Poetry Today

4 Contemporary Poets On Curiosity, Generosity, and Vulnerability

Kenji Liu, David Baker, Natalie Scenters-Zapico, and David Biespiel

In this summer installment of POETRY TODAY, we introduce you to poets at various stages of their career. Each has a new collection of poetry, including one debut collection. We hope you enjoy and continue to follow their successes. Meet Kenji Liu, David Baker, Natalie Scenters-Zapico, and David Biespiel.


Kenji C. Liu is author of Monsters I Have Been (Alice James Books, 2019) and Map of an Onion, national winner of the 2015 Hillary Gravendyk Poetry Prize (Inlandia Institute). His poetry is in American Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest, and Apogee, as well as in anthologies, magazines, and two chapbooks, Craters: A Field Guide (2017) and You Left Without Your Shoes (2009). He has received fellowships from Kundiman, VONA/Voices, Djerassi Resident Artist Program, and the Community of Writers. He lives in Los Angeles.

Buy Monsters I Have Been.

TO A (YOUNG) POET

I’ve learned that becoming a good poet, writer, or artist isn’t necessarily something that happens through a degree program—and hasn’t for much of history—though it might provide the space and resources to do so. Regardless of the path, an artist needs to feed their creativity by being curious and studying widely, especially work from outside of their own community and country.

I’ve also learned that poetry thrives through generosity—from others, and to others. Scarcity and competitiveness shrinks the world. Mutual support opens it. Often, the poetry that inspires me has a fundamental wildness to it, something not easily captured by capitalism. It’s an uncontained quality that I also interpret as a kind of wild generosity, though it may not always feel comfortable.

ON READING

For me, Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha is a fundamental book. It’s one of those books that waited on my shelf until I was ready to read it. Dictee was a surprise friend who showed me it was possible to write into the complexities of colonialism, gender, migration, diaspora, and multiple languages from an Asian American point of view. It proved to me that poetry, scholarship, and intellectual work can feed each other. Consequently, I recommend it because it’s beautiful, difficult, and it’s important to challenge anti-intellectualism. Cha’s oeuvre and archive also demonstrates that experimentation in multiple genres and mediums is a way to keep creative practice from going static.

ON POETRY’S POTENTIAL 

I don’t believe there’s a single social function of poetry, because it depends on who’s writing, who’s publishing, how it’s distributed, and who’s reading. Since each of us is always implicated in innumerable injustices, especially in the US, I think it’s fascinatingly weird if someone thinks poetry can be not political, or that poetry of “witness” is enough.

I definitely have a preference for poetry that gestures in certain directions—intellectually astute, playful and inventive, multilingual, and aware of history and power. I also love poetry that challenges the status quo at the level of its own linguistic construction, pushes the English language to breaking, and exposes the limits of our language(s) by innovating into and beyond it.

Right now, I’m not particularly invested in appealing to a broad readership using a communal “I”—whose communal identity does it usually turn out to be really?—but I’m interested in how any one “I” is the outcome of a set of specific histories. As the writer, I try to situate my “self” within the histories and legacies I emerge from, which for Monsters I Have Been includes many postcolonial, feminist, and queer thinkers, writers, and friends. I’m not necessarily asking you as the reader to relate to something communal or to understand something about humanity. I’m asking that you meet something different, unknown, perhaps difficult, and resist the urge to try to make it easier to swallow, so that it might challenge or even change you.

In this sense, I think some good examples include—in addition to Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee—Bhanu Kapil’s Schizophrene, Raúl Zurita’s The Country of Planks / El País de Tablas, Fred Moten’s The Feel Trio, and Myung Mi Kim’s Dura.

ON READERSHIP

For me, Monsters I Have Been is an experiment in method, so I’m interested in how others read and interpret it over time. I think—and others tell me—it’s a collection that rewards a certain amount of care and thoughtfulness. My hope is that it sparks an interest in the politics of poetry in several senses—the method of writing, the positionality of the author, and the effect on the reader—in addition to the usual touch points of craft, form, and content. I also hope—and I’ve heard from people who seem to get this—that readers find space in it to exist within a wide-ranging field of genders and queerness without having to conform to any dominant model(s).

