Tuesday, May 19, 2009

THE POETRY CHAIN GANG (part 7 w/ Dan Albergotti)

The Black Telephone has five fast questions for poet Dan Albergotti

BT: When poet Doug Van Gundy suggested I interview you next, he told me that you love poetry as much or more than anyone he knows and that you are a huge fan of poet Jack Gilbert. Well in a Jack Gilbert interview I read, he, Jack Gilbert, said, "I like thinking of poetry as a love affair. A great deal of my poetry has never been printed . . . I don’t write poetry to be celebrated . . . I write poetry whether I publish it or not, because I’m in love." Would you say your love for poetry is similar?

DAN: You’ve got to love poetry for its own sake—you’ve got to love the act of writing it and find sustainable reward in that alone. In an essay that appeared in The Cincinnati Review in 2005, Alan Shapiro cited a letter by Elizabeth Bishop in which she claimed that what we want from art is the same thing necessary for its production, a "self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration." Shapiro claims that this is the essential urge toward writing. The writer yearns to achieve an almost supernatural state of intense concentration in which the self (with all its worries, fears, mundane concerns) is "forgotten," shed away. I think Shapiro’s right about that, and I do have a sort of "love affair" with that moment in the midst of creating the poem. Like Gilbert, I don’t write poetry in an attempt to be celebrated, and I would continue to write it if I were never again published.

At the same time, I don’t believe writing poetry is, or should be, a purely self-interested, solipsistic endeavor. The urge toward utterance, toward the recording of one’s words in writing, is the urge to be heard, to be read by others (and not just for the sake of applause). To write a poem is to make an empathetic gesture to the rest of the world, an attempt to connect at a deeper level than our daily interactions and superficial conversations will allow. So I guess to have a love affair with poetry is also to have a love affair with humanity. Or at least to try to.

BT: As an undergraduate, I didn’t care too much for the poet Sylvia Plath; now, I can’t get enough of her work. Is there a poet that you didn’t like too much before, but enjoy now?

DAN: There are many poets whose work I’ve come to appreciate more deeply as the years have passed. One that immediately comes to mind is Thomas Hardy. As an undergrad, I thought he was a genius novelist and a mediocre poet. Now I feel almost the opposite is true. Such changes of opinion aren’t uncommon, of course. The most striking in my case is probably the way my perception of John Keats has changed. When I was an undergrad studying the Romantics, I probably would have ranked him as my least favorite of the "canonical guys," coming in sixth after Byron, Blake, Shelley, Wordsworth, and Coleridge. Today, I consider him not only the most important of the Romantics, but the second-greatest poet in the history of the language.

BT: Is there a poem you’ve written that even you can’t believe you wrote?

DAN: I love the ambiguity of your question. The word "even" suggests you mean a poem I’m impressed with, but my mind immediately goes to the many, many ones that I can’t believe I wrote because they now seem so unforgivably terrible! That’s a good sign, though. In the same essay that I cite above, Alan Shapiro says that despising our early work is "the price we pay for getting better."

In a more straightforward response to your question, I will say that I did have a strange experience about ten years ago when I drafted a poem called "Methuselah Dead." At that time, I had already published over twenty poems in literary journals, but still had an uneasy feeling about myself as a writer. I wasn’t completely happy with anything I’d written, and I felt like I hadn’t earned the right even to call myself a poet. When I finished "Methuselah Dead," I almost instantly felt as if something had changed. I thought to myself that I would never be embarrassed for having written that poem. And for ten years, that’s been true. So I guess you could say that’s a poem that, at least at one time, I couldn’t believe I had written.

BT: Novels get turned into movies; some short stories do, too. Is there a poem out there that you could see as a movie or inspiration for a movie?

DAN: First, I think all long narrative poems—like The Iliad, Beowulf, The Ring and the Book, etc.—should be out of bounds in a response to that question because those are really novels in the mode of poetry. Having taken those off the table, I’d have to say no. I guess I could imagine an experimental film being made from Eliot’s The Waste Land, but I can also imagine 99 directors out of 100 making something abysmally bad out of it.

Please note that I’m interpreting your question as an inquiry about feature-length film. There are some interesting things happening these days with poems being presented in/as short films, and I think that’s got a lot of potential.

BT: I'm trying to start a chain, a chain of poets, sort of like a chain gang of poets. Suggest, please, a poet I should ask five fast questions to next.

DAN: I’d recommend that you get in touch with Rhett Iseman Trull, a terrific poet and editor of the poetry journal Cave Wall. Her first collection of poems is coming out soon from Anhinga Press. She’s someone who loves poetry as much as I do, and I know you and your readers would be interested in her answers.

Dan Albergotti is the author of The Boatloads (BOA Editions, 2008). His poems have appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Shenandoah, The Southern Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and Pushcart Prize XXXIII: Best of the Small Presses. A graduate of the MFA program at UNC Greensboro and former poetry editor of The Greensboro Review, Albergotti currently teaches creative writing and literature courses and edits the online journal Waccamaw (www.waccamawjournal.com) at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC.

Read Dan Albergotti's poem "Sunday Morning Argument" here: http://www.towncreekpoetry.com/SPR08/ALBERGOTTI_SUNDAY.htm