Edmund Skellings Interview, with Kaite Hillenbrand
“Love Poem” includes a serious message with a lighter side: “Love is eternal / Until it is past.” This seems like a phrase from a very wise perspective, which is to say, quite a bit of perspective mixed with a gentle smile. You’ve had a very innovative career as a poet, going back to the 60s when you included vinyl recordings in the dust jackets of your books and, more recently, including computer graphic illustrations and surround-sound effects with your poetry. How has your voice evolved over the years, and how and where does the voice in “Love Poem” fit in? Do you have multi-media plans for “Love Poem”? Do multiple media affect the voice of a poem—if so, in what ways?
"Love Poem" is typical of a certain kind of poem I have written over the years in that it employs whimsy to a make a serious point. You find that tone of voice throughout my poetry. The novelist Harry Crews said I can "let language do." It also follows the advice of W.B. Yeats who said, "A poem should click shut at the end like a box."
I do not have multi-media plans for "Love Poem". Its language does not warrant additional effects. It only requires an expressive reading. However, "Of a Sudden" could be enhanced in another dimension with multi-media echoes and reverberations and even visuals.
“Love Poem” also says that love and a poem share the same truth, that is, that each “is eternal / until it is past.” Are you saying that poetry has an expiration date? If so, what is the “expired” (for lack of a better word) poetry of our day? How has this affected your approach to poetry, and to the way you teach poetry?
The poet William Stafford came to a demonstration I made in 1979 in which I colored the text in a poem to make its subtleties visually apparent. When he saw one of his own poems in color, he commented, "Now there are the black and white poets." Like your magazine, poetry has moved off the printed page and onto the internet where it can be presented in text with sound and imagery. Knowing the direction the new technology would drive the arts, I established one of the first Master of Fine Arts degrees in Computer Arts and encouraged my graduate students to use poetry as the storyline for their 3D animations. They chose a favorite poem or wrote one of their own, and their animations won many prizes and appeared in video film festivals around the world. You can see a sample of their work in "Cream of the Crop" on The Edmund Skellings Collection.
I’m very interested in the crafting of “Of a Sudden.” The repetition sounds almost like a stampede, which gives this poem a sense of urgency, combined with a sense of awe at the presence of angels and biblical allusions. The sound of this poem has such a large presence that I even wonder how it sounds when you read it aloud, maybe because I know of your multi-media history. Different poets read in very different ways; your readings, or at least the ones I’ve heard, are very engaging. What is your approach to reading aloud—or, reworded, what is your theory for how to read aloud? Why is it important to you to read your poetry aloud? What excites you about the potential multi-media presentation of poetry?
My theory for reading poetry aloud is as follows:
1) Breath in time
2) To make poems sound
3) To follow the energy
Most important to reading aloud is to make poetry thorough. Multi-media presentation of poetry forces the statement. It also reaches out to a wider audience.
You’ve been Florida’s Poet Laureate since 1980. What project are you most proud of initiating in this capacity? What does your position entail? In what ways should we encourage the reading and writing of poetry in our communities? What successes have you seen in this regard? What changes have interested you regarding writing (and arts) communities through the years?
I am most proud of initiating young students in writing. It entails mentoring poets and understanding their understanding of themselves so that their thinking will be like Handel's "Water Music" and "Country Dance". What I want to do is make people have speech as good as this. They should think like Handel.
I produced multi-media to reach out through television and the internet to create a broader scope for poetry. I have seen the growth of more academic programs regarding arts through the years. More people are writing and speaking their poetry out than ever before.
Of a Sudden
I felt a light tremor all of a sudden,
All of a sudden I couldn’t see more,
All of a sudden, all of a sudden,
Sudden the sky went black of a sudden,
All of a sudden, all of a sudden,
Then all the plants went black of a sudden,
All of a sudden, black of a sudden,
Animals dying, sudden and sudden,
Then I saw angels all of a sudden,
I say I say angels all of a sudden,
All the animals into the ark,
All of the animals all of the animals,
All of the plants and all
Of a sudden. Then all
Was silent. All of a sudden, all
Of an all of an all
Of a sudden.
Shall I, Shall I, Shall I? Yes,
My dear, love is no quiz. There is no
Preference to pleasures.
I write this here because a poem
And love share the same truth:
There is no time, no first, no last.
Love is eternal
Until it is past.
The United Way
Vincent sold no painting, Emily no poem.
Those of you involved in giving for your living
Want recognition as the price. Anonymity
Is not your strong suit. You think giving
Will attract attention, simply because need
Is so enormous. Remember, so is greed.
All history teaches what no priest preaches:
No history nor all history satisfies desire
If wanting and not needing feeds the fire.