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WHAT CAN POETRY DO? Part 1 [Kelle Groom]
Earlier this month, I read Edward Hirsch’s New Yorker interview on the death of his son and on Hirsch’s process of writing about his son’s life and about losing him. He began with the facts, writing a dossier, and then he wrote poems. The poems became a book-length narrative poem, Gabriel, to be published by Knopf next month. The interview is extraordinarily moving, and I kept coming back to Hirsch’s words on writing the poems: “The whole time, I’m desperately trying to be faithful to Gabriel’s life, so that he’ll come through.” After reading the interview, I thought again of Mary Szybist's beautiful National Book Award acceptance speech, this in particular: "Sometimes, when I find myself in a dark place, I lose all taste for poetry. If it cannot do what I want it to do, if it cannot restore those I have lost, then why bother with it at all? There’s plenty that poetry cannot do, but the miracle, of course, is how much it can do, how much it does do.” When I read the Hirsch interview, I was teaching in Atlantic Center for the Arts' "your word" Teen Creative Writing Residency, a phenomenal multi-genre summer writing residency that offers 9th through rising 12th grade writers workshops and mentorship. At lunch with three other poets: John Murillo, Nicole Sealey, and Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, I mentioned Hirsch’s interview and Szybist’s words – how they kept circling. What can poetry do? I asked them. In the weeks that followed, Gaza was bombed, Michael Brown was murdered, a small Missouri town became a war zone. I wondered if my question even mattered. But there was Szybist, already asking, what can it do in a dark place? So I asked several poets to tell me, What can poetry do? SOPHIE CABOT BLACK: If poetry is a muscle not used enough, as some of us have come to believe, then poetry can teach us about the new. Poems ask us, remind us, to both surrender AND pay attention. Some have quoted Stanley Kunitz as claiming that poetry is the syntax of survival. I continue to wonder on that: is this too much to ask of art, and is this a survival of the poet, or of the reader-- or does it even matter, as long as something is changed afterward. As to taking us all to a greater place, I do not think poetry comforts in the same way other art does: it does not tell a story, it does not end neatly, it does not help you forget. I might argue instead that poetry is the syntax of epiphany. Yes, poetry can save, but more as art which is not about itself, and instead asks us to move closer. NICOLE SEALEY: I liken writing and/or reading poetry to annealing, the process of cooling glass to relieve its internal stresses. Man is as fragile as glass. Poetry, even at its most unnerving, can relieve stress and, in so doing, feed the spirit. TERRI...
Posted Aug 26, 2014 at
The Best American Poetry
A 21ST CENTURY RAIN: Interview with Brian Turner, Author of My Life as a Foreign Country [Kelle Groom]
photo (c) Kim Buchheit Brian Turner’s latest book is My Life As a Foreign Country: A Memoir published by Jonathan Cape/Random House UK (June 2014) and in the U.S. by W.W. Norton & Co. (September 2014). His two collections of poetry are Here, Bullet (Alice James Books, 2005; Bloodaxe Books, 2007) and Phantom Noise (Alice James Books, 2010; Bloodaxe Books, 2010) which was short-listed for the T.S. Eliot Prize in England. His poems have been published and translated in Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Polish, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, and Swedish. His poetry and essays have been published in The New York Times, National Geographic, Poetry Daily, The Georgia Review, Virginia Quarterly Review and other journals. Turner was featured in the documentary film Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience. He received a USA Hillcrest Fellowship in Literature, an NEA Literature Fellowship in Poetry, the Amy Lowell Traveling Fellowship, a US-Japan Friendship Commission Fellowship, the Poets’ Prize, and a Fellowship from the Lannan Foundation. Turner earned an MFA from the University of Oregon before serving for seven years in the US Army. He was an infantry team leader for a year in Iraq with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. Prior to that, he deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina with the 10th Mountain Division (1999-2000). He directs the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College and serves as a contributing editor at The Normal School. Find out more about him at his website here. Kelle Groom: Brian, your stunning memoir, My Life as a Foreign Country, will be published by W.W. Norton next month. Tim O’Brien wrote of its brilliance, “It surely ranks with the best war memoirs I've ever encountered—a humane, heartbreaking, and expertly crafted work of literature.” As a poet and author of two critically acclaimed poetry collections chronicling the experience of war, what drew you to write a war memoir? Brian Turner: I didn’t initially set out to write a memoir. A few years ago, in early 2009, I was awarded an Amy Lowell Traveling Fellowship—a truly astonishing opportunity to travel anywhere in the world, for an entire year. I’d written several short pieces for Peter Catapano (for “Home Fires” at the New York Times) and then, as I traveled under the Amy Lowell Fellowship, I began trying my hand at a series of haibun—a traditional Japanese travelogue. Of course, I ended up mangling the form and I’ve yet to figure out how to fully inhabit an English-language version of the haibun form. That experimentation led me to an approach to the essay that was far more fragmented than work I’d done in earlier essays. I was beginning to learn how to trust the jump cut, the bright turn from one thought to another—as well as the reader’s ability to cross the wide synapses between disparate fragments. I was excited by the short pieces I’d written, and that enthusiasm evolved into a much larger, uncharted essay I began to write while traveling from one country to another. Looking...
Posted Aug 25, 2014 at
The Best American Poetry
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