first come to poetry--or, how did poetry come to you? GJERTRUD SCHNACKENBERG: For poets, poetry is a call-and-response medium: poets write poems because they have first read or heard poetry. I first read a poem at the age of fourteen, and recognized at that moment that this would be my world; after reading poetry for five years, I began writing at the age of nineteen. Poetry comes from poetry, poetry begets poetry, poetry evinces, instills, brings about, generates poetry, in poets (and so too I think composers write music because they have first

Anita Lahey: A Poem

Anita Lahey TIME AND PLACE Pause the player during the opening credits, 1999, The Sopranos , season one: The twin towers. “Look,” and the width of a whole cushion (the space between you on the couch) dissolves. Katrina. It means more than hurricane. Arenas and murder and thirsting masses on an off-ramp, waiting for a fucking bus… There was this guy my friend called Hector. We were 19, first year. His real name was Dave or Joe or Phil— but Hector stuck, nobody had to ask, it pinned us like a tail to that galaxy, the perfect fit. When we gather and try the shorthand being passed around on the tray with all the beautiful, broken truffles— a couple somewhere starts holding hands. One more child turns c-a-t into “cat.” The grownups in the room lay down their shields. At the party in Ottawa, we melt the sugar into the hot whiskey. Raise a little How’d we wind up here? It’s never why we stayed. It’s all so obvious and

In Conversation with Anita Lahey

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A meeting for coffee extends over lunch. Or an afternoon  swells into evening. However it happens, it takes only a few minutes in the company of Anita Lahey to recognize a deeply attentive writer at work fusing stories, situations, questions, and more. I caught up with Anita recently between stops as she toured with her new collection of essays, The Mystery Shopping Cart.      SUSAN GILLIS: What brought you to poetry in the beginning—or, if you prefer, what brought poetry to you? ANITA LAHEY: Adolescence, a bossy (and insightful) friend, poor eyesight, Dennis Lee and Lewis Carroll, the fantastic concept of onomatopoeia (which I can still never spell without the aid of a dictionary), maybe some innate & insatiable need for language with rhythm and beat. I don't exactly know. When I was a teenager my best friend and I used to write poetry together, I mean literally co-write poems. We'd also share poems we'd written on our own, and though at first they covered the us

In Conversation with Sue Goyette

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That house you walk by with the kitchen in front in the big bay window, the chalkboard outside hanging above the hydrangea listing what you might first take to be the Daily Special, that's Sue Goyette's house. Pause, and you'll see that the Daily Special is a poem. And that's just one thing. Voltage! Sue's a force. SUSAN GILLIS: What brought you to poetry in the first place? SUE GOYETTE: I remember, in my early teens, encountering the voltage in a good poem. I can still recall how startled I was by how the words in a poem relayed a kind of intensity and vitality and I was curious about that. I’d read a lot of novels and short stories but began to read poems to figure out how they were pulling off what they were with the same words everything else used. This intensity, vitality was one of the things that convinced me that there was something going on besides the dailiness and challenges of my own life. That there was a conversation apart from but still

In Conversation with Shannon Webb-Campbell

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Shannon Webb-Campbell makes things--great hats, terrific appetizers--and she makes things happen. A slow summer evening of poets in a starlit backyard; a bright winter night in The Company House. She talked to me about her practice of poetry and criticism and making a place at the table for them. SUSAN GILLIS: How did you come to poetry in the first place?  SHANNON WEBB-CAMPBELL: I don’t think we find poetry, poetry finds us. It comes sniffing at our ankles, and tries to look up our skirts. Poems arrive, usually in the moment when you need them most. They blow in from some far off land, bump into you at the airport, and tap dance off the pages. I was very apprehensive to call myself a poet. Like anything, giving name to something comes with series of internal questions. Am I poet enough? I have been writing poems in one form or another for several years, but never had the nerve to call myself a poet. It wasn’t until last fall, during the start of my MFA in creativ

Witness, History and Rhapsodes: A Piling-Up

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image by Girts Gailans The Throne of Labdacus , Gjertrud Schnackenberg's long poem that retells the Oedipus story (FSG, 2000), is one of those books I've had several copies of because I keep lending it out and not getting it back--which is fine, so long as it stays available in some form. Recently I picked up copy number whatever while eating breakfast and opened it to this passage from Part Two .      For some, the tragedy unfolds without a moral---      No how or why; no spelling out of fate      Or sacrifice or punishment; merely the god's      Swift brushing-by, scented with laurel.     And for others it is only an ancient folktale     About a guiltless crime:     Not a judgment, not a warning,     Not an example, not a command---     Merely a tale in which neither the gods     Nor the human ones can claim that they meant     To harm or to save, to kill or t