Epic Tales: an Interview with Amit Majmudar, part 2

Claude_Lorrain_024Guest post by Sarah Arthur

Continued from yesterday. 

SA:  In your essay “Me and the Monotheists,” you say that even though you are a Hindu, many Christians seem to warmly welcome your poetry (e.g., I’ve included your poem “Incarnation” in the anthology Light Upon Light). You say this is primarily about “aesthetic resonance”—particularly with imagery—but you also point to the English language itself as being encoded with biblical influence.

And yet not every contemporary English-speaking poet writes this way. Can you elaborate?

[Read more...]

Billy Collins’s Art of Drowning

poems_3I always keep a poet by my bed.

Lately it has been Billy Collins, former U.S Poet Laureate.

I don’t open the book every night. Only when I need to touch the play of language, to be entertained by poetry’s taut twists and turns and surprises, before settling into whatever novel I’m reading that will engage me for a half hour or so, then lull me to sleep.

But why Billy Collins? Why for months now has he kept me reaching for his poems?

Of course, there are the double-over-with-laughter poems like “Litany,” which he reads aloud in a deadpan voice that heightens the comedy.

In fact, deadpan is the characteristic voice of Collins’s poetry, a voice that allows him to create fanciful lists, caress details, or slip into a profound understatement, all without ruffling the surface tone of the verse. Humor is his home, and much of the humor is self-effacing. That’s surely part of what draws me to his work. [Read more...]

There’s No Original Art

scarfWhat a joy to be knitting something beautiful for a woman I don’t know and never will.
She’s a guest at my church’s soup kitchen, where every guest gets a gift at Christmastime.

The yarns are a rich red and orange wool interlaced with red-orange nylon eyelash.
She’ll say “how pretty —at least I hope she will.

Maybe it will become her favorite scarf,
make her feel special, dressy, worthy in a way that the world doesn’t usually value her.

But maybe she’ll leave it by mistake on the bus,
where it will ride up and down town alone on the seat
until a quick turn slides it to the floor.

The next passenger doesn’t notice it caught in his boot as he steps off the bus.

The red-orange lies limp in the gutter’s blackened snow.
A child walking by with her mother points with “Oh look! Can I have it?”
“No, we don’t take dirty things from the street.”
[Read more...]

Everybody Should Write Poetry

Vision After the Sermon (1888), Paul GauguinPeople who read poetry but don’t write it are like those who have just heard about the burning bush. They’ve got to write poetry. They’ve got to read it also, because then they’ve heard about the burning bush, but when you write it, you sit inside the burning bush, which is different. I think everybody should write poetry.

This radical viewpoint is that of poet Li-Young Lee, speaking to the editors of a rich book published a couple years ago, A God in the House: Poets Talk about Faith. When I recently quoted Lee’s words to a friend who is a fine poet, at first he scowled. Doesn’t writing poetry take special dedication and talent and hard work? That’s what his scowl seemed to ask. And yes, of course, writing good poetry does take all this.

But that’s not Lee’s unconventional point. He’s saying, in effect: everyone needs to nestle down inside language to get to know its ways, to get comfy with how playful it can be, how expansive, how unexpected in its openings to new experience. [Read more...]

Emily Dickinson Erased

Don’t go to Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts. There isn’t anything there. Not her writing desk, not her books. Not her treasured items. Not her.

Emily Dickinson used the house in Amherst to hide from life. As she got older, Dickinson left the place less and less. Often, she refused even to greet visitors. She’d lock herself inside her room. There, she wrote letters and she wrote her poems.

And then, in 1886, Dickinson died. She left behind thousands of unpublished poems. They are strange poems for all their accessibility, and beloved by people everywhere. Her poems went out into the world in a way Emily Dickinson never could.

After her poems made her posthumously famous, Dickinson’s readers began to long for the presence of Emily Dickinson herself. People go to Dickinson’s house in Amherst to make some connection between the poems and the person. The house seems to be the key. The place where she dwelt in silence and solitary confinement would seem to hold secret clues. [Read more...]


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