For Greg Perry. Greg is a recovering poet who dreams his blog grapez is publication now enough for all the googolplex of elementary particles within the well-known universe. He is also the sixth poet out of the ten who will answer the questions in this series (the questions with past and upcoming contributors here). Many thanks to Greg for agreeing to participate and for the new perspectives his answers provide.
1. In this 2003 interview Canadian poet George Bowering quotes Shelley: “The poet is the unacknowledged legislator of the world.” Do you think the poet has a specific role to play in human affairs in this century? If so, what is it?
It’s my opinion that the poet has a role only if he/she can break through the restrictions of most contemporary poetry and its limiting world of publication, academics, and false postures of gentility or linguistic revolution. God knows what that role may be. I’ve only begun to figure out what it isn’t. It isn’t an insular world where only poets read other poets. It isn’t a political world where it’s who you know or where you teach or when you read or what you publish or why… Well, actually, that’s all that really matters: why you write it. After all is said and done, no one reads poetry any more. And even most other poets only read it so they in turn will be read. So why write it? If poets would follow that question to the ends of the world, then maybe they’d have a role to play while still in it.
2. Talk about the importance of poetry workshops to you as a poet – now and in your earlier development. Do you differentiate between in-person and on-line workshops?
Right now, I’ve pulled away from all workshops. I think there comes a time when you need to explore individuality without compromise. But workshops in my past have been a godsend as far as craft goes. I mostly write in meter now, and that’s something I learned while attending workshops with the Powow River Poets, a group of incredibly talented formalists, in particular Rhina Espaillat. Later, I workshopped online at Eratosphere , and benefited from my confrontations with the editor from hell there, Alan Sullivan. Both in-person and online workshops can be invaluable. One thing about online though, you’d better bring your toughest skin because the criticism can be brutal. I’d recommend in-person for any beginner. In person, people usually have more of a heart in them.
3. Comment on this passage by former U.S. poet laureate Donald Hall in his 1983 essay Poetry and Ambition: “Horace, when he wrote the Ars Poetica, recommended that poets keep their poems home for ten years; don’t let them go, don’t publish them until you have kept them around for ten years: by that time, they ought to stop moving on you; by that time, you ought to have them right. [...] When Pope wrote “An Essay on Criticism” seventeen hundred years after Horace, he cut the waiting time in half, suggesting that poets keep their poems for five years before publication. [...] By this time, I would be grateful-and published poetry would be better-if people kept their poems home for eighteen months.”
I like Donald Hall, but this is pure posturing. Write your poem the best you can, revise it as long as you need, but don’t work the life out of it, and move on. Life, and possibly the world as we know it, is too short. That poem you kept home could have done some good work.
4. Comment on this passage from Why Poetry Criticism Sucks, an article by Kristin Prevallet in the April 2000 issue of Jacket magazine: “It is very difficult to write poetry criticism and not have poets feel personally maimed [...]. For some reason poetry criticism does not advance the formal, intellectual, or contextual parameters of poetry. It always gets confused with the personal.”
Ain’t that the truth. Who knows why? I have a theory or two. Maybe some align themselves with factions looking to charge the next hill of publication. And any flak is considered enemy fire. You’re either with us or against us. Or maybe we’re just the sensitive type.
5. Do you have an internet presence? If so, describe it and comment on the state of the poetry blogsphere. If not, why not?
I’ve been blogging for the past almost 3 years and have enjoyed the experience immensely. I’ve been exposed to poetry and poets new to me. I’ve confronted what poetry means to me. In fact, I’m still confronting that.
6. To what degree have you been published and to what degree has that helped or hindered your development as a poet?
I’ve been published in several print journals. I think I gave such publication too much credence in the past. Having reviewed daily online poems last year for a few months, I’m more than aware of the disconnect between publication and quality.
7. Comment on today’s huge numbers of on-line poetry publications.
It’s encouraging. It’s democratic. It’s the future.
8. Self-publishing has become inexpensive and relatively painless. What are your thoughts on self-publishing?
Same as above.
9. What do you see as the biggest opportunity facing a poet today, in comparison to 50 years ago?
The internet and self-publishing. Talk about your subliminal questioning.
10. What do you see as the biggest challenge to a poet today, in comparison to 50 years ago?
Overcoming the insular, elitist, and too political world of poets and the business of its poetry, while using the craft and magic of its poetics within a revolutionary world of immediate and democratic media, giving voice to the spirit of life in a world too bent on material things and hell-bent on its own destruction, by using the truest form of pure creation, in praise and explication of all creation, and by doing so, accepting the humble role of the wicked (good) messenger.