Arrived late last night in Portland for the annual chaos of AWP. Happy to be here, among the anxious throngs. Grateful for the time I had to read, think, imagine a little. One of the highlights of my reading, this interview with Carl Phillips.
From “The Art of Poetry, No. 103, Carl Phillips,” The Paris Review:
On narrative context:
I tell people, especially if I’m giving a reading, it’s okay to let the words wash over them, the way one experiences abstract art. I’m not trained in visual art. I often see things in a museum and don’t know what to make of them, but I still have an experience, a response to what I can see. Likewise, I don’t think poems have to have easy translation. I believe strongly in emotional and psychological narratives. I think of many of my poems as emotional gestures. Context isn’t always essential — or maybe it’s that I resist context as an absolute. I like what happens when context begins to wobble a bit.
Many poems are the psychological, emotional by-products not of a single experience but of an amalgamation of experiences. At the end of the day, I come back to something Ellen Bryant Voigt once told me, that poetry is not the transcription of experience but the transformation of it.
I want readers to feel at the end of a poem as if something has been consolidated, if only briefly. But then to realize, Oh, and… To hover there. I think that kind of closure is more faithful to the idea of an ongoing quest.
I’ve always thought that’s what poetry was for, a space for unconventionality, risk, disruption. I really resist what seems a human impulse toward what everyone has agreed on as normal. I don’t understand that in life, and I truly don’t get it in poetry.
On poetry as a radical thing:
I think it is. And a dangerous, because almost holy, thing, and therefore not to be dealt with lightly. Poetry’s not a box for storing unexamined experience, but a space instead — a field, really — within which to examine experience and to find that the more we examine it the more we’re surprised or disturbed by what we see, things that don’t go away. I think that’s the resonant part.
My newest poems are very invested in storytelling as a kind of unraveling, poems that proceed by and often end in loose ends, rather than anything even vaguely like resolution. Unraveling seems maybe more true to how our lives are. We like to think they’re compartmentalized and neat, but it seems to me that life’s actually about a lot of spillage that we’re trying to hide from ourselves and from other people.