Philip Metres is the author of To See the Earth (2008), and recently co-edited Come Together: Imagine Peace (2008).
1. What poet should be in Obama’s cabinet, and in what role?
Walt Whitman, Department of Homeland Security: “unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!”
Emily Dickinson, Central Intelligence Agency
Gary Snyder, Environmental Protection Agency
William Stafford, Department of Peace (to be created under the new Obama Administration)
Adrienne Rich, Justice Department
2. If you could send Obama one poem or book of poems (not your own), what would it be and why?
I’d give him William Stafford, Every War Has Two Losers.
3. What other poetry-related blog or website should I check out?
Other than Silliman’s Blog, just to keep you in Philadelphia, I’ll say Al Filreis’ blog at https://afilreis.blogspot.com/
4. Who is the most exciting young/new poet I’ve never heard of, but whose work I ought to find and read?
I tend to think that you’ve read everyone already! Among many others, I’m fond of Mark Nowak.
5. What’s the funniest poem you’ve read lately? What was the last poem that made you cry?
I laugh with and love David Berman’s “Community College in the Rain.”
Poems tend to bring tears only when I read them aloud, in front of others; excepting a couple of my own, Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Jerusalem” chokes me up. “It’s late but everything happens next.”
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’m a sometimes Hegelian. Both/and, plus the synthesis of their beautiful unions.
7. Robert Lowell wrote a poem called “Falling Asleep Over the Aeneid.” What supposedly immortal poem puts you to sleep?
My daughter’s dream breathing. Seriously, I’m more at risk of being intimidated by a book of poetry (and thus, looking at its cover repeatedly and never opening it—thank you, Charles Olson’s Maximus Poems) than being narcotized by it.
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?
“The Book of the Dead” by Muriel Rukeyser would be a safe, progressive, “Harlan County U.S.A.” type of social action documentary. I’m actually surprised there hasn’t been a movie about Frank O’Hara, starring Frank O’Hara—that guy seemed to think of his whole life as a movie.
9. What lines from a poem you first read years ago still haunt you now?
“O tree standing in the ear! O pure transcendency!” Rilke’s first “Sonnet to Orpheus”
10. What poem do you love, love, love, but don’t understand?
I wish I could say that there was such a poem for me. Better a poem than a person.
11. If the official organ of the AWP were not the Chronicle but were the Enquirer, what would some of the headlines be?
Poetry is a Ponzi Scheme! Fiction is a Bunch of Lies! See inside for pictures of pantoums wearing no panties out between parties! Ron Silliman seen lunching with Christian Wiman at Lolita’s!
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?
I think the AWP is doing quite fine, thank you very much.
13. This is the Best American Poetry blog. What’s the best non-American poetry you’ve read lately?
The Butterfly’s Burden by Mahmoud Darwish, in particular, the latter two books within the collection, “State of Siege” and “Don’t Apologize for What You Haven’t Done.”
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?
As a message on my answering machine. (216) 397-4528.
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?
Don’t they all work that way? Actually, any Tom Eliot would be tremendously improved in a musical setting.
16. Do you have a (clean) joke involving poetry you’d like to share?
There are no clean jokes about poetry. And poetry isn’t funny. But once, in college, after a long night of hosting a blow-out party, after everyone had left and my housemates and I repaired to the kitchen for toast at four a.m., a guy wandered in. Someone said, “hey, it’s Ramon Fernandez.”
If you laugh at that, then friend me on Facebook. I owe you an idea of order and a margarita.
17. Tell the truth: is it a poetry book you keep in the john, or some other genre (john-re)?
I used to have the Norton Anthology in the john, the one from high school with my crazy high school notes. In the margins of the first stanza of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: “body mind a numb sedate/evening wasteland meaningless relationship fertility “no meat” emptiness what is the meaning of life? No inquisitiveness.” etc.
18. Can you name every teacher you had in elementary school? Did any of them make you memorize a poem? What poem(s)?
Sister Somebody Who Terrified One of My Classmates So Much She Peed in Her Seat
Miss Neubauer Who Left Midway Through the Semester Thus Breaking My Heart
Miss Steinberg Who Taught Me How to Sing
Nobody made me memorize any poems, to my recollection, but I did get to sing in our version of “The Mikado.” One teacher also took us out on “nature walks”—oh look everyone, a BUTTERFLY! Everyone in class thought this lady was crazy. Now I believe she was a mad genius, secretly teaching us Whitman and Dickinson.
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?
The other night at The Lit in Cleveland, I saw Naomi Shihab Nye give an absolutely engaging, energetic, funny, and welcoming reading, and as I was sitting there, it suddenly struck me—she should be the next poet laureate. Why? If the Library of Congress were to choose a mid-career, civically-engaged, and approachable poet for whom such duties are not perceived as a devil's bargain, a dollar-woven laurel, they might find a laureate who has the energy and vision to create a program that would bring poetry into the public conversation again. When I think back on the highest-profile tenures of Poets Laureate, the following come to my mind: Rita Dove, Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass—all mid-career, civic-minded poets, who had a vision for bringing poetry to the people, and the people to the poetry. Others have gratefully received their laurels and did their duty and rode off into the sunset.
20. Insert your own question here.
Dear Fugees, what does this mean: “how many mics do we rip on the daily?” Solitary, off-white boy wants to know.