Okay, let’s not kid ourselves: these are more like occasionally asked questions, because there are a raft of good living poets out there and if you don’t advertise, the world does not in fact beat a path to your poetry door. (If you couldn’t tell, I’m trying to do a better job of advertising these days, but, as you can also tell, it’s not my strong suit.) But even one question deserves an answer, so here we go. If you have a question of your own, e-mail me at my work address and I’ll do my best to answer it.
- What kind of poetry do you write?
Isn’t that always the question? The one that we’re supposed to field confidently, yet with becoming modesty, conveying pithy information in a short compass so as not to take up more than our allotted minutes, or seconds. The short answer is that I write what Thomas Lux, of fond memory, called “oddball” poems, sometime with weird premises, often with humor, often but not always about nonhuman nature in specific places. These days I’m writing more about the fraught topics of whiteness and complicity. And while I love formal verse and have written a lot of it, most of mine isn’t formal anymore; it relies more on internal half-rhymes, syllabic rather accentual meters, and very careful lineation for its music.
But if you think you can stand a longer answer, here’s me talking about one of my better-known poems, in context of an old and unfavorable review. It’ll tell you what I think I’m doing, though writers aren’t always the best judges.
- What are your current projects?
- My third full-length collection, Larvae of the Nearest Stars, is due out from LSU Press in October 2019.
- I’m working on a modern-English translation of John Gower’s Confessio Amantis, with Brian Gastle. It’s thirty-three thousand lines, this will be the first complete translation into modern English, and it’s about love and growing old.
- Still in the conceptual stage…but I’m thinking of a book of strategies, lesson plans, and assessments for 9-12 ELA teachers who want to use more poetry, or use poetry in more engaging ways and for a wider range of purposes, in their classrooms. I may post some of these to this website, once WordPress and I are on better terms.
- Why should we call you and not some better-known poet?
It’s not for me to say that you should. But you may want to, for reasons as much pragmatic as poetic. One, I’m cheap–well, let’s call that instead “exceedingly inexpensive.” If I’m close by and can work it into my schedule, I’m free. If I’m not, I’m still cheaper than almost anyone with a bigger name…so, you know, call me maybe. Two, I’m a teacher as well as a poet, with an NC teaching license. And I work hard at the teaching: if I come to a class or workshop, I’m going to have outcomes, a lesson plan, and engaging activities, because I’ve been teaching too long to expect student attention or respect until I’ve earned it. Three, I work to make the readings short, punchy, and engaging; I won’t mumble on for forty-five minutes at a time from my book of linked unpunctuated double sestinas connecting the life of Admiral Byrd with the death of one of my family members. (Kidding: I do not have such a book, nor do I know anyone who has such a book. If you have such a book, I’m sure it’s a lovely book and I apologize in advance for inadvertently mocking it. I’m just trying to make the point that not all poets consider their audiences. I do. I know people want to laugh as well as wince, and I don’t find that an unworthy desire.)
- How can you seine a parking lot? What’s seining anyway?
The seine is a large, long fishnet with a pole on either end, a weighted bottom line, and a floated top line. One person holds one pole steady in shallow water while the other muscles the second pole along the bottom–first outward into slightly deeper water, then back toward the beach or bank in an arc or curve, so that the net in between herds anything alive into shallow water, where it can be scooped up. It’s a good way to find out what kind of fish and shrimp are in a particular area, and also for collecting bait. But you can seine a parking lot only when it happens to be full of water. I called the website “Seining the Parking Lot” not only because I’m fond of the poem from which it comes, but because seining has something in common with writing and thinking about poetry. It takes some imagination, and some help from something bigger than we are, like a river, and sometimes it sounds impossible–but sometimes, too, it happens. Sometimes we find what we were looking for; sometimes we find things we didn’t think to look for.