ON COMPOSITION

Form is something that generally emerges through my writing process. I’m not a formalist in any way—to me, form is a tool, and if the poem seems to demand a certain shape or structure to be its best self, I’ll follow it. I’m especially not invested in honoring European or US American forms due to tradition or canon, though I appreciate the challenge of finding a way to make them my own. I think my approach to form is actually more of a visual activity because I’m also a graphic designer and visual artist. As a graphic designer, I’m interested in how typefaces and the arrangement of text on a page facilitates communication, or impacts the movement of a reader’s eye through the text.

The idea of revision is a bit complicated for something like frankenpo, the method I used to create many of the collection’s poems. In a sense, frankenpo is entirely a method of revision, of taking source texts, breaking them down into individual words, randomizing, and revising beyond recognition into something new. Of course, the usual tasks apply too—editing, rewriting, cutting, tweaking—and this might happen over the course of months. But for this collection, almost everything was some kind of revision.

ON FORM

I’m hoping that my next major project will be some kind of hybrid of text, genre, and image, and I’m trying to feel out what that might look like. Recent hybrid collections have gained major recognition, such as Ghost Of by Diana Khoi Nguyen, which is exciting. I’m not sure what this means for the future of poetry, but I’m interested in playing. I often go back to manually-made visual art as a way to reset, like monotype or watercolor painting, and I’m always looking for visual inspiration.

On the other hand, the printed page feels a bit stifling to me at the moment. I’m very interested in experimenting with digital media in order to play with immersion, interaction, performance, augmented reality, sound, and other ways of experiencing texts. I’m an interdisciplinary artist at heart, and I’m hoping to find interesting collaborations. But I’m still committed to the printed page, because digital technology comes and goes so quickly. I’m always a late adopter because I want to see what will stand the test of time.

David Baker is the author of twelve books of poetry, including Theodore Roethke Memorial Poetry Prize winner Never-Ending Birds, and six books of prose. Among his awards are prizes and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Mellon Foundation, and Society of Midland Authors. He holds the Thomas B. Fordham Chair at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, where he lives, and is poetry editor of the Kenyon Review. His current collection is Swift: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton 2019).

Buy Swift: New and Selected Poems.

TO A (YOUNG) POET

Being a poet is just a part of being a person—an important part, a part that expresses one’s artful, musical sense of things, the depth of things, the complexity of things, the dance of things in language; but it is only a part. I am a father, a partner, a neighbor, a citizen, a consumer, a teacher, on and on, and I try to bring those aspects of my self into my poetry, this way or that. There’s never a balance, always an anxiety among these parts. To my younger self I would say be gentle, be adventurous. Walk with softer shoes. Retain your amateur curiosity and audacity forever. Read everything you can. Reread everything that mattered the first time.

ON READING 

I encourage people to find their own central books of poetry. Trust yourself. A book I love might have little effect on someone else. I found the books of poetry I love through my own hunger. That said, there are profoundly important books that have shaped and redirected my sense of poetry. W. S. Merwin’s The Lice and The Compass Flower, Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s Song, Emily Dickinson’s collected poems, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Gwendolyn Brooks’ Riot. And these are just a few fairly recent American examples. Issa, Sappho (in Carson’s translation), Neruda, Keats, Virgil’s Georgics (in Ferry’s translation), Milosz, so many more. Merwin’s The Lice is a book I read every month or two—and have for 40 years—for its daring innovations in form, its compression, its never-quite-containable essence, its unmatched braiding of powerful personal mythology and intensely political sense of things. It marks a poet’s coming into genius.

ON POETRY’S POTENTIAL 

Poetry has myriad social functions. A primary social function is ironic: to speak in behalf of the individual, of privacy, of interiority. Harold Bloom—who sometimes aggravates me wildly—says that the lyric poem helps us to “enlarge a solitary existence.” What is more personal and more political than that? I don’t think a poem has ever changed anyone’s vote. But I do think poetry, the best of it, can help to shape a person’s mind, his or her being-in-the-world, his receptiveness or her openness and rigor. I like how Claudia Rankine talks about poetry’s social function: “It’s not arguing a point. It’s creating an environment.” In that environment a poet can provide a voice for our witness to atrocity as well as elegance, to disaster and injustice as well as love and compassion, to individuality as well as connection. Emerson’s essays—many of them, and especially “The Poet,” “Nature,” “Self-Reliance,” “The American Scholar”—Whitman’s 1855 Preface to Leaves of Grass, Muriel Rukeyser’s “The Usable Truth,” Milosz’s The Witness of Poetry, Keats’ letters are some of the primary sources for my own search. There is a library of poetic statements waiting for a curious reader. The potential of poetry is no less than the potential of people.

