Wednesday, July 1, 2015
his father’s voice
because you didn’t have time to return
his last call, you linger now replaying
the crackly voicemail, his buoyant plea
to talk, his voice rising a squeaky
octave, so you’ll know he’s excited;
What does it mean to write? What do you believe to be the role of the writer?
Writing poetry is creating astounding word-machines that move. They “move” the thoughts, senses, and emotions of readers. That is the role of the writer: to do the creative work with words that will lead to these movements. And the poet seeks to move all three—thought, senses, emotions. If a poem lacks one of these movements, it is less successful. The poet Ted Kooser says that certain poems remind him of machines that were invented in the nineteenth century—fantastic mechanical levers to help men tip their hats. Of course, no one bought those machines because, in spite of their cleverness, they weren’t really needed. A poem that really moves people will seem necessary. A poem that is cleverly worded, but not moving, will be discounted as a trifle.
According to your LinkedIn profile, you received a PH.D. in English in 1993 and have been teaching since. You are also currently the dean of the Nathan Weiss Graduate College at Kean University and are involved in several projects. Could you discuss your strategies for finding time to write while also maintaining such a busy lifestyle?
Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Explanations for the Night
Her doctor, she says, claims he can't do a thing
for her other troubles until she starts to sleep.
Anybody who goes a day or two without it
is likely to forget things, lose things, maybe
even find things that aren't really there.
You have noted on the George Fox University faculty page that you are interested in traditional Appalachian and Midwestern music. Could you discuss how your interest and involvement in these genres has influenced your poetry?
That's really hard to say. I assume there may be some mutual influence but not much that would lend itself to easy correspondences. I've loved old-time country and traditional music since the cradle, but other than the shared fascination with words, such art forms seem very different to me from literary poetry. When I write songs in those genres, I put a very different kind of formal demands on myself than I do with my poetry, which is largely (more or less) free verse. Probably the main influence might simply be that the kinds of people who show up in my poems are often people who like old-time country music and live in that little demographic slice. I did happen to notice a few summers back that I'd written about forty poems of sixteen lines each: four, four-line stanzas with about four pulses to the line. That happens to be the structure of a traditional fiddle tune... So I suppose on some deep structural level there's a bit of merging going on.
You have also noted that you like to focus on countercultural writers. Could you share why and which works in particular have stuck with you and your writing?
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
It's Sunday morning and sun the color
of honey spills on the kitchen counter;
it’s ten or eleven o’clock and they
fill our kitchen, our son and his new wife
and their friends and the laughing, the way that
people laugh when laughing is like breathing,
laughing about beer and golf and bad luck
and graduate school, laughing at jobs they’ve
had or never had, the two wives rolling
eyes, laughing, planning Sunday. His new wife
humming as if she were baking or were
planning something really nice like golfing
while you test your clubs in the living room
where I sort my photos. In the night you
Can you discuss your job as a linguist and professor at Lasell College? What does it mean to be a linguist? How has your work as a linguist helped you write from a unique angle?
A linguist studies both languages and language: When the linguist documents the parameters of variation in languages, the universal characteristics of language can be better understood. Critical to the linguist’s understanding of language and the language faculty is an appreciation of the completeness of a speaker’s knowledge of language. In my courses on language structure and language acquisition, I work to help my students perceive their own spoken forms as fully rule-governed and beautiful; one approach to that appreciation is the formal analysis of the components of spoken language. Voice is one of the features of spoken language that makes the individual speaker’s output so compelling, and voice is important to the aesthetic appeal of the language of literature. In my literature and creative writing courses, therefore, I focus again on formalism: on the ways in which tonality is reflected in sound and meaning patterns, for instance.
Your piece in TWR takes its title, “Golfing,” from an image in the poem. One of the most difficult (and potentially one of the most important) parts of writing a poem is its title. How do you go about titling your pieces in general and for this piece in particular?
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
A man awakes every morning
and instead of reading the newspaper
reads Act V of Othello.
He sips his coffee and is content
that this is the news he needs
as his wife looks on helplessly.
The first week she thought it a phase,
his reading this and glaring at her throughout,
the first month an obsession,
the first year a quirkiness in his character,
and now it’s just normal behavior,
this mood setting in over the sliced bananas,
so she tries to make herself beautiful
to appease his drastic taste.