— a poetry interview series by Christine Klocek-Lim
(editor of The Pedestal Magazine)
1. What is your favorite poem that you’ve written? Read?
It’s hard to say what my favorite is of my own poems. I think that there have been pieces that were milestones for me, in terms of expressing something I had never expressed before or moving into a deeper level of craft. If I think of it that way, I would say that “Hiding” from Christening the Dancer was important for me as was “What I Said to Myself” from More of Me Disappears; also, my “Portraits of Mary” series from my latest book, At the Threshold of Alchemy, created new poetic, stylistic, and thematic possibilities for me as a poet.
In terms of poems that I’ve read? That’s a tough question, too. I suppose I would have to say that some of the poems I encountered in a volume called Naked Poetry (which first came out in 1969 but which I did not discover until the early 1980s when I was thirteen or fourteen) still have a hold on me. These works included poems by Robert Mezey, W.S. Merwin, and Sharon Olds among others. In addition to these works, I’ve been pretty deeply affected by the poems of the French Surrealists and the poems of John Ashbery. Of course, there are so many other poems that have been significant for me, but I suppose I’ll leave it at that.
2. Do you think there is a disconnect between academic poets/poetry and online poets/poetry?
I really don’t know. I would say that the disconnection is probably deeper than that. There are fundamental disconnections between many people and many artists; unfortunately, people in general tend to disconnect from others as a way to individuate and define themselves. So, I’m sure that there is a disconnection between this group of poets and that group of poets, but I think that the orientation towards disconnection is more fundamental that that, happens on an essential level, so that whatever divisions happen between groups are incidental to the more fundamental division we see in humanity at large.
3. Has the rise of the poetry MFA been positive or detrimental to the art?
Again, I don’t know. I suppose it has created a kind of homogeneity, as many argue. Then again, being involved in an MFA program allows someone to focus almost exclusively on his/her writing. That can’t be a bad thing. All said and done, I would probably say that the rise of MFA programs has had neither a positive nor a detrimental effect on the art of poetry. It’s one of those matters that seems to get a lot of attention, but perhaps its significance is exaggerated.
4. Do you write for yourself or for an audience/reader?
Well, both. Sometimes I am the audience, and sometimes I have an imaginary reader in mind. I’m not sure how much of a factor the “audience issue” is during the first write of a poem. I think I’m less concerned with an audience when I’m writing narrative poems. Sometimes, if I’m taking on a more surreal or non-linear approach, I do consider what the reading experience might be for someone else. This may affect how I write/edit; it may not.
5. How much of what you write is inspiration vs. perspiration?
I think many poems begin with inspiration; I think a first draft is very important, in terms of its energy. It’s difficult to edit energy into a poem; I can edit or revise the form of the poem, the phrasing, etc. Again, though, energy is a somewhat elusive quality. All said and done, I think a first draft can be successful if it’s infused with a certain energy, a sense of life, an assertion towards existence, if you will, even if there are numerous elements present that “don’t work.” So inspiration, if you want to call it that, is essential. Of course, though, a poem takes work to bring to completion, so a certain commitment to shaping it and working with it (perspiration) is pretty necessary, too.
6. Do you ever include the works of others in your readings? If not, why not? If so, who and why?
Except for a couple of occasions, I have not included the work of other poets in my readings. I’m doing a reading in April, however, in which I plan to share poems by W.S. Merwin and Robert Mezey, accompanied by a cellist. I look forward to this and think it will be a great opportunity to pay tribute to a couple of poems that had a deep impact on me as a reader, as a human being, and as a poet.
John Amen is the author of three collections of poetry: Christening the Dancer (Uccelli Press 2003), More of Me Disappears (Cross-Cultural Communications 2005), and At the Threshold of Alchemy (Presa 2009), and has released two folk/folk rock CDs, All I’ll Never Need and Ridiculous Empire (Cool Midget 2004, 2008). His poetry has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including, most recently, Rattle, The New York Quarterly, The International Poetry Review, Gargoyle, and Blood to Remember. He is also an artist, working primarily with acrylics on canvas. Amen travels widely giving readings, doing musical performances, and conducting workshops. He founded and continues to edit the award-winning literary bimonthly, The Pedestal Magazine (www.thepedestalmagazine.com).
John Amen is doing a series of readings in April. Please click the link to view his itinerary: www.johnamen.com – schedule.
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).