Word has it you’ve been really sour on poetry recently. Is that true?
You think poetry is narcissistic fluff? Self-indulgent, elitist drivel?
I wouldn’t say that. I’d say that I get a little bit distressed at how insular poetry is, and how little it really does. Poets talk to other poets and poetry readers, not to the world, and poetry readers read poetry instead of saving the world. Poetry is not the breath of the world. No one is saved by poetry.
So you don’t think poetry effects change? Even in your own life? Really? Where is the first place you go in times of lust? Where do you go in love? Linda Smukler. Anne Sexton. Don Marquis. Poetry. Do I need to keep going on? Do I need to remind you of the girls who told you about being raped after they heard your poem? That their world was changed? That this was their story, too? What about the cutter who wrote to you, telling you she stopped cutting because of your poems?
Okay, okay. You win. Poetry can effect change. I suppose there’s no such thing as a small change and revolution has to be won on a personal level, yadda yadda. I know. I do. But I just want it to be bigger and faster and louder and more chaotic change than it is. But yes, poetry can speak to the parts of us that are unreachable through linear, functional language. Poetry can save the day. Even when Love can’t.
Do you really believe Love can’t save the day?
Ask me after my next date.
When is it?
Okay. Good luck with that. Now, enough gossip. Back to the interview. If you believe everything you’ve said about poetry and change, why isn’t your work more political?
Everything is political in a search-and-rescue mission. You haven’t been paying attention.
Speaking of search-and-rescue, you’ve been working on a pretty special one, yes?
With Lisa Kester, I’ve been co-editing a book by the “first female serial killer” and subject of the movie Monster, Aileen Wuornos. It’s her letters from Death Row to her best friend. It’ll be out from Soft Skull Press in (I think) 2011.
Hmmm. So this is a real leap in terms of content and tone for you, huh. No dark subjects, no death and horror, no feminist politics. A complete departure from your poetic work.
What is with you? Why do you have to be mean?
I think that my background really helped prepare me for work on this book. The point of the book is to see this woman as exactly that – a woman – not someone overwritten by someone else’s agenda, whether it’s Jeb Bush demonizing her or the Left canonizing her or the movies Hollywoodizing her (though for what it’s worth, I think Monster did a great job). She finally gets a chance to speak for herself.
You’ve sort of spent your poetic life doing that – trying to give people’s voices back to them. I guess it’s not surprising that this would follow you to nonfiction. What’s the difference to you between poetry and editing?
Poetry is putting things together with hand grenades and duct tape. Editing is gently ripping things apart with butterfly wings and sticking them back together with barbed wire.
How long has it been since you did your time with hand grenades and duct tape?
Since I wrote a poem? A few minutes. Before that? Months that felt like years.
Really? That’s a long time. Does it make you worry when you’re not writing?
Sometimes, but not at the moment. I’ve been putting finishing touches on my new poetry manuscript, so I’m actually knee-deep in poetry, and I’ve never been good at editing and writing at the same time.
What do you think it would take to get you to write a new poem?
Right now? Falling in love.
Is falling in love a political or poetical act?
Why would falling in love get you to write a poem?
I don’t know how to write otherwise. It all comes down to passion. It’s really hard for me to write an “I think you’re kind of cool” poem, or a “Thanks for that second date poem” – I don’t do much half-assed — but it’s pretty easy to write a love poem.
When do you think you might write a poem again?
I don’t know. Soon, I hope.
So Love saves the day after all?
Or Love saves poetry. Or poetry is Love. Or yes.