Emily invited me, Deborah Ager, to participate in National Poetry Month by writing a post for her blog. When she suggested an interview, I suggested interviewing myself. Dan Nester partly inspired the idea: he interviews poets with questions gleaned from teen magazines.
It’s more difficult than you might imagine to write questions to ask oneself.
Q: Once you mentioned that, when writing poems, you feel like