Friday, August 7, 2009

THE POETRY CHAIN GANG (part 12 w/ Erica Dawson)

The Black Telephone has five fast questions for poet Erica Dawson.

BT: I love the title of your book "Big-Eyed Afraid" (winner of the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize, 2006); I would have bought the book on the title alone. What made you ultimately stick with that title?

ERICA: First, thanks so much for the compliment. There were plenty of naysayers when I initially proposed the title. I stuck with it because I thought it provided a true trope for the entire book. Though there are moments where I seem quite sure of myself, some say, there's, to me, always an underlying current of self-consciousness and fear. And, my mom loved the title. Her opinion counts a lot.

BT: Did you ever buy a poetry book just because of its title?

ERICA: Definitely. Cate Marvin's "World's Tallest Disaster" was one of those buys. Barbara Ras' "Bite Every Sorrow" also caught my eye.

BT: When poet Juliana Gray suggested I interview you next, she said, "Erica…[writes] in meter and form…and she has a dexterity with these musty old forms that I really envy. She can handle something like a crown of sonnets…with such dexterity and sass." So what is it about these musty old forms that draws you to them?

ERICA: Ah, Juliana is so sweet. I'd say it's the "must." I love the fact that people consider the forms old and dusty. I have a little mission to prove that things from the 17th century and earlier were pretty damn sexy and sassy in their day, and still can be sassy today. I love any mix of old and new, anything from new songs that sample 60s music to an outfit that combines something vintage with something very contemporary. The poems work the same way for me. There's something unexpected about the combination of the older forms with modern language. I like catching people off guard.

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 at first, but enjoy now?

ERICA: I had that same relationship with Plath, actually. I think I was too caught up in her biography to give her poetry the attention and work it deserves. Also, my biggest love right now, the British Renaissance, was not a love of mine in undergrad. Not at all. It came later in graduate school. But now I can't get enough of "Paradise Lost," for example. No lie. It's amazing. Frightening, really sexy, and incredibly dense yet completely readable like a novel.

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

ERICA: If you haven't already, ask Leigh Anne Couch. She's an amazing poet whose work has this kind of charm I've never seen before. You read or listen to Leigh Anne reading her work and you are utterly mesmerized by the sounds you hear, the words you digest, the rhythms and pictures she creates in your mind that stick with you, deliciously, long after you've closed the book or the reading has ended. Her voice, literal and figurative, is hard to shake, in a very good way. And, she's one of my favorite people in the world.

Erica Dawson’s book Big-Eyed Afraid (winner of the 2006 Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize) was published by Waywiser Press in 2007. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry 2008, Southwest Review, Harvard Review, Raintown Review and other journals and anthologies. She lives in Ohio where she’s completing her PhD in English and Comparative Literature at University of Cincinnati.