Monday, November 10, 2008

Poets interviewed

I discovered on Sherry Chandler's blog that The Guardian has an article today about poets Derek Walcott and Seamus Heaney developing a new opera. The article interests me for the candor of the poets, rather than an interest in opera. Though it is fun to see a writer take on that overblown form. Here in San Francisco, we've had the splashy premiere of Amy Tan's "The Bonesetter's Daughter," to deliriously enthusiastic review.

I've been reading Heaney lately and marveling at his mellifluous language, his fine sense of rhythm and depth of feeling. He makes form transparent, effortless and contemporary. His poems read like an intimate conversation, yet they pay high attention to formal elements.

Speaking of poet interviews, I just love to read them and to do interview. I know poetry should stand on its own -- and certainly with Heaney it does -- but I often find a poet interview informs my reading of their poetry in a way nothing else does. There's something about getting to know the person behind the poem that adds richness and depth to the work. I often wish for this in readings, but few poets can deliver the kind of personable intimacy of an interview in a public reading setting. Robert Hass can do it, and so can a few other poet performers with long experience in the art of public reading.

I just finished interviewing the lovely poet Barbara Crooker for the December issue of Umbrella. Doing interviews is a great pleasure, whether in person, by phone or by email. I've never had the fun of being on the other end of interviewing, but I do interviews all the time for my day job writing. It satisfies my constant curiosity about what makes an artist tick, what drives the creation of art. Especially in poetry, where rewards are few and odds of being published are steep.

Have you been an interview subject? What are your favorite questions to be asked, or to read responses to in a poet interview? My favorite question to ask is "How did you get into writing poetry?"