Q & A: American Poetry

Q & A American Poetry: Henri Cole

Are there essential ways in which you consider yourself an American poet?

I write in English. The domestic life preoccupies me, as does Freud, through the lens of autobiography.

When you consider your own "tradition," do you think primarily of American poets?

No, I think of the lyric: all centuries, all languages.

Do you believe there is anything specifically American about past and contemporary American poetry? Is there American poetry in the sense that there is said to be American painting or American film? Do you wish to distinguish American poetry from British or other English language poetry?

Free verse seems peculiarly American but that is all. Primary emotions—wonder, despair, love, hatred—the content of poems are universal.

Which historic poets do you consider most responsible for generating distinctly American poetics?

Whitman, Dickinson, Crane, Stevens, Lowell, Bishop, Ginsberg.

What import does regional poetry occupy in your sense of American poetry?

Landscape and place assert themselves.

What significance does popular culture possess in your sense of American poetry?

Everything can be significant. And everything cannot. There is no hierarchy of significance.

What about the American poets who lived primarily in Europe (Eliot, Pound, Stein)? What about the European poets who have recently lived or worked in America (Heaney, Walcott, Milosz)?

They have enhanced cross-fertillization, which enlivens the lyric.

Are you interested in poetry written in America but not in English?

I know of none.

Are you more likely to read a contemporary non-American poet who writes in English or a contemporary non-American poet translated into English?

It is more a question of aesthetics—good or bad—than a question of original language.

Do other aspects of your life (for instance, gender, sexual preference, ethnicity) figure more prominently than nationality in your self-identity as a poet?

We are all hybrids with many given markers. Nationality has no supreme claim on me.

Do you believe you could readily distinguish a poem by an American poet from a poem by other poets writing in English?

Perhaps, but without 100‰ assurance. These distinctions are increasingly superficial & blurred.

What do you see as the consequences of "political correctness" for American poetry?

The subordination of poetry. A disregard for language, which the poet's soul needs to speak.

What are your predictions for American poetry in the next century?

Like the English language, it will be hurt but not sacrificed.

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