Spirit Behind the Letter
In anticipation of their upcoming reading in Santa Cruz, I recently spoke with prize-winning poets Nancy Eimers and William Olsen, asking them a few questions about their writing and about the place of poetry in times of tragedy.
Q. - The U.S. poet laureate, Billy Collins, received an unprecedented number of requests for poetry since September 11th. What does this say about the place of poetry in a time of trauma?
William Olsen: Poetry speaks to the wound, to immediate tragedy, while prose maintains more distance between reader and writer. But also, poetry is essentially song, and something about song itself has palliative powers. Poetry can interface private grief and public grief.
Nancy Eimers: Writing a poem provides us with recognition, comfort, and truth. I noticed how quickly my students assimilated the events and reached to write without waiting for coherence as I would. Somehow their poems found a way to talk about it, although they were aware that we couldnít fully know whatís going on.
Q. - Certain poetry helps me feel real again, if Iíve gone numb from grief or trauma. Do we ask too much of poetry?
Olsen: The culture sometimes asks too much of poetry in that it idealizes poetry more than other arts, expecting high ideals and perfectibility that doesnít exist in life. In my experience. . . I more or less crawl to poetry. Nothing else serves the purpose.
Q. - Nancy, what are you working on lately?
Eimers: Iím working on a manuscript in progress about language and the ways itís used out in the world. What began as an interest in my parentsí handwriting and my own spilled out into an interest in handwriting on signposts and storefronts. I realized there was a big conversation going on out in the world, these collisions, in the script and handwriting I saw in various settings. This led me to notice graffiti signatures such as ďSpacelife, Lowlife, Scaredlife, FeeblelifeĒ and the cursive storefront sign for Walgreenís. The poems are about the spirit behind the letter. . . the energy and urgency there when the personís not there.
Q. - Bill, can you tell us a little about your new poetry collection, Trouble Lights?
a book of elegies to the natural world. It came out of a time of
lots of travel, including an extended stay in rural Cornwall where
I saw the beginning of it being spoiled by American crap. I
noticed much of the same in a trip to Beijing. It had completely
changed within a decade. There were high-rises everywhere. Iím haunted
about the supplanting of nature, incensed about that intrusion into nature.
Eimers and William Olsen will read at Bookshop Santa Cruz on Tuesday, January
8th at 7:30pm.