I had the opportunity to speak with the author of Earthly Meditations: New and Selected Poems, Lives of the Animals, Reign of Snakes and In the Bank of Beautiful Sins: Poems after his reading at Sacramento City College on March 26.
How do you catch the essence of life in your work?It mostly has to do with practice. A poet is first and foremost intimately in love with the language. I just love words; they’re like candy to me. I like to feel the words in my mouth—I love the kind of music and individuality of words. The fact is, I think as much as anything else, the language inspires me. The beauty of the language inspires me, and the kinds of things that can get said in language inspires me.
How do you make sure your poetry is down to earth and wholesome?I say that it has to bring joy and bring about that kind of deep thinking that’s sad and heartbreaking or even disturbing. It is ultimately the kind of thinking that makes you capable of entering into the most joyful kinds of love. You have to know pain if you’re going to know what it feels like to feel ecstasy; you’ve got to know heartbreak if you’re going to know absolute happiness. There is no such thing as knowing one without the other.
You said that poetry often contains “a poet apologizing for something they’re not sorry for.” Can you fess up and give me an example?In my poem about this man who is basically apologizing for watching his lover relieve herself outside of their tent when he promised he wouldn’t. Although that’s not true, my wife, well, she didn’t really care …
How do you see your poetry as cultural?I want people to see nature as cool. Sure, animals die and kill one another, and die miserably … but they understand that process. They’re so well-adapted to their world, and I want us to be, so that is one of my cultural enterprises.
What do you want others to remember about your poetry? How will it live on?I just want them to remember to read it—that’s the main thing. No poet knows if his or her work is going to last, but they all want it to. It is sort of like throwing a line out there to the future and holding on to your name. I mean, my favorite three poets are all dead as doornails, but they’re all alive. I read their poems and it’s like their hands are extending out and trying to reach me. I love to be able to do that, but I don’t have any idea if that will happen. I do know that anybody who writes poetry and does not aim to write poetry that might reach out and touch somebody in decades and even centuries, might as well just give up now.