Jesse Nathan is the author of Dinner (a chapbook of poems), an editor at McSweeney's publishing in San Francisco, and the managing editor of the Best American Nonrequired Reading.
1. What poet should be in Obama’s cabinet, and in what role?
This question befuddles me. It’s hard to imagine a full-time poet being a full-time government official. I don’t know if that would do either poetry or government any good.
2. If you could send Obama one poem or book of poems (not your own), what would it be and why?
Maybe Madoc by Paul Muldoon. For its sheer wit and bizarre perspective on American history and thought. Maybe “Ozymandias,” by Shelley, for its warning. Or “Stalin Epigram,” by Mandelstam. It’s one of the few successful overtly political poems I’ve ever come across. It’s brave and chilling. Every leader should probably read it. “The Art of Losing,” by Bishop, for its humility and wisdom. Work by ee cummings and A.R. Ammons, for their philosophical zing and strange steely slices of Americana.
3. What other poetry-related blog or website should I check out?
I’m a bit of a luddite, I’m the only one of my friends without a cell phone. Email is very useful and can be delightful sometimes but it usually overwhelms me and I use it far more than I want to. And this is my first ever contribution to a blog. That probably self-righteous-sounding disclaimer aside, I’d recommend The Jivin’ Ladybug (https://mysite.verizon.net/vze8911e/thejivinladybug/) and Hot Metal Bridge (https://hotmetalbridge.org/).
4. Who is the most exciting young/new poet I’ve never heard of, but whose work I ought to find and read?
Ilya Kaminsky, Katie Ford, Todd Boss, Jared Hawkley.
5. What’s the funniest poem you’ve read lately? What was the last poem that made you cry?
I couldn’t say. I try, by the way, to read poetry that makes me laugh and cry as many times as possible in the same poem. I like manic poetry. Um, I wish I could answer this question better. Oh! I know a poem that cracked me up recently. Get this by Aram Saroyan:
Poem Recognizing Someone In The Street
e y ? h
e ? h e
h e y !
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?
William and Dorothy and Robert and Elizabeth Barrett and Moore and Bishop—especially Bishop!—and Dunbar and Cullen and “Poetry must resist the intelligence almost successfully” and almost always “No ideas but in things” and certainly BOTH the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and Tender Buttons.
7. Robert Lowell wrote a poem called “Falling Asleep Over the Aeneid.” What supposedly immortal poem puts you to sleep?
I have trouble getting into William Wordsworth’s work. I think I probably haven’t approached it with the right frame of mind.
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?
This question kind of blows my mind. It’s so farfetched and it would be such a good idea. Hmmm. There’s a new book that’s kind of an epic in the style of Beowulf (though the story’s quite different) called Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow. It might hold up well on film.
9. What lines from a poem you first read years ago still haunt you now?
“This is the Hour of Lead— / Remembered, if outlived, / As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow— / First—Chill—then Stupor—then the letting go—” From number 341 (After great pain, a formal feeling comes) by Emily Dickinson.
10. What poem do you love, love, love, but don’t understand?
Many poems by Wallace Stevens. The poems in Oriflamme by Sandra Miller. Much of G.C. Waldrep’s beautiful first book, Goldbeater’s Skin.
11. If the official organ of the AWP were not the Chronicle but were the Enquirer, what would some of the headlines be?
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?
Impossible to outsell that tired story.
13. This is the Best American Poetry blog. What’s the best non-American poetry you’ve read lately?
Poet in New York by Federico Garcia Lorca. Lorca’s a wizard. And The Ellipse by Leonardo Sinisgalli. Sinisgalli’s sense of the stanza is so sharp, so pure.
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?
I’m going to think about this one for a while.
15. What poem would you like to hear the main character bust out singing in a Bollywood film? What would be the name of the movie? What would be the scene in which it was sung?
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)?
At the moment I have, stacked on my john, the following pieces of media: A couple issues of The New York Review of Books, Poetry Flash, many issues of Rolling Stone (they come out so often!), an issue of Entertainment Weekly that featured Paul Newman’s obituary and a cover story, several issues of The Onion (sample headline: “New Linens-N-Shit Opens”), The Bethel Collegian (newspaper of Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas, my alma mater), Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story, the Times’s book review, an issue of Imbibe heralding the return of Absinthe, Time (I picked it up only because it had an ostensibly enlightening piece on Mark Twain), Mental Floss (cover story: “How to Get Into Heaven”), a copy of Ms. from a few months ago with Wonder Woman flying across the cover, a brochure for Brutocao wine cellars in Mendocino County, California, Bookmark (magazine of the New York Public Library), SGI Quarterly, The San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, Guns & Ammo (a previous tenant at my apartment named Silas Allen continues to have his subscription delivered to what is now my address), Vanity Fair (it had then-interesting pre-movie screen shots for that bad Indy flick that just came out), the catalog for the 2008 Iowa Summer Writing Festival, Utne Reader, Context, Harper’s, and the University of Oxford Graduate Studies Prospectus 2006-2007.
18. Can you name every teacher you had in elementary school? Did any of them make you memorize a poem? What poem(s)?
Can’t remember kindergarten. First grade I can’t remember, but he was great, he cracked a coconut in class for us and gave us samples of the milk. Second grade I’m blanking—he was bad, and mean, and that’s probably why I can’t recall his name. I can see his face, though. Mean sucker. Third grade was Mrs. Barrett. Fourth was Mr. Watson. He showed the class The Birds by Hitchcock. Fifth was Ms. Fitzmorris. Sixth was Mr. Preheim. Is sixth the end of elementary school? Anyway, the only one who made us memorize poetry was Mr. Preheim. “Stopping by a Woods on a Snowy Evening,” by Robert Frost. I still have it in my head. It’s a wonderful poem. I wish more of my teachers would’ve made me memorize poetry like that.
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?
Hard to say. I thought Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass, Donald Hall, and Kay Ryan, among others, were excellent choices for Poet Laureate.