ON COMPOSITION

I have worried over the line and experimented with white space from the beginning. You’ll see such things in an early book like Sweet Home, Saturday Night (1991) as well as in Scavenger Loop and Swift (2019). For me it’s an issue of playing the visual off of the aural sense of things. I edited an entire book, Meter in English, so I could deepen my understanding of line and form. My process varies, but I stew and simmer, I take my time. I will try a poem or a stanza in many variants—long lines, short ones, metrical, syllabic, freed, enjambed (or not)—and I often wait a long time before settling. But it’s true, sometimes I know from the beginning that a poem will have long, even stanzas, or quantitative stanzas, or short lines, caesuras, or whatever; and the writing of the poem is an enactment of that initial sense. And sometimes that all goes by the wayside. Sometimes I’ll take a poem—perhaps a year old, older—and recast its form to find its final version. It’s simply not the same each time. That’s fine with me. Each poem finds its shape through my discontent and obsession.

ON EMOTION

Every poem is deeply personal for me, regardless of its ostensible subject. The hard ones to write are seldom hard because of their personalness or intimacy, but because of my ineptitude with phrase or line or syntax or form or music or coherence or—. They are not hard for me, that is, because of their subject. I learned a long time ago to be as intrepid as I can in that regard. Look, it’s hard to write a real poem, period. Hard to get the magic to be felt, hard to get the complexity to be authentic, hard to get the clarity to have depth, hard to make sense make sense. Recently a long poem, “Whale Song,” took me a couple of years—lots of research, lots of notes, lots of casting about for stanzas and lines, lots of drafts, and then lots of minute adjustments and rewriting. A shorter one, at fifty lines, took four years. Another, thirty-two lines, took two days. Again, for me, the difficulty usually stems from my ineptitude, not my shame.

ON READERSHIP

This is an unusual book, in that it’s a “new and selected.” So I have several aspirations for it. First, like all my books, I hope my reader (do I get just one reader?) will find an authentic music in my poems, another human heart, at the end of this exchange, with both an inviting and challenging presence. I hope my reader will find a few poems, or just one or two, to take into her heart deeply. But a “new and selected” also has a unique character in that it’s a longer, more sweeping view of things. In my case Swift holds about thirty-five years in its sixty-four poems; that’s fewer than two poems a year! I hope my reader feels a life lived, a curiosity at play, a sense of both growth and continuity. I hope my reader feels a human asking questions and hoping to make discoveries but hoping also to live a while among the mysteries. I hope my reader thinks I changed in worthy, surprising ways, and that I was faithful to some things. I hope a reader remembers our life is a gift that can dance before it grows still.

Natalie Scenters-Zapico is a fronteriza from the sister cities of El Paso, Texas, U.S.A., and Cd. Juárez, Chihuahua, México. She has won fellowships from the Lannan Foundation (2017), CantoMundo (2015), and a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation (2018). Her poems have appeared in a wide range of anthologies and literary magazines including Best American Poetry 2015, POETRY, Tin House, Kenyon Review, and more.

Her first collection The Verging Cities (Center for Literary Publishing 2015) won the PENAmerican/Joyce Osterweil Award, GLCA’s New Writers Award, NACCS Foco Book Prize, and Utah Book Award. Lima :: Limón (Copper Canyon Press Spring 2019) is her second collection of poetry.

Buy Lima :: Limón

TO A (YOUNG) POET

To be completely honest, I have always enjoyed reading so much more than I enjoy writing. There are so many incredible things to read that the more you read, the more complicated your answers to even simple questions become. As a poet who is interested in transborders, in translineal spaces, I will always value nuance and complication over strict markers of nation, identity, material, etc. And it is through reading that I am able to constantly question my beliefs and hold truths I once thought impossible.

But as for advice to my younger self, I would certainly say to continue to get lost in the library, but also that my vulnerability is my strength. Certainly, I would also remind my younger self that that vulnerability comes with a responsibility to craft, to capturing the many iterations of that vulnerability through a rigorous drafting process. But that in the end, many of the things I was taught to be ashamed of, to cram into the dark corners of my mind, to never tell anyone for fear of judgement are actually my strength in art. I am interested in vulnerability on the page, which I think is different than in our day to day lives. Vulnerability on the page requires a deep imagining and deep risk.

