Acts of Mind: Conversations with Contemporary Poets

By Richard Jackson | Go to book overview

Preface

I believe that a good poem is, to borrow from Wallace Stevens, a "poem of the mind in the act of finding / What will suffice" ( "Of Modern Poetry"), a poem of the mind that both thinks and feels, and I hope that these interviews reflect that activity. A few years ago in Antaeus ( 30, no. 31 [ 1978]), Charles Simic wrote of contemporary poets that their "questioning has involved us with large and fundamental issues. Their poetics have to do with the nature of perception, with being, with psyche, with time and consciousness. Not to subject oneself to their dialectics and uncertainties is truly not to experience the world we have inherited." My assumption has been, with Simic, that poets think and feel, in their own metaphoric way and regardless of any particular source, the important intellectual issues of their day.

This book grew out of the interviews I have conducted for Poetry Miscellany over the past several years. My aim was to help develop a method for talking about the work of contemporary poets. I believe that the poets whose views appear here represent a fair cross-section of the more important tendencies and impulses to be found in contemporary poetry and poetics. It is not fully comprehensive because problems with scheduling and availability did not allow me to conduct as many interviews as I would have liked. These interviews, then, could be considered as confrontations between two languages, one critical and the other poetic, two ways of looking at the same mystery, and an attempt to bring these two languages closer together.

Before conducting each interview, I studied the work of each poet as if I were going to write an essay on that poet, then recast my major points into the form of questions or observations the poet might respond to. In a way, then, the poets were responding to a provisional essay in progress. The book is arranged to preserve a sense of continuity in passing from one interview to the next while at the same time maintaining a sense of the miscellaneity of contemporary poetics. I wanted the opening interviews (from Plumly to St. John) to establish and define some of the basic principles and ideas discussed throughout the book. The middle interviews are intended to suggest some of the further implications and variations upon those principles and ideas--the role of form in the Wilbur interview, for example, or the role of place in the Kumin interview. The final interviews ( Ignatow to Hollander) place some of the ideas discussed earlier within comprehensive contexts--Piercy on feminism, Harper on black history and consciousness, Hall on biography and psychology, Hollander on symbolic history. There is, perhaps, an implicit movement from abstract and philosophical modes of questioning toward more concrete and programmatic modes, yet I would not insist upon such a structure to the extent that it might tend to subvert the questioning, open-ended process of mind that

-ix-

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Acts of Mind: Conversations with Contemporary Poets
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • The Path of Saying 1
  • The Sanctioned Babel 7
  • Untelling the Hour 13
  • The Domain of the Marvelous Prey 19
  • The Hallowing of the Everyday 27
  • Event: Corrective: Cure 32
  • Stepping into the Sky 39
  • Unnaming the Myths 48
  • On the Horizon of Time 53
  • Distilled from Thin Air 61
  • The Imminence of a Revelation 69
  • Renaming the Present 77
  • Lives We Keep Wanting to Know 84
  • Doubling the Difference 93
  • Questions of Will 101
  • Settling in Another Field 107
  • Living the Layers of Time 113
  • Double Vision 120
  • Emergencies of the Moment 126
  • The Languages of Illusion 132
  • The Mystery of Things That Are 140
  • Before the Beginning 146
  • On the Margins of Dreams 153
  • Unbreakable Codes 158
  • Projecting the Literal Word 164
  • Answering the Dark 172
  • Shaping Our Choices 178
  • Magic: Power 183
  • On the Periphery of Time 191
  • The Candle in the Pitcher 196
  • Selected Bibliography 206
  • Index 213
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