Stephen Burt teaches at Harvard; his new blog, and forthcoming book, are both called Close Calls with Nonsense (www.closecallswithnonsense.com-- just launched).
1. What poet should be in Obama’s cabinet, and in what role?
Since the President-Elect already has good plans (it seems) for most Cabinet-level appointments, I’ve placed most of these poets in federal agencies and subcabinet-level positions instead: Mark Nowak, OSHA; Monica Youn, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights; Forrest Gander, United States Geological Survey; Jeffrey Yang, National Atmospheric and Oceanic Adminstration (NOAA); Albert Goldbarth, National Archives; Ed Roberson, HUD; Donald Revell, Interior; Robyn Schiff, Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
2. If you could send Obama one poem or book of poems (not your own), what would it be and why?
Since he reads serious poetry-- and reads it seriously, from all indications-- I’d want to know what he’s already been reading. The poem that best sums up the spirit of his campaign, or at least the spirit of his appeal, might be Richard Wilbur’s “To the Student Strikers”-- also one of my favorite political poems.
3. What other poetry-related blog or website should I check out?
I’m still bewildered by their multitude, frankly. Two good web mags (not blogs) that take full advantage of the Web format are Diagram and Tarpaulin Sky.
4. Who is the most exciting young/new poet I’ve never heard of, but whose work I ought to find and read?
Not necessarily young, but relatively new and very very good: Allan Peterson. Younger, and not well known at all: Michael Smith-- check out his “anagrams,” published in online venues.
5. What’s the funniest poem you’ve read lately? What was the last poem that made you cry?
Several recent poems by Albert Goldbarth; Laura Kasischke, “Miss Weariness.”
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, Robert, Bishop, Dunbar, Stevens, Tender Buttons. But it’s good to have both.
7. Robert Lowell wrote a poem called “Falling Asleep Over the Aeneid.” What supposedly immortal poem puts you to sleep?
Long narrative poems and sequences in literal translation from languages I don’t read.
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?
Les Murray’s Fredy Neptune. I can’t speak to the direction, but Timothy Spall would be great for the lead, though he’d have to sound Australian and lift a few weights.
9. What lines from a poem you first read years ago still haunt you now?
“How high that highest candle lights the dark.”
10. What poem do you love, love, love, but don’t understand?
Byron’s Don Juan.
11. If the official organ of the AWP were not the Chronicle but were the Enquirer, what would some of the headlines be?
I thought we weren’t permitted to make personal attacks.
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?
End-stopped Biblical cadences and post-WCW enjambment compete for the hand of coy, virginal blank verse.
13. This is the Best American Poetry blog. What’s the best non-American poetry you’ve read lately?
Mary Dalton, Merrybegot; A. K. Ramanujan, The Black Hen. But also check out Vivek Narayanan.
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?
Assuming you mean “next really good poem I don’t write”: on page one of a book by a poet whose name I’ve never heard before.
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?
W. M. Praed, “Farewell to the Season.”
16. Do you have a (clean) joke involving poetry you’d like to share?
I, too, dislike it.
17. Tell the truth: is it a poetry book you keep in the john, or some other genre (john-re)?
To tell the truth: literary and political magazines and poetry anthologies, most recently the London Review of Books, the American Prospect (which doesn’t run poetry), and American Hybrid, edited by Swensen and St. John.
18. Can you name every teacher you had in elementary school? Did any of them make you memorize a poem? What poem(s)?
No; yes; “When I consider how my light is spent.”
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?
A good laureate has to want the job, and has to want to do all the public work (handshaking, ribbon-cutting, teacher-encouraging) that justify the existence of the job. Pinsky was exemplary, since you ask who did it well, though I don’t mean that we should expect him to do it again. I wonder whether anybody from the self-identified avant-garde would enjoy the kind of public, quasi-administrative work that seems to be involved: perhaps Paul Hoover?
To judge by the writings alone, though-- if the question is not “What person should be the next laureate?” but “What living American poet, excluding all those who have already served as laureates, has most powerfully presented America to itself, in a way that does linguistic and aesthetic justice to our diversity, our failures, and our potential as a nation?”-- the answer, for me, has to be C. D. Wright: at the moment nobody else comes close.
I don’t want my favorite poets running for President, because they’d likely have to stop writing their poems.
20. Insert your own question here.
What have I missed?