Briefly, how would you characterise yourself?
Could you expand that a bit?
Intransigent, bloody-minded, immovable—
Any positive spin to it?
—unswayable, willful, unmanageably selfish—
Let’s try another tack. Could you list other qualities that characterise you?
I’d rather not just now.
Have it your way, then.
Wait—I want to talk about how stubbornness is a trait of poems.
Be my guest.
You’ve got an attitude now.
What else could you possibly expect?
Here it is, then: Each poem’s like a little stubborn person.
Would you like to expand that thought?
Why don’t you expand it?
Because it’s your interview, darling.
I hardly think your thoughts would be hugely different from mine.
Look, why don’t you just take over the interview? You’re not the least bit serious.
Quite the contrary. I’m into seriousness and plan to stay there for an hour or so.
Well, I don’t plan to stay here for an hour or so! Quite frankly, we’ve gotten off to a bad start, not to mention your rudeness. Quite off-putting, that.
Each poem is a little willful being. Like a person, a poem is conceived as a bristly, bursting whole. It wants flesh and daylight. The poem may not be understood or welcomed by the poet. Nevertheless, poet and poem find themselves searching one another…..immersing themselves in themselves…..plotting, bucking, wiggling, debating.
I don’t quite get this.
I mean—like us—poem and poet feel that they are two beings, but in their best wrestling times they work together as one. They adjust to being one, midwifing the poem, getting it to breathe on its own. The poet has lost an ego in those glorious moments.
Why do you write poems?
Among other reasons, to winningly distill wisdom.
Is poetry your first writing love?
It may be becoming that, though I love the publicness, the sociableness, of plays, and I yearn to write wise plays.
You’ve previously said that you came to writing poems in order to write better plays.
Yes. And it has been thrilling as well as sometimes frustrating. Fortunately for me, research for a play set in Elizabethan England has freed me somewhat from the constraints of present-day word use. That is, several Elizabethan poets and playwrights stretched and flexed the use of words. They imagined words playing wildly with one another in order to fix a point in hearers’ heads. An example from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Act V, scene ii:
Shall be brought drunken forth, and I shall see
Some squeaking Cleopatra boy my greatness
I’ th’ posture of a whore.
From Merchant of Venice, Act V, scene i, Lorenzo to Jessica:
Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins;
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.
Other writers or poems that have thrilled you?
Oh yes. Michael Alexander translating Beowulf [Alexander’s The First Poems in English, Penguin Classics, 2008]. Here, lines 208-217, page 77, of Beowulf:
The prince had already picked his men
from the folk’s flower, the fiercest among them
that might be found. With fourteen men,
sought sound-wood: sea-wise Beowulf
led them right down to the land’s edge.
Time running on, she rode the waves now
hard in by headland. Harnessed warriors
stepped on her stem; setting tide churned
sea with sand, soldiers carried
bright mail-coats to the mast’s foot,
war-gear well wrought; willingly they shoved her out,
thorough-braced craft, on the craved voyage.
Other poems, poets?
Definitely. Yeats. For the lift, passion, lilt, music and messages.
And Dylan Thomas’s Fern Hill—leaping with joy and sharp regret, looking back and into his life. Excerpts from Fern Hill:
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away
. . .
And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder
. . .
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
. . .
Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days . . .
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.
Beautiful! Thank you very much, indeed.
No, thank you!