Poetry Santa Cruz
Poetry Santa Cruz

Aliki Barnstone

An Interview by Dennis Morton with poet Aliki Barnstone

Dennis Morton:  Why do you write poetry?

Aliki Barnstone:  I can't help it, I have to write.  I've been writing since I was a child, and the process has been the same.   Something comes over, a voice in my mind, some language music, and I'm driven to write it down.  When I don't hear the words for a long time, I get despondent.  It's the best high, next to sex.

DM:  Jesus is a very human figure in your poems--perhaps uncomfortably so for some.  Have you taken any 'heat' for the Jesus poems?

AB:  Personally, I love Jesus best when he's human; maybe that's why he's so popular, because he's the incarnation of the godly in a human form.  The Jesus poems are revisions of the Bible stories, but for people who dogmatically limit the New Testament, my poetic versions are offensive.  I have taken some heat, but most people are taken with my Jesus poems.  I'd rather take some heat and provoke people than be mild and uncontroversial.

DM:  In "Euphoria At Zero" there's a great line:

     The air deafens your skin, loud with zero and wind.

It reminds me of the terrific line that closes "Purple Crocuses" which describes the crocuses as:

     ...unknowable fleeting musical notes for the eye to hear.

Perhaps I'm a sucker for synesthesia, but I find these lines exciting.  Do they still glow for you?

AB:  I'm a sucker for synesthesia, too.  It's probably the result of coming of age in the '70s and reading too much William Blake.  Yes, those lines do still glow for me--that's a good word for it.  Honestly, I want synesthetic sensations to come over me, as a source of delight.

DM:  You have a poem called "Walking Around Santa Cruz".   I suspect it's built from memories almost two decades old, but it feels eerily accurate to me, even now.  Why did you choose to close the new book with this poem?

AB:  There are poems earlier in Wild With It that refer both to Santa Cruz and to some of the apocalyptic themes in "Walking Around," and I wanted to come full circle.   Also, I wanted to end the book with a poem that was an anti-closure, that didn't give any answers or resolutions to the drama recounted in the last section, "Wild With It."   Finally, the poem owes a lot to Pablo Neruda's "Walking Around," a poem in which despair is coupled with visionary and sensory awe.  For me, living in Santa Cruz was misery and joy, terrible beauty.  And if living is that way, too--and I think it is--my Santa Cruz days were most vividly so.

DM:  Please give us the names of 4 or 5 poets you think we should be reading, but probably aren't.

AB:  Constantine Cavafy, Ruth Stone, Willis Barnstone, Alan Michael Parker, Joseph Duemer are the first names that come to mind, and four of them are American.   I think Americans are self-destructing because we don't read the texts of other cultures.  So I say read poets in translation!

Aliki Barnstone read with Jennifer Michael Hecht at 7:30 pm on November 12, 2002 in Bookshop Santa Cruz.

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