Stay tuned all month for poet interviews in honor of National Poetry Month.
1) Why poetry?
I’ve written and erased several answers to this question. I have no idea. I guess it began as an investigation into the lucky crime of my own birth. Why still poetry? Because each new poem creates more problems than it solves, and I’m a devotee.
2) Do you feel like poetry is more or less important & relevant today?
Limiting the scope of this question to my knowledge of the past fifteen years in this country, poetry seems to be more important in some regards and diminished in others. On the one hand, lots of poets—especially those in communities that bear the brunt of state violence—have intensified their activities against the terrors of our world, and this is inspiring. On the other, poetry is more and more interested in its own institutions and the codification of a narrow set of values. So yes, in this context, poetry is more relevant thanks to some of those who are making it, while the institutions of the art are increasingly less important or more degrading because of deepening sycophantic, opportunistic, cynical, and wrong-headed tendencies. That’s my two cents.
3) Tell us about one poet who has greatly influenced you as a writer and a thinker.
Miguel Hernández was very important to me when I was a young poet and his work recently returned to my nightstand. I first came across his poetry in college, when I bought an old copy of Selected Poems: Miguel Hernández and Blas de Otero. Hernández’s poems begin with great force, with powerful ideas and images, and you can clearly see in them the strike of inspiration. Recently, a Spanish curator asked me to make new photographic work for an exhibition in Santiago de Compostela, so I’ll soon be visiting Spain to walk from the birthplaces of Hernández and Lorca to the places where they died. I’m looking forward to gaining a new understanding of these two great poets, and I expect the influence of their work on my own to deepen.
4) Tell us about one lesser-known contemporary poet who you’d like more people to know about.
Mark So is an experimental composer and performer, but for the purposes of this question I’d like to think of him as a poet because many of his performances and recordings engage poetry and reading in astonishing ways. Impossible Objects/Marfa Book Co. recently published a box of wind: Ashbery Series, which consists of “more than 200 works composed between 2006 and 2011, each […] relating to a single poem from [John Ashbery’s] prodigious oeuvre.”
Also, I’d like to add the names of two poets who are appreciated by many, but whose greatness is incalculable and should be constantly restated: Rosmarie Waldrop and Ed Roberson. I think that a person stuck on a desert island alone could live happily there if in possession of a hundred poems by these two poets, while a hundred poems by the overwhelming majority of other excellent poets would quickly drive even the most self-possessed person mad.
5) Share with us one of your recent poems and tell us a little bit about its context.
Since my daughter was born about sixteen months ago, I’ve written very little poetry besides the last couple of chapters of a verse novella, so this poem isn’t new but it’s from my most recent book. It’s from a series of seven “Lamp” poems, the first three of which I wrote as texts for a film by my friend Charlotte Moth, a visual artist based in Paris. Since Castles and Islands was published I’ve made notes for some others in this form, and I think I’ll keep going with it for a while. Read it here.
Joshua Edwards directs Canarium Books. He’s the author of Castles and Islands, Architecture for Travelers, Imperial Nostalgias, and Campeche, as well as a photobook, Photographs Taken at One-Hour Intervals During a Walk from Galveston Island to the West Texas Town of Marfa. He also translated María Baranda’s book-length poem, Ficticia. Information about Elegies and other projects, as well as PDFs of most of his books, can be found at: http://www.castlesislands.com