ON READING 

Yes, please everyone stop what you are doing and read Wanda Coleman. She is a poet of true craft, rigor, and imagination that prizes vulnerability in a way that I aspire to. Coleman helped me see the forms that I was surrounded by: border crossing forms, applications for visas, permits to cross your car over the border, interrogations, medical exams for border crossing, etc. as holding subversive potential when manipulated on the page. The anger and sadness in her work regarding her domesticity in taking care of men around her until there is no more left to give has always made me feel seen. She writes in “Two Times Baby,”

it got to be too much for me and i was
two jumps from killing him when
he split. last time we made love was to
that Doors song of like refrain. now
that he’s gone all i seem to do is
remember how good the two of us got
when we put one-and-one together

And damn do I feel that. On the surface everyone claims to lead a radical or “woke” life, or are expected to if you’re a “serious” writer, and yet I don’t know how radical my life is while living it day to day. I try to make it radical in reflection.

ON POETRY’S POTENTIAL 

The social function of poetry, to my mind, is not just dependent on a particular moment in time, but also on the particular culture that the poem was written in, and the particular culture that is consuming it. In America we are just coming to terms with the fact that poetry can be a powerful social tool to move the masses. Whereas in other places in the world poetry has held, and continues to hold, an important place in the culture because it can function as a kind of prayer for the people. What I hope audiences will be more critical of in the U.S. is how poetry can often be used as a tool for the state to either promote a certain set of values, or to show fanfare to a certain set of values without doing much by way of policy.

In the age where many of us must show passports and visas to I.C.E., border patrol, and the police in order to go about our daily lives in many American cities. The age where many of us are forced to recreate the survived violence of confessing ourselves to the state in the immigration interview for the reading public. I wonder what the difference is between this kind of rendered self and the self many people are forced to surrender to the state in order to get documents. How are we forcing poets to replicate this violence? How can we as poets complicate the questions we ask in our work and in the ways that we read other’s work, as not just a confession of their identity, but a complicated subversion of the state’s expectations? The role of the poet is to constantly be a creator of herself. And as both creator and creation, to my mind, a poet concerned with the social function of poetry should be viewed with suspicion by the nation-state, and by populism’s social media frenzy.

To further complicate this notion, we have poets whose work and life almost mirror those of what Hegel would call a World Historical Figure. These poets and their work surpass culture, time, and place and propose a thesis to which others are called to question. Here I think of poets like Federico García Lorca whose poems, lectures on duende and canción jondo, persona, and his literal death are marked in cultures around the globe regardless of a moment in time. But Lorca also creates a deeply troubling paradigm for what we consider to be a political poet, or a poet who survives translation.

With all this in mind, I am regularly asked if I consider myself a political poet. Or worse yet, people assume that I am. I think both come from a lack of understanding of my work, and in turn my life. If my work is political then it is because as a fronteriza my life has been constantly surveilled by the state even while living away from the border.

ON TITLES

The title of my current book comes from Conchita Piquer’s copla “Lima Limón” which was sung regularly in my house by my mother, while doing housework. She learned it from her mother, my abuelita, when she was still alive, and I still sing it now and then. The song tells the story of a woman who at the age of thirty isn’t married and spends her days at the window imagining the life she might have had if only a suitor had knocked at her door. The woman listens to children making fun of her in the street below, and ends with her marrying a man twenty-years her senior. The end of the song is presented as a happy one but was always very disturbing to me.

Citrus then started playing an important role in the book, specifically lemons and limes. So I started exploring color contrast, shape, vaginal similarities, taste, growth cycle, and how their names are so interchangeable throughout Latin America. The image, which is broken spectrally throughout the collection, is one that can be traced in a myriad of ways and can be read as both bitter advice given to young women, as well as that which helps us swallow hard truths.

ON READERSHIP

Without being prescriptive in what I want readers to take away from these poems, I do view this book as an indictment of extreme gender roles and the violence that submission and domination can play on the individual. For example, I use the terms macho and hembra, to depict the violence of using such animalistic terms because they only consider sex and reproduction. In this way I hope to play with how these terms are used in violent gender performances of machismo and marianismo.

ON PROSE POETRY

I have always been interested in the prose poem, though I don’t think I could write an entire book of prose poems. I am interested in the way that the prose poem has the ability to tell a narrative that pushes the reader forward, while still acting like a poem in that it forces the reader to go back and re-read because things are not as they seemed upon first impression. This felt particularly useful to me in this collection because many of the prose poems are so autobiographical that it forced me to not just tell the narrative of what happened, but tell it in a way that forced the reader to go back, re-read, and think about metaphorical possibility.

As for the long line poems, I have always held a fascination for the long line because of how it can be read aloud. I like the long gasping that must take place to make it through, the exhaustion, and overwhelming discord that it can create in a reader. I like the speed the long line moves the reader’s eye at. Much of my border experience has been similar to the long line: out of breath, heart-racing at the border patrol station, giving confused answers to seemingly simple questions posed by the state. I like that the long line can create that kind of tension in a reader.

David Biespiel grew up in Texas. He is a contributing writer at American Poetry Review, New Republic, New York Times, Poetry, Politico, The Rumpus, and Slate. He is the author of eleven books, including Republic Café, published in 2019, The Education of a Young Poet, which was selected a Best Books for Writers by Poets & Writers, A Long High Whistle, which received the Oregon Book Award for General Nonfiction, and The Book of Men and Women, which was chosen for Best Books of the Year by the Poetry Foundation and received the Oregon Book Award for Poetry. Recipient of Lannan, National Endowment for the Arts, and Stegner fellowships, he was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Balakian Award. He has taught at Stanford University, University of Maryland, George Washington University, and Wake Forest University, in addition to other colleges and universities. He is Poet-in-Residence at Oregon State University, a core faculty member in the Rainier Writers Workshop MFA Program, and founder of the Attic Institute of Arts and Letters.

Buy Republic Café

TO A (YOUNG) POET

Since I was in my 20s, I’ve been orienting my life each day around writing poems. That adds up to some thirty years of trying to be alert to the ambiguities of words, to listening to the sounds of words, to seeing what happens when I set down one word after another, and that becomes a poem, and especially it’s been thirty years of being alert to reading books and books of poems in English and translation, as well as writing about poems as a book critic. I tell younger writers, whenever they ask, that it’s impossible to know what paths you’re going to take as a poet when you first start out. So your most pleasurable course of action—for no other reason than it’s the simplest to remember—is to follow your interests. Follow your interests in language, in experiences, and in how to order those on a page inside a poem.

Following your interests as a poet is a lot like driving across the country at night on backroads. You can only see as far as the headlights, but you can make the entire drive that way. Practice attentiveness, practice alertness, that’s what I’d tell my younger self. I’m surprised to find out now, in my third decade writing poems, that attentiveness is the most rewarding aspect of being a poet. Being alert. Concentrating on noticing. Staying aware of what my senses are associating with. Gathering words from those thoughts and feelings and memories and projections, and even just making a list of them, because that’s where the stuff of metaphor-making comes from. It comes from the words. Gathering the words and studying those words—study them in other peoples’ poems, in other peoples’ novels, in the language used in films, in the gestures of the visual and plastic arts, in everyday speech, in your imagination, in your dreams, or wherever words are expressed.

Getting to know words as your materials and messing around with them without any pressure to be write a poem is what I try to do long before I even begin to start to write “the” poem. Making many, many versions of whatever it is I’m trying to write about before committing to the one version that will be “the” poem—it’s like doing the revision before doing the writing. I just swish the words around, something like finger painting, or gesture drawing. Until I begin to see a shape emerge. I wrote about this process in a book called, Every Writer Has a Thousand Faces. The premise, and I guess this is what I’m getting at and what I would most advise my younger self, is that failure leads to poems. I suppose what I’d tell my younger self is, as soon as you can, get comfortable with uncertainty. That’s what being committed to writing poems often comes down to—the commitment to uncertainty. It’s an important skill for being a poet. Comfort with silence is required for that commitment, silence in reading, silence in writing. Comfort with introspection is required for it. Comfort with self-skepticism. Comfort with not knowing who you are all the time. It’s OK to be uncertain. Confident uncertainty leads to new discoveries in your writing.

ON READING 

Does poetry that “closely reflects our time” from an earlier time “offer us insight into our current condition?” Seems like even a gracious reading of the past would confirm that most poetry from an earlier time doesn’t “offer us insight into our current condition.” It may be less gracious to say it, but I wonder if lots of poets think it anyway, that most poetry from an earlier time may never be able to “offer us insight into our current condition” precisely because that poetry too closely reflects its own time—in subject matter and also in narrative manner and lyric style and verbal energy.

Jones Very was a major 19th century American poet during the historical era both Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson wrote poems. Whitman struggled to find an audience until he served as a nurse during the Civil War; Dickinson wrote in obscurity. Jones Very was widely read and praised in his time for writing poems that closely reflected his time. But Very’s transcendental poems now seem stuck in the 19th century in manner, style, and energy. Whereas Whitman and Dickinson seem quite contemporary still, even in the 21st century.

Another example: the least urgent parts of Dante’s Divina Comedia are the scores of Florencian politicos. The lasting parts of Dante’s epic are the aspects or qualities that are the most contemporary: Dante’s argument about seeking meaning in life. I would recommend to poets to write about one’s questions about the meanings of life—because that’s what binds us together, our commonalities, our common questions, across the generations. I could name so many poets. I’ll just say the first person to come to mind. That would be…Tomas Transtromer. He writes about dreams, sleep, and illness. He characterizes these states as perverse sorts of invitations for the imaginary self to embrace solitude and to become inspired. His poems invite you to be alert to the compulsions, disturbances, and even stillnesses of your inner existence. That’s a subject matter that closely reflects and transcends our time and every time.

ON POETRY’S POTENTIAL 

I think a poet sees the potential of poetry differently than a reader does. Or, I mean, when one is writing a poem, one sees one set of potentials for poetry, and when one is reading a poem, one sees other potentials for poetry. A book that I would recommend for the former—that is, for the poet making poems—is James Lord’s A Giacometti Portrait. It’s a book about Lord sitting as a subject for Alberto Giacometti, and the portrait is of 1) James Lord and 2) Alberto Giacometti, 3) the Artist at work, and 4) the audience at work. The book is uninterested in social and political change. Instead it’s focused on making, on the relationship between the artist (writer) and their canvas (page) and their ability to transfer what they experience of life onto the painting (poem). Another book I’d recommend about the former, about the uses of poetry for a poet, is Adrienne Rich’s Essential Essays. The book extols the need for continuous self-definition and self-redefinition.

ON HISTORY

My newest book, Republic Cafe, is first and foremost a love poem. It tells the story of lovers exiting inside the fabric of historic events, namely the days surrounding September 11, 2001. The book draws on other historic events: the German genocide of Jews during the Holocaust, the American atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan, and other historic catastrophes. But the book is not about history per se. The book is about the urgency of memory. Or, more precisely, the urgency of forgetting. The historical events that attach themselves epigenetically to the human figures in the book dramatize the metaphor of forgetting. The couple in the book are comprised of history, even as they exist in history, and even as they create history. In this sense the book is less interested in offering audiences a chance to “learn about a moment in time that may have been forgotten,” but to experience the human need to forge ahead, to love, to survive, to endure, to thrive, and finally, simply, to live.

ON PLACE

Does place have an impact on one’s poetry? Well that’s a question that has troubled me for a long, long time, because I’m an expatriate Texan who has lived in Oregon for over two decades. Even now, when I think of landscape, when I think of the landscape here where I live and where I imagine, instead of feeling the imprint of Douglas firs and rainy mist—which is the landscape of the Willamette Valley in Portland, what you might expect to read in a novel by Ken Kesey—I still feel the imprint of open skies under an unending, flat, roasting hot horizon, which is the landscape of my East Texas upbringing. Which is to say place for me must have something to do with being alert to the long edges of light and serrated winds, to watching and longing for the cloud-moving skies, and to feeling that not everything is possible, but new possibilities are out there. That’s my sense of metaphor too. I guess, metaphor is determines my sense of place.

ON COMPOSITION

When I was younger and forging my way into writing poems, I had a better handle on this process. I had a mental checklist of ways to connect and correct my writing, such as measuring the sounds in a line or varying the patterning of the syntax. Today, I simply ignore all that. I look for something “interesting” to happen in the line, and I rationalize what that “interesting” thing is, from line to line. I’m interested more in forging a consciousness on the page. And yet, saying that, I still know that, for me, the poetic line itself, my poetic line, has always hewed closely to a ten-syllable experience. Some lines are longer than ten syllables. Others are shorter. But the yard stick only measures ten.

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