April 28, 2009

Poetry has its balms

Loved these lines about poetry by Kay Ryan, who was appointed the Library of Congress's sixteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry in 2008, in an interview in Paris Review.
Interviewer: Do you feel that part of the laureate job is to convince the reading public that poetry is useful?

KR: It's poetry's uselessness that excites me. Its hopelessness. All this tal of usefulness makes me feel I've suddenly been shanghaied into the helping professions. Prose is practical language. Conversation is practical language. Let them handle the usefulness jobs. But of course, poetry has its balms. It makes us less lonely by one. It makes us have more room inside ourselves. But it's paralyzing to think of usefulness and poetry in the same breath.
And so it goes. My daily poetry tweets over on twitter are anything but useful but now I know they serve a purpose - they are a balm which help me make room within myself. 
From later in the interview, this lovely excerpt:
I: Why do you think writing attracted you?
KR: It's a way of thinking unlike any other. Brodsky considers poetry a great accelerator of the mind and I agree. Thinking takes place in language, and it's hard to say whether the language is creating the thinking or the thinkng is creating the language. If I don't write poetry, in the profoundest way I have no way to think.

I: How do you find the subject in a poem
KR: I don't know if I'm interested in combating an idea or just loosening it up. You have to make some room for your mind. You have to open something up. And you can't just slam it from the other side. You can't say, That's not right. This is right. You start fluffing it. You open up the picture, so you can know two things at once.
I love reading interviews with writers and poets! Love the way they think. Love the way they phrase answers. Delectable bits abound! (I flitted between "Poetry has its balms" to "poetry a great accelerator of the mind" to "know two things at once" for this post title!) 
Go pick up the Winter 2008 Paris Review issue and read the interview. Or, if you cannot get your hands on that issue, go to the Paris Review Interview Archive Index and enjoy interviews with the masters of the past. (Past interviews are archived for free as pdf files. (Thank you, Paris Review, for sharing these gems for free.)

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