Donald Revell Interview, with John Hoppenthaler
In an interview in Southern Bookman, a blog by Louis Mayeux, you respond to a question by stating, “I have no hope for the former United States. The peace of the valleys has been irrevocably broken and the shorelines drenched with oil. Yet there are times.... when I read Jefferson, when I revisit the Shenandoah or walk in the Green Mountains of Vermont or climb far into the Red Rock country of the Mojave… I hear the old music, I feel the ruined peace.” The tension in much of your poetry seems to stem from this very dislocation. How does one, in a poem, posit “the old music” in a way that’s useful and real to a contemporary reader who may well not be able to access the sort of optimistic possibility the United States of the late 19th and early 20th centuries may have offered? How does landscape figure into this, if it does?
The music is the landscape is the beloved vocabulary. About an hour ago, C.D. Wright was helping me to weed my garden, and we got to speaking of accents and vocabularies. She pronounced the word "ordeal" in her father's accent, and that's exactly what I mean. There are words that we love, pronounced exactly SO, and those words, sounded so, bring the landscape back to mind. It is one of the central tasks of a poem to find a way to make a sound exactly. I work very hard (and it is the only hard work I do) to write my lines in such a way that there is only one way to pronounce them: the beloved way.
If I had to choose only one word to describe your way of making a poem or even a line it would be juxtaposition. This juxtaposition creates both meaning and slippage of meaning, and it appears to me related to a painterly way of creating a poem. Am I on the right track?
Pound aspired to hear the "syllables juxtapose in beauty." Me too. I imagine my poems as a bowl of Cezanne's apples. Each apple is in a perfect and impossibly beautiful juxtaposition with the other apples. Hence the beauty of Cezanne. I pray that sometimes my poems are beautiful, however momentarily, too.
I’ve taken the liberty of asking several other poets if they would be willing to offer questions for this interview. Here are their questions. From Tony Hoagland: These two beautiful poems are both sonnet length, and like many of your later poems, they are built of a series of terse, declarative sentences. These methods of containment and brevity also seem to lend the poem a quality of openness and unclutteredness—or as you say, "Jesus please slow down." Would you say that you have gone from being a postmodern poet to becoming a more naive, pure poet of simplicity? If so, tell us something about the process of this transformation.
Purity I have learned to treasure from Mallarme, and yes, purity to me expresses itself in the declarative. There's that old expression, "Tell the truth and shame the devil." It's a good one. I'm getting older and getting a little bit afraid, and so it's high time to speak straightforwardly.
Mallarme's "A Tomb for Anatole" is an epic, aching search for the declarative, and I study it, I study it.
And these related questions from James Harms: Where does "praise" factor in among poetry's primary purposes, and is there a way of characterizing the differences between "praise" in secular poems and "praise" in devotional poems? How would you describe the difference between a poet in the Christian tradition and a devotional poet? Is poetry's greatest good manifested as an activity or an artifact?
There are no secular poems. "Praise God from whom all blessings flow." Eventually, we learn what King Lear learned—"Look there, look there." A poem is the praise of everything that somehow, against all the odds, exists at all.
For John Riley
The murdered poet opens to a torn page.
A ridiculous gesture, save for being true.
Mow the grass and the dragonflies feast.
Water the grass and birds feast.
North of England mariachi ampersand.
The enjambed trees make enormous portals.
Go apple, apfel, apples fall in parallel,
Each alone. Likeness is no likeness nor
Contrast a divide. The Holy Ghost
Proves God a murderer. I am on Christ’s side,
Horizontal with the slain whose shadows
Keep the grass together. Keep walking.
Worlds apart are all the words we know.
I lifted the skirts of childhood to say so.
I saw the grass giving live birth to grass,
Every blade split open, pushing new,
Wet clumps into the light. I saw
Funnel clouds buried in the ground teeming
With young fish. There were also children
Running around with brightly colored pails.
Imagine what they did. It was springtime.
Vision runs up a hill called Vision. It never
Comes down. A religion of balloons stays aloft
A long time, long enough at least to cross over
Into non-conforming grassland--a reindeer,
Craggy, milkmaid running for her life land.
And poetry. Jesus please slow down.
The bad men are far behind us now.
Lunching among postcards of the Last Judgment,
We can breathe. We have time. We have plenty of it.