"[P]oetry makes nothing happen: it survives, / [...] a way of happening, a mouth." -W. H. Auden

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"The Next Big Thing" Interview: Poems of Devotion

I have  been tagged in a rolling self-interview series called--unfortunately--"The Next Big Thing." In any case, I have been tagged to post my self-interview this week by Yahia Lababidi, poet and aphorist, whose most recent book, co-authored with Alex Stein, is The Artist as Mystic: Conversations with Yahia Lababidi (Onesuch Press, 2012).

Each tagged author is, in turn, asked to tag another four writers with new or forthcoming books to answer the same 9 questions, below, the following week (February 27, 2013).

Please note that my response to the second question below is copied, with slight editing, from an interview Matt Mulder conducted with me at his blog, Coffeehouse Junkie. 

The Next Big Thing:  What is the title of the book?

Poems of Devotion: An Anthology of Recent Poets

TNBT:  Where did the idea come from for the book?

In my final year of graduate school, I took an independent study course with the superb poet and teacher Maurice Manning, which essentially meant that I chose an academic/creative project and he offered input on and evaluation of it. I have had a strong interest in spiritual poetry for many years, so it was natural that I would choose a topic that reflected this passion. The essay I wrote for that class was an examination of a particular set of qualities that characterized many of my favorite spiritual poems, qualities which, in my mind, constituted a distinct mode of composition. The essay was an early form of what is now the introductory essay of the anthology, examining what I call the devotional mode in poetry. When I first wrote it, the idea of editing an anthology hadn’t occurred to me, but as I continued to revisit and revise the essay after graduate school, I felt increasingly that compiling "poems of devotion" would make for a wonderful collection of poems. As an experiment, I began gathering poems that I would include in a theoretical anthology, and that’s when I began to feel a real impulse — a “call,” if you will — to bring these poems together in an anthology. I sent out a proposal to several publishers, and I eventually signed a contract with Wipf & Stock Publishers.

What followed was — well, let’s just say a year of very hard work! Gathering the poems I wanted to include was one aspect: reading widely, taking recommendations, spending long days in the library or in coffee shops with large stacks of books. But all of that, though difficult, was full of pleasure and felt deeply rewarding. The other aspect was obtaining — and paying for! — permission from copyright holders to reprint the poems. That process was often labyrinthine, frustrating, and, not least of all, expensive. But it was worth it. I’m very excited about the finished anthology, and am moved and challenged anew each time I read it. Truly.

TNBT:  What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry (with an introductory essay and appended interview)

TNBT:  What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

In this case, the characters are not mine, so I dare not assign the roles.

TNBT:  What is a one sentence synopsis of your book?

Poems of Devotion is a collection of the finest recent poems in the devotional mode, including seventy-seven poets who collectively demonstrate the ongoing vitality of poetry as a spiritual practice, in the long tradition of poets, psalmists, and mystics from the East and West. 

TNBT:  How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

It took essentially two years to complete the anthology.

TNTB:  Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The entire experience of my life, in the world of matter and the world of the spirit--and the experience of the art of many poets, especially George Herbert.

TNTB:  What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

If the table of contents doesn't, nothing will:

T. S. Eliot
E. E. Cummings
Robert Penn Warren
Theordore Roethke
M. Vasalis
Patrice de la Tour du Pin
Czeslaw Milosz
William Everson (Brother Antoninus)
R. S. Thomas
John Berryman
Thomas Merton
William Stafford
Madeline DeFrees
János Pilinszky
Richard Wilbur
Anthony Hecht
Denise Levertov
Yehuda Amichai
Zbigniew Herbert
Vassar Miller
A. R. Ammons
Luci Shaw
Geoffrey Hill
Wendell Berry
Leonard Cohen
Charles Wright
Alicia Ostriker
Seamus Heaney
Robert Siegel
Joseph Brodsky
Judy Little
Louise Glück
Richard Jackson
Stella Vinitchi Radulescu
Agha Shahid Ali
Robert Cording
Marie Howe
Suzanne Underwood Rhodes
Andrew Hudgins
Mark Jarman
Sofia M. Starnes
Richard Chess
Jane Hirshfield
Richard Jones
Gjertrud Schnackenberg
Franz Wright
Scott Cairns
Nicholas Samaras
Mary Karr
Patrick Donnelly
Li-Young Lee
Bruce Beasley
Marjorie Maddox
Eric Pankey
Carl Phillips
Harry Newman
Malaika King Albrecht
Maurice Manning
Christian Wiman
C. Dale Young
Morri Creech
Philip Metres
Jennifer Grotz
Philip Memmer
Sufjan Stevens
Daniel Westover
Jericho Brown
Michael Schiavo
Ilya Kaminsky
Amit Majmudar
Steven C. Brown Jr.
Tarfia Faizullah
Hannah Faith Notess
Malachi Black
Nate Klug
Ashley Anna McHugh
Anna Connors

TNTB:  Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It was published by Wipf & Stock Publishers.


I have written the following poets to ask them to post their self-interviews on February 27th:

Jennifer Grotz
Keith Flynn
Morri Creech
Malachi Black