Auld Lang Syne

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Interview

I am prepared. I have studied my questions very carefully. I know what it is I want to know and know therefore what to ask. 

The above seems to be a standard approach to any kind of interview. I know what it is I want to know and know therefore what to ask.  If it were that simple.

On Wednesday, October 3rd, I will ask Richard Wilbur five questions. I know what I want to know. I am prepared.

But the truth is, five questions will not be enough. Every time I read a Wilbur poem (even if it is a poem I have read a hundred times, like Love Calls Us to the Things of This World or A World Without Objects is a Sensible Emptiness), I have more questions.

What that tells me is that the poems are THAT good. Who doesn't change over time? Poems, unlike corporations, are alive forever. They represent the inner selves of their creators. They represent and present themselves to readers/listeners. An interview, a series of questions, is only able to capture where the reader and the poems are in that moment. Next year, the reader will have a different view perhaps or be in a different frame of mind or situation as he/she encounters the poems. But I have promised to ask five questions and only five. I have no wish to exhaust the poet in any way. I do not want to press him to go beyond a comfortable session. I am willing to limit. What this has done for me is quite marvelous. It has forced me to focus. It has forced me to consider what is important to me in Wilbur's work of a lifetime. Imagine an interview that is a total REview. Unwieldy and awkward. Presumptuous. Rude perhaps. Five questions is plenty. IF they are really good questions. I know what I want to know.

Now imagine a focused conversation. Meeting Richard Wilbur has been on the top of my "bucket list" for a decade and a half. This interview is more than that. As a serious poet, I want to KNOW about him as a poet, not just iconically, but as a worker over words and ideas. I think of his poem, He Was when I think of his laboring over his poems. Unlike the speaker of the poem,  I want to let myself see him as a real person. Despite a bit of admitted hero worship, I want to be aware of the reality of this man who writes the most beautiful poetry I have ever read. I believe that he has laid solid ground for so many poets and readers who have encountered his work:  Having planted a young orchard with so great care (New and Collected Poems, 1988, He Was, p. 332, line 13).

I want to see his poems as perhaps he intended them to be seen and known. Oh I am not going to ask him what made him think of writing this poem or that poem. I know why we write, what gets to us that makes us unable to stop writing. I want instead to know how the world, filled with things and sensibly full at that, drives him to save it on paper. I want to ask about how he and my father both served in WWII and came home alive to make families and go on despite what they saw of war. I want to find out how my father, a dropout at eighth grade, decided to write a poem in 1992 when he revisited his foxhole and the place where he was captured, even though he never wrote another poem before or after. I hope to discover the genealogy of poetry that Wilbur and my father share.

Moreover, I want to listen to his voice as we talk, and have it in my head as I write about his poems or read them in the future. I want to be in the room with that big vocabulary and those big ideas about the world. I want, above all things, to be able to write about his work in a way that honors it and him.

I am prepared. I have studied my questions very carefully. I know what it is I want to know and know therefore what to ask.

1 comment:

  1. I must report that the interview went very well. Richard Wilbur is a most charming and gentlemanly person. But above all, it was wonderful to be there with that BIG BRAIN and that GRAND VOCABULARY to discuss his poetry and how it exists in the world. I am inspired now more than ever to make the book live up to his work. Stay tuned.