Poetry in Person: Twenty-five Years of Conversation with America's Poets
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“In the fall of 1970, at the New School in Greenwich Village, a new teacher posted a flyer on the wall,” begins Alexander Neubauer’s introduction to this remarkable book. “It read ‘Meet Poets and Poetry, with Pearl London and Guests.’” Few students responded. No one knew Pearl London, the daughter of M. Lincoln Schuster, cofounder of Simon & Schuster. But the seminar’s first guests turned out to be John Ashbery, Adrienne Rich, and Robert Creely. Soon W. S. Merwin followed, then Mark Strand and Galway Kinnell.
London invited poets to bring their drafts to class, to discuss their work in progress and the details of vision and revision that brought a poem to its final version. From Maxine Kumin in 1973 to Eamon Grennan in 1996, including Amy Clampitt, Marilyn Hacker, Paul Muldoon, Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, and U.S. poet laureates Robert Hass, Robert Pinsky, Louise Glück, and Charles Simic, the book follows an extraordinary range of poets as they create their poems and offers numerous illustrations of the original drafts, which bring their processes to light. With James Merrill, London discusses autobiography and subterfuge; with Galway Kinnell, his influential notion that the new nature poem must include the city and not exclude man; with June Jordan, “Poem in Honor of South African Women” and the question of political poetry and its uses. Published here for the first time, the conversations are intimate, funny, irreverent, and deeply revealing. Many of the drafts under discussion—Robert Hass’s “Meditation at Lagunitas,” Edward Hirsch’s “Wild Gratitude,” Robert Pinsky’s “The Want Bone”—turned into seminal works in the poets’ careers.
There has never been a gathering like Poetry in Person, which brings us a wealth of understanding and unparalleled access to poets and their drafts, unraveling how a great poem is actually made.
difficult to overestimate; certainly he is one of the crucial figures of our time.” MARCH 1, 1994 “Confessional” PEARL LONDON: Around the time of your first book [Golden State] you say, “I realize that things with which the world had confronted me had to be at the center of my poems.” And at that point you said your poems had “to dramatize the moments when I felt I had learned the terrible wisdom of the past (so I could unlearn it).” So learning is a kind of unlearning? FRANK BIDART:
about? The mother is talking and she has this dream about the cat, and in it she wants to save the cat: the only way to save the cat is to strangle it. There’s a quotation from John of the Cross, which Eliot uses, “to divest ourselves of the love of created beings.” To teach the child that the child must not fix its attention on the things of this world. But it’s mad, utterly unacknowledged … the aggression, the violence, the jealousy in it are utterly unacknowledged. See the top of page 55:
like convincing speech and in the mouths of New Hampshire white trash—these were not educated people. And they’re really interesting to listen to. It’s poetry and it’s human speech and I thought, Oh, this is for me. Because I want to be able to do both. I’m over-educated, and one of the things you learn when you get overeducated, if your heart is in the right part of your chest, is never to sound like William F. Buckley Jr. [Laughter] LONDON: When did you discover Frost? MATTHEWS: I guess I
“boreen” has entered English “through the air” despite the protestations of the O.E.D.): why, though, should one tail-light flash and flare then flicker-fade to an after-image of tourmaline set in a dark part-jet, part-jasper or-jade? That smoker’s cough again; it triggers off from drumlin to drumlin an emphysemantiphon of cows. They hoist themselves on to their trampoline and steady themselves and straight away divine water in some far-flung spot to which they then gravely incline.
DEREK WALCOTT—Su Alonso & Inés Marful 1.13 AMY CLAMPITT—Henry Cox 1.14 LUCILLE CLIFTON—Michael S. Glaser 1.15 STANLEY PLUMLY—estate of Pearl London 1.16 C. K. WILLIAMS—Sigrid Estrada 1.17 MOLLY PEACOCK—Lara Tomlin 1.18 ROBERT PINSKY—BU Photo Services 1.19 EDWARD HIRSCH—Julie Dermansky 1.20 FRANK BIDART—Jerry Bauer 1.21 WILLIAM MATTHEWS—Star Black 1.22 PAUL MULDOON—Peter Cook 1.23 LI-YOUNG LEE—Donna Lee 1.24 CHARLES SIMIC—AP Images/Richard Drew 1.25 EAMON GRENNAN—Don J. Usner A