Monday, December 15, 2008

Books of Interviews with Poets

I've looked at my bookshelf, and I'm amazed at how few of my books of interviews with writers focus on poets. In fact, I only have 4:

1. Conversations with South Carolina Poets by Gayle R. Swanson and William B. Thesing. 1986.

When I was an undergraduate at Newberry College, one of my favorite professors, Dr. Swanson, put together this book, after having the idea during an on-campus poetry festival several years earlier. That poetry festival happened my freshman year, I think, and I was just in awe of these poets, and I knew that I wanted to be part of that community. When this book came out, there was a follow-up poetry festival on campus. Many of the poets in this book signed my book. Did they have any idea how much it meant to me?

The interviews hold up well, 22 years (gulp!) after the book was published. There are interesting discussions of whether or not Southern poetry is different from poetry written in other parts of the country, questions about race and gender, questions about writing process, questions about art, and how to live as an artist, while not neglecting other responsibilities.

2. The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets by Bill Moyers. 1995.

3. Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and their Craft by Bill Moyers. 1999.

I got The Language of Life through some kind of Book-of-the-Month club deal. It's a huge book, by books of interviews standards. Fooling with Words (how I hate that title!) is much smaller, but just as compelling.

I like that the books include complete poems. It would have taken me much longer to discover some of those poets on my own, if I hadn't had these books to help me. The interview questions are thoughtful and the interviews show a depth that's often lacking in interviews that appear in journals and magazines (no need to be concise in terms of the space concerns that so often constrain journalist interviewers).

I think that both books began life as a PBS special. I saw Fooling with Words, and I remember thinking, I can't wait to read the book. It was clear that we were seeing snippets of interviews, which made me want to see what had been left out.

4. The Verse Book of Interviews: 27 Poets on Language, Craft, and Culture edited by Brian Henry and Andrew Zawacki. 2005.

Another book that introduced me to many poets I hadn't heard of before. My copy of this book is underlined more than the other three. Lots of great interviewing about the topics covered in the other books (being an artist, making a living, balancing work and art and family life, being affected by nationality, race, gender, and class), plus some interesting discussions about the state of modern poetry and the academy and the future. In addition, this book includes poets of diverse nationalities, so there are some interesting discussions about translation and native languages.

I've just asked the library to get me Fourteen on Form. I fully intended to buy it, but so far, the University Press of Mississippi hasn't put it out in an affordable form; $50 for a book that's 265 pages?!!! Ridiculous.

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