Los Touchstones

Which poets did you read when you first began writing? Of those, which ones do you still enjoy revisiting?

I think Wallace Stevens was the poet who jazzed me deeply first. The vividness of his imagery translated brightly and instantaneously in my head like a animated cartoon version of a painting by Joan Miro.

As a kid, I went through a rural public education system, and we didn’t read poets unless they were at least 100 years old. At college I found out that poetry was not, like the Latin language, dead. That was big. My teacher in fresh English struck me as Oscar Wilde with a Mississippi accent. Although my grades from the course were only average, I still have my journals from that year (age 17) when I discovered poetry. I copied poems straight from the pages of the Norton anthology. Besides Stevens, on those pages are verbatim Robert Creeley, Adrienne Rich, and James Tate. Although my poems look more like Creeley’s than Rich’s on the page, I’m pretty sure that I’ve inherited something from each of them. From Rich it is something about my identity as a poet, a lesbian, and an intellectual. With Creeley it’s more about poetics, and what the poem is supposed to be.

If you feel like it, tell the story about how your relationship with poetry began.

How to Stay Curious

I’ve been considering the possibility of starting a blog about all-things-poetry for many months now. It’s not that I think I have the answers. Or even the questions. I’m not looking for a soapbox. But I am interested in the blog as zocolo, as town square, a place of exchange and conversation.

I attended two grad programs in creative writing, and the thing that struck me then and now is that the conversations both in class and outside of class were sensational. I can remember sitting in the private room at the Brown Bottle (Iowa City) listening to my friends Stephanie Brown and Jeff Hamilton talking about Lester Bangs, People magazine, and the new formalists all at the same time and thinking, This is really something. Twenty years later I feel exactly the same way.

Great conversations are getting rare. In her book, turning to one another, Margaret Wheatley argues for a renaissance of the conversation. She outlines the norms that must exist for honest conversation to take place. My favorite one is, “We must stay curious about one another.”

There’s so much to talk about. Let’s begin the begin.