3.29.2009

Part of the Heaney Agonistes Jacket number, Ira Lightman mentions that he's been asking the o'driscoll questions of other poets; they are spun around Heaney's answers, but I'll see... about this later...


DENNIS O’DRISCOLL: Some years ago, you told an English journalist: “My notion was always that, if the poems were good, they would force their way through.” Is this still your experience?

OK, this is some sort of "poems waiting/needing to be written" a priori argument, and also some sort of attempt to still privilege lyric impulse "inspiration" while not dismissig craft.

DO’D: Over the years, you have often quoted Keats’s observation, “If poetry comes not as naturally as leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all.” Is that just a young poet’s perspective?

This is a similar-but-different folksy restatement, poets being poetry trees, poems emergng as part of the operation of the organism. Not all people are poets, or artists, or even express empoions or things in language.

DO’D: Does this mean that a poem essentially begins for you when you find a form?

While I don't see how this follows from the questions, which are what I'm reading now, right now this moment what I writes comes such that I know the shape, and they fill it; or I have the topic, and find a shape, or ... in other words, the identity between form and poem is to me childish, rudimentary -- I'm not saying anything about petry, but I am sayig a lot of things abot simpe-minded definitions

DO’D: Is there a poetry time of day and a prose time of day?

huh

DO’D: I remember Anne Yeats saying that her father mumbled to himself when he started to write. Would the [Daly Burch] household know that a poem was coming on?

Um, because I'm not doing something else; some nagging noises from the other room, ringing unanswered telephones.

DO’D: Do you ever feel burdened by the sheer amount of work you know it will require to do justice to a particular inspiration?

yes

DO’D: How can you tell a poem is finished?

sometimes it is obvious, sometimes it is not, and often I am wrong

I have been thinking of this idea, and I think the idea of "finish" is one that seems pretty important to the interviewer, and perhaps to poets like Heaney -- perhaps finish over construction or purpose, even

And something that it would be swell to critically discuss at length. Some writers and writings have a finish; finishes of poems -- not surfaces, but -- ends tucked in, allusions deliberate, sounds strightened, scansion done (even if not regular, etc.), grammar and punctuation sorted, articles weighed and weeded. Some poems aren't, and an offhand or informal or note-taking or other tone doesn't have anything to do with the finish. Some free verse poems reel out finished. I think that really might make those formalists who do not have oh crowns of sonnets reel out (some do) uncomfortable. How could they be finished from the get-go?


DO’D: Do you keep a notebook of phrases and images for later use?

a notebook, ha ha ha; but I write things down, and sometimes they resurface, and someties I work from a note-to-finish process (not very always)

DO’D: You mentioned earlier that the poem will come more quickly if there is a form. Would you be offended to be called a formalist?

1) I concur, 2) yes

DO’D: Do you have a preference for pararhymes and half rhymes over full rhymes?

yes

DO’D: You are a poet for whom the sound the words make is crucial.

yes

DO’D: Would you accept Eliot’s contention that the subject matter is simply a device to keep the reader distracted while the poem performs its real work subliminally?

no

DO’D: What role does humor play in your poetry?

it is a major component, since puns are multiple meaning, ex., and humor is performance / audience, and humor is also a metatrope, and it counteracts "difficulty"

it also, difficultly, offers "appeal" or "attractin" -- a pleasure -- though I generally look for an attractive combo of beauty and humor,but -- this as under discussion on WOMPO, is perhaps crippling or feminine, as much so, perhaps, as questioning or lyric lift rather than stating / gravitas -- though my poetry is also very serious -- serious and funny

DO’D: What are your thoughts about accessibility and obscurity in poetry?

poetry is too dull; even accessible and sentimental poetry is dull -- like anythin, it is hard to find the good stuff

DO’D: And the avant-garde?

I find if there is a smaller field (avant-garde petry, not all poetry) it is easier to avoid the dull stuff; also, more traditional (rather than wanna-be cutting edge) writers are resolutely dull

DO’D: What about your own critics and reviewers?

critics? reviewers?

DO’D: You told Seamus Deane, in an interview in 1977: “If you live as an author, your reward is authority. But of course the trouble is how to be sure you are living properly.”

how, the Heaneyean wordplay is just awe-inspiring. If only I could be Irish. Oh, wait, I am.

DO’D: Is there a sorrow quotient in all works of art?

No, but there's sorrow, and also you will have it if I catch you misusing "quotient" in person.

DO’D: I wonder how you would react to this statement from Paul Celan: “Poetry can no longer speak the language which many a willing ear still seems to expect from it. Its language has become more austere and factual; it distrusts the beautiful and it attempts to be true. It is thus . . . a ‘grayer’ language.”

I feel truly sorrowful. He unhooked from the ambrosia that poetry can be -- for principled reasons and emotions. We are sorry it could have sufficed if it didn't lend so much personal evil. Never confuse truth and beuty or find eiter lacking, dead guy.

DO’D: Robert Frost is among the poets most quoted in your talks, readings, and essays. He seems to have provided you with an entire philosophy of poetry.

Not me!


DO’D: Have you deliberately limited your exposure to Frost’s work, so as not to be over-influenced by him?

Yup. As I also limit my exposure to everything I find hateful. I am in an environment, people, I find loathsome.

DO’D: Does the fact that Frost writes in an American idiom present any barrier for you? Does Edward Thomas provide similar pleasures to those of Frost?




DO’D: Frost received some bad biographical press—is the character of the poet relevant to the quality of his work?

Well, this is a version of "quality" which is different from mine. The "quality" like "finish" or fulfilling the combo of form and content that is the poem's little problem, whatever -- no; the quality as far as qualia, integrity, you betcha. And then there's quality vs. value... [more soon]

DO’D: In poems and essays from around the time of Wintering Out, you made reference to the roles played by Sir John Davies, Sir Walter Ralegh, and Edmund Spenser in the conquest and plantation of Elizabethan Ireland. Did you ever find their colonizing role coming between you and enjoyment of their poetry or, at least, complicating the way you respond to their work?

Spenser, at the time of the DaDaDa Spencer poem, yes, because you see that in his relationship to love -- so you see it everywhere in his writing then -- this fear he has.

DO’D: . . . which inevitably brings to mind the Nazi commandants listening to Mozart at night and gassing Jews by day. How can we still claim that art has moral force?

How that brings that to mind, I dunno. Art and moral force. Art has a diffuse moral force; only some art is didactic, and only some moralities are sophisticated enough to become ethics. Good art is ethical, has a backbone in my view. But when it becoms moral -- even rather than immoral, although if extremely and deliberately immoral for immoral purposes really -- it is lesser -- less universal.

DO’D: Do you think the traditional notion of a literary canon comprising the best works, judged on the basis of artistic merit alone, can survive in the era of literary theory and political correctness?

So you see, this dance of pc and artstic merit is interesting: not merely pc, or deliberately pc, but we also await some new, problematic mysogynistic poem that's so swell it replaces the Mona Lisa.

DO’D: With so many thousands of professional poets writing in our own time alone, is it really feasible that the “test of time” will apply? Who can possibly sift through all those books?

It is a problem, because we are seeing that valuable work is getting lost in our own time sometimes for real distribution, popularity, pobiz reasons), and we are perhaps more keenly aware that some works of the past -- while not influential in the same way as always-cononical works -- are still of very high artistic merit.

DO’D: Is there still some kind of general or non-specialized audience for poetry?

No. Was there ever some kind of general audience for contemporary poetry? No.

DO’D: Can a larger audience for poetry be encouraged?

Sure.

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