Jason Stenar Clark writes poems in Laramie, Wyoming. His responses to twenty questions:
1. What poet should be in Obama’s cabinet, and in what role?
That’s easy. Obama should be the only poet in the cabinet. I have no idea what any of his policy ideas are, anyway, I just like that baritone drip of his, unfurling “Israel” and “Afghanistan.” Yummy. I guess we could get someone with an Iowa diploma and a billon awards, but don’t we want him doing double-duty? I’ll bet his State of the Union will be in blank verse. I’m seriously only kind of kidding.
2. If you could send Obama one poem or book of poems (not your own), what would it be and why?
I’d send him this book of poetry I don’t really remember the title of, which I bought for five dollars, written by a homeless man in San Francisco. The work was not particularly good, but neither was it terrible. It was a copy of his verse xeroxed with too much toner at the local library and every poem was filled with resignation and resentment against all the people who passed by him, thinking he remembered nothing. But he did. I’d give Obama the poems mostly because I think, unlike any president since, well, Lincoln, he is already a pretty literate and curious fellow (he actually complained about not having the luxury of browsing through his neighborhood used bookstore in Hyde Park anymore), and he needs to be reminded of those over whom he has authority but from whom he will hear no complaint, no retribution should he wound their fates. Everyone else in America, from soccer mom to Rolex executive, has some blabbermouth to sway the President. That author in San Francisco had a voice Obama is unlikely to hear. It’s not that I think the man is unsympathetic to the poor. Not at all. In fact, probably more than I am, since I tossed the book a long time ago (shelf-space, you see).
3. What other poetry-related blog or website should I check out?
I read Poetry Daily pretty much every day, since it requires no effort to use and there’s a real diversity of styles. Also, slate.com has excellent stuff nearly every week.
4. Who is the most exciting young/new poet I’ve never heard of, but whose work I ought to find and read?
Oooo, Maurice Manning won the Yale Prize a few years back, but pretty much no one I talk to has ever heard of him. He had this book, Bucolics, released maybe two years ago, that is just delicious. Also, damned readable. The kind of book poet-ie people and people who don’t read poetry can both like. The whole book is written as monologues from a moderately educated man and addressed to God (whom he calls “Boss.” I thought he was talking to his dog on the first read. Yeah.) and everything in it is very low-level vocabulary in high-concepts.
5. What’s the funniest poem you’ve read lately? What was the last poem that made you cry?
Honestly, Ammons’ “Needs,” published about forty years ago, is the funniest thing I’ve read in a while. Thing is, it’s not funny “ha-ha,” but funny “yeah, totally.” The whole poem is a guy describing his ideal riding lawn mower. The last poem to make me cry was a couplet repeated by Shoshone elders over-and-over again for the Ghost Dance religion of the late 19th Century. The line is “ducklings follow their mother in a row” (translated, of course), and sung with absolute sorrow. You asked.
6. William or Dorothy? Robert or Elizabeth Barrett? Moore or Bishop? Dunbar or Cullen? “Poetry must resist the intelligence almost successfully” or “No ideas but in things”? Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas or Tender Buttons?
I have no idea what any of these pairs mean. But, why not join in the fun: “Soda” or “Pop”? “Catcher” or “Pitcher”? “Simpsons” or “South Park”? “Sarah Palin” or “Tina Fey”? “Big Red” or “Juicy Fruit”? “BCS” or “Legitimate playoff system that incorporates teams of high talent across region rather than in the traditionally favored conferences, and which doesn’t totally screw over teams like Boise State that is ranked ninth, but will likely get a boring Bowl game instead of a marquee one just because it is in a state that doesn’t have enough fans in it like Ohio State does”?
7. Robert Lowell wrote a poem called “Falling Asleep Over the Aeneid.” What supposedly immortal poem puts you to sleep?
Everything by Eliot.
8. Even for poetry books, the contract has a provision for movie rights. What poetry book should they make into a movie? Who should direct it, and why? Who should star in it?
OMG! I totally know! Bellocq’s Ophelia by Trethewey. Mostly, I really want that poem where the Madame gives instructions to her girls about how to carry themselves in front of their clients to be read by Stockard Channing in a huge push-up bra. Or Gates McFadden who played Dr. Crusher on Start Trek: The Next Generation. (Directing? Let’s say Clint Eastwood. He can do anything now that he has received the Force.) Hard to know who should star, since you need a very attractive and very light-skinned African-American woman. Mariah Carey? Eesh. They do need to be a very good actress. Oh whatever, just give to Halle.
9. What lines from a poem you first read years ago still haunt you now?
“And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.” Walt.
10. What poem do you love, love, love, but don’t understand?
Okay, so it’s not so much a whole poem as a line. Terrance Hayes, at the end of the exquisite ‘Shafro,’ says “I’m a small American frog.” Um. What?
11. If the official organ of the AWP were not the Chronicle but were the Enquirer, what would some of the headlines be?
“Bat Boy Wins National Book Award With His Devil-Winged Dreams”
“John Berryman Spotted At Local Deli With JFK, Plath”
“Secrets To Slimming Your Tercets (Are Your Lines Too Fat?)”
12. If you were making a scandal rag for poetry in the grocery store checkout stands, what fictitious poetry love triangle would you make up to outsell that tired Hollywood story of Angelina and Brad and Jen?
Sigh. I wish I hadn’t already thought about this, like, a whole lot. Cormac McCarthy, Mary Oliver, and Seth Macfarlane (writer of Family Guy). I mean, what the hell would they have to talk about?
13. This is the Best American Poetry blog. What’s the best non-American poetry you’ve read lately?
Seamus Heaney. Sorry.
14. We read poems in journals and books, we hear them in readings and on audio files. Sometimes we get them in unusual ways: on buses or in subway cars. How would you like to encounter your next poem?
Recited from memory by a beautiful woman. (Note: I am not a beautiful woman).
16. Do you have a (clean) joke involving poetry you’d like to share?
17. Tell the truth: is it a poetry book you keep in the john, or some other genre (john-re)?
I actually keep a book of literary critical terminology in the bathroom. Talk about constipation. (Hi-yo!)
18. Can you name every teacher you had in elementary school? Did any of them make you memorize a poem? What poem(s)?
19. If you got to choose the next U.S. Poet Laureate, who (excluding of course the obvious candidates, you and me) would it be? Of former U.S. Poet Laureates, who did such a great job that he/she should get a second term? Next election cycle, what poet should run for President? Why her or him?
Seriously, Dr. Dre. As in, my “Gin and Juice” and “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thing.” The man practically invented rap music as a genre and has produced tracks for some of the most important lyricists of the day, from Mick Jagger to Mary J. Blige. Now, just because some of you snooty mofos out there don’t consider rap to be poetry shouldn’t hold our President-elect back. Oh yeah, it’s just spoken and rhymed words with regulated line-length that everyone likes to listen to and imitate. Geez. I can’t think of what literary genre that would fit into. And if you don’t like it, it’s because (a) you don’t appreciate contemporary black culture (yeah, I said it) (b) you think stuff with naughty words and scenarios isn’t art, in which case you need to re-read Midsummer’s (c) you are just jealous that millions of people are reading the rhymes of someone else and you can barely make it into a community college undergraduate press, (d) you can’t rhyme, or (e) you prefer East Coast rap to West Coast rap. The only acceptable objection is the last one, but, really folks, Tupac may have been all about California, but he was raised in Baltimore. Let me point out the prowess of rappers: Biggie Smalls has rhymed "children" with "disappearing" ("cheer'en/disappearin") and Eminem has eight, count 'em, eight rhymes with "Dentist." Seriously though, what would get young people more interested in poetry than a real-life rhymster that anyone outside of MFA programs and Oprah’s demographic have heard of? Failing Dr. Dre, Obama should nominate himself. It is about time that a rapper be up in that, though.
20. Insert your own question here.
Nah. Thanks, though.