Mary Crow Interview, with Monica Mankin
Perspective as a theme unifies your three poems appearing with Connotation Press this month. What has drawn you to this concept as a poet? What is the importance of the poet’s perspective in current American life? And, since I’m always curious about what other poets are reading, who is currently shaping your perspective of poetry? And how are they doing it?
I've been writing groups of poems for the last few years—a series of prose poems, a series of poems in the voices of Alma and Gustav Mahler, and a series of "Perspectives" poems. Perhaps Alice Notly's suggestion that I choose poetry projects to work on pushed me in that direction along with the feeling that my poems were so disparate that I found it hard to group them into a book manuscript; they resisted organization.
The poet's perspective in current American life? I suppose it's the perspective of a literate person, the perspective of an individual.
I read widely, not just poetry, but a lot of nonfiction too, right now on Rome in preparation for a trip I'm taking. Several poets I've read recently have led to poems or influenced my current writing, especially Pierre Martory's The Landscapist, translated by John Ashbery and Barbara Guest's If So, Tell Me. I've been re-reading Michael Palmer's poetry in conjunction with his essays, Active Boundaries: Selected Essays and Talks.
Over years I've loved the poetry of Paul Celan and return to it regularly, inspired recently by J.M. Coetzee's essay on Celan in his book, Inner Workings: Literary Essays. I re-read Anne Carson's Glass, Irony and God and Louise Gluck's The Seven Ages.
Other books of poetry I’ve read recently: Inger Christensen's Alphabet, translated by Susanna Nied, Susan Michell's Erotikon, Tony Hoagland's Donkey Gospel, Richard McCann's Ghost Letters.
I read to find inspiration, and rarely know in advance where it will come from. I probably should consider who's currently shaping my perspective of poetry, but I don't do this in any systematic way.
Thank you. I wonder, if you don’t mind elaborating, why the poet's perspective is important, perhaps necessary, to current American life? Why is the perspective of "a literate person," of "an individual" needed? (Is it needed?)
I think, for me, the perspective in my poems is of me as an individual and not the perspective of the poet. I don't think of myself as speaking for others, which is why responding to this question seems difficult for me. I can see that you don't want to let me off the hook, but I resist the idea of the poet as guru. We need the perspective of people who care, who educate themselves, who can express ideas. Such a person might be a poet but need not be.
I’ve read many of your poems online. You have a way with the line, with containing a concentrated image in a five-word line for instance. But you forego periods. You throw out capitalization. Not always, but sometimes. And your poems take many shapes; they are not all monolithic stanzas or delicate couplets. How do you make decisions about form? Do your poems tend to instruct you? Or does something else happen during your process to influence your decisions about the shape and form of a poem?
Yes, I'd say my poems do instruct me about form. That is, after I have a rough draft, I look for patterns. If a poem has fallen into four chunks of 4-6 lines I see if one of the stanzas presents a model the rest can follow, usually cutting longer stanzas. If a poem flows, I may decide to enhance that flow by omitting punctuation. Or a poem may continue either a title or epigraph and so doesn't need to begin with capitalization. If so, I may omit capitals throughout.
Your website notes that your “two appointments as Colorado’s Poet Laureate have allowed [you] to raise the visibility of poetry throughout the state. During [your] tenure [you have] overseen the implementation of: Poetry in Motion, Literacy Through Poetry, and Awards for the Innovative Use of Poetry in the Public School Classroom.” What has been the most innovative use of poetry in the public school classroom? What do you view the role of poetry within the current American educational system to be?
Unfortunately, the role of poetry within the current American educational system is generally minor. I say this because I see that most newspapers no longer announce poetry readings, publish or review poetry, school textbooks do not often include poetry, few people buy poetry books. But my experience is that when students have a chance to express themselves through poetry, they get excited about it. My hope is that this excitement will expand into a love of language and an interest in reading poetry. Some public school teachers make poetry an important part of their instruction: with a poem of the day on the blackboard, having students develop their personal anthologies, sponsoring poetry cafés for parents where students read their poems in an informal setting.
Poetry can be a wonderful way for students to discover their language, their passion, a wider world. To students, writing poetry seems so natural.
“Abandon” can lead to ecstasy or despair
an honest account of life and death
dominant collapsing into dominant—
ponderosa towering beside the back deck
with the barbecue and plastic chairs—
what animal out there dreams me?
The icy creek misted at daybreak,
a chain of sounds pulls me up
the guttural cliffside of space,
into speech, back into the gone
year, back into a hope, as chance
would have it, of words, outraged words.
The day is a code written in Chinese
characters along the edges of traffic
in my world that can’t see how to go.
The Perspective of Disappearance
The map is busy constructing itself
and constructing spring
doors into its tunnels making the coast
a farewell on the very eve of innovation.
The Mongols spread the use of
fingerprinting to Persia,
sponsored the horizon,
“the theatre of various moments,”
end of, cracking.
Somewhere in this terrain: listen,
everything is going on somewhere else
where it’s impossible
to master the context of languages,
of vast space edged
by a thin line, curse of the Great
Taboo later renamed Highly Restricted
where rockets were tested
in a field. For a new and useless form.
You are passing through a phase,
know it or not, that ends
in the moment when
vastness starts to mirror black horsehairs
streaming a wind
the dreams of Mongol warriors.
Stupid bastard that you were thirty years ago,
what have you
to say for yourself?
You let yourself out of a chance of happiness,
idea that it was god
pounding on the pipes
to warn off chaos and to distract you
as if those stars
still exist because you see them.
What does it amount to?
to tits centuries later so a city could claim
a history as wolf, thousands of trails
sucking the land’s sorrow, this city’s, this this.