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"Brilliant & bright": A Conversation with Scholar-Practitioner Nick Courtright [by Kristina Marie Darling]

"It has been an honor and a privilege to join in this weeklong celebration of Tupelo Quarterly with The Best American Poetry.  Today, I hope you will enjoy this feature of poetry and scholarship by TQ contributor Nick Courtright.  As a editor that prides herself on a commitment to rigorous critical discourse and innovative writing, I'm thrilled to offer this conversation across the boundaries of genre and discipline."--Kristina Marie Darling, Editor-in-Chief, Tupelo Press & Tupelo Quarterly. 

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Nick Courtright is the author of The Forgotten World, Let There Be Light, and Punchline, a National Poetry Series finalist.  He is the Executive Editor of Atmosphere Press. His poetry has appeared in The Harvard Review, Kenyon Review, Boston Review, The Iowa Review, AGNI, Gulf Coast, and The Southern Review, among dozens of others, and essays and other prose have been published by such places as The Huffington Post, The Best American Poetry, Gothamist, and SPIN Magazine. With a Doctorate in Literature from the University of Texas, he lives in Austin with the poet Lisa Mottolo and their children, William and Samuel. 

A Conversation with Scholar-Practitioner Nick Courtright 

Kristina Marie Darling:  In addition to your achievements as a poet, you are also a gifted literary critic, with recent essays published or forthcoming in The Laurel Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and more.  What has your practice as a literary critic opened up within your poetry? 

Nick Courtright:  I think it’s freed me to be more merciful in terms of what my poetry can mean. My critical approach revolves around the embrace of the most expansive interpretive range possible, one that takes into account the words, the history, the context, the whole bubbling heap of bad or wrong interpretations inflected by one’s own personal biases, etc. Because I take that tack in my critical appraisal of the meanings of others’ poems, I have to be generous in terms of what my own poems can mean. So although at this stage of my poetry career I’ve moved away from vagueness and abstraction, and try to paint very clear images, arguments, and narratives into my poetry, I really love for the overall takeaway of a poem to be ambiguous. I want the poems to be non-committal about whether their speaker is a hero or a villain, for example.

KMD:  In the spirit of the excerpt featured here, entitled “The Ecstasy of Influence,” I’d love to hear more about your literary and artistic influences.  What poets shaped your approach to craft and thematics? 

NC:  My earlier influences were of the Bidart, Blake, Bly, Lorca angle, with a love for odd images and confounding syntax and a pursuit of the ineffable. And in my latest poetry collection The Forgotten World I was thinking a lot about Kaveh Akbar and Ocean Vuong and others who just write with aching beauty about difficult personal journeys. But lately I’ve found myself most drawn to narrative directness and the comic, so I’ve been reading more George Bilgere, Mary Biddinger, Anders Carson Wee, and Emilia Phillips, for example. Highly recommend all of those—brilliant and bright. And enjoyable! All of those poets surprise me constantly, and like all great writers, they mess with other writers, transforming other writers’ aesthetics and subject matter. It's impossible and pointless (and less fun) to resist.

KMD:  I’d love to chat about the extent to which poetry and criticism overlap and intersect.  To what extent do you see poetry as an act of reading and response, a deconstruction of work that’s come before your own?   

NC:  I think all poetry is shaped by its precursors, whether hundreds of years earlier or the new release dog-eared on the bedside table. “Nothing new under the sun,” etc. But despite the derivative nature of all works of art, there’s much play at the boundary in which one’s own consciousness—itself shaped by the explosions of stars and deoxyribonucleic acid and junk streaming on Netflix—can contribute something at least with the illusion of newness. Even if it’s all just the shuffling of a preordained deck of cards, we can be surprised when we end up for four aces one right after another, and the more open we are to the alchemy of one’s own artistic collision with history.

Continue reading ""Brilliant & bright": A Conversation with Scholar-Practitioner Nick Courtright [by Kristina Marie Darling]" »


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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark


from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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