Inquiring Minds and Other Clichés — Stephen Bunch

— a poetry interview series by Christine Klocek-Lim

Stephen Bunch

1. What is your favorite poem that you’ve written? Read?

Currently it’s “Second Life,” a long poem soon to appear in Mudlark.

Too many to name, but here are a few: Merwin, “For the Anniversary of My Death”; H.D., “Oread”; Dorn, “The North Atlantic Turbine: A Theory of Truth”; Pound, “Canto 47.”

2. Do you think there is a disconnect between academic poets/poetry and online poets/poetry?

Perhaps I don’t know enough about this supposed distinction, but it seems to me a false dichotomy. Beyond that, I’m not sure I know what is meant by “academic poets/poetry.” Is this poetry written by people who are employed in the academy or poetry that is informed by the arts and sciences? I’m sorry, but I don’t know how to answer the question without defining the terms, and because definitions and naming have more to do with marketing than with writing, I’m not particularly interested.

3. Has the rise of the poetry MFA been positive or detrimental to the art?

The short answer is “I don’t know.” Having said that, I think that poetry has become more of a commodity with the proliferation of MFA programs. That is, poetry itself isn’t a big seller in the marketplace, but there is a whole academic industry involved in credentialing people to write (and then teach the writing of) poetry. I like the Black Mountain model. Poets went there not to workshop or gain credentials to teach creative writing, but rather to immerse themselves in history, classical studies, the arts and sciences, while also learning to repair roofs and tend vegetable gardens. And it didn’t hurt that they were in the interdisciplinary presence of great minds (Charles Olson, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, et al.). In other words, the writing of poetry was presumed to come from an interdisciplinary education and “real life” experience rather than from some sort of specialized training. The poetry workshop seems to have its origins in the MFA program, too. The older I get, the more I’m convinced that workshopping is counterproductive, that writing is generally a solitary task.

4. Do you write for yourself or for an audience/reader?

This question implies telos or intention in writing. Rarely do I write with an end in mind other than to see what happens. It’s not unlike breathing. I don’t think much about it, just do it (which is not to say that I’m not thinking as I do it—writing is always thinking). Once the writing is “done,” maybe I’ve learned something or solved a problem, but that wasn’t the intention. If the product seems worthwhile to me, I put it out there to see if there is an audience. Sometimes there is, and that’s a bonus.

5. How much of what you write is inspiration vs. perspiration?

Without inspiration and expiration there can be no perspiration. Beyond that, I don’t know.

6. Bonus question! Answer any one of the following:

a. If you were a Celtic bard, carrying poems from place to place as if they were the last flame, which ones would you sing?

That’s a rather romantic notion of poetry. I would not have been that circuit-riding bard.

b. Why do you read or write poetry?

Writing poetry is like scratching an itch. That is, it’s a response to stimuli. It’s my way of trying to make sense of all the “inputs,” a way to filter and focus, a way of bringing at least the illusion of order to my world. Kant wrote that art is purposive without purpose. Heidegger wrote that art is the act of making a world out of earth. Ed Sanders celebrates homo ludens. I subscribe to all of these.

c. What did you have for breakfast this morning?

Leftover chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and spinach.

d. Anything else you’d like to say?

“Noli in spiritu combuere.”


Stephen Bunch lives and writes in Lawrence, Kansas, where he received the 2008 Langston Hughes Award for Poetry from the Lawrence Arts Center and Raven Books. He received a Pushcart Prize nomination in 2010. His poems can be found in Autumn Sky Poetry, The Externalist, The Literary Bohemian, Fickle Muses, and Umbrella. From 1978 to 1988, he edited and published Tellus, a little magazine that featured work by Victor Contoski, Edward Dorn, Jane Hirshfield, Donald Levering, Denise Low, Paul Metcalf, Edward Sanders, and many others. After a fifteen-year hibernation, he awoke in 2005 and resumed writing. Preparing to Leave is his first gathering of poems.


Couplets: a multi-author poetry blog tour – click for a list of participating blogs and daily entries
Upper Rubber Boot Books is coordinating a book blog tour for April, to help promote poetry and poets for National Poetry Month. Check back here for updates throughout the month of April (we’ll also post updates to our blog, and so will many of the participating poets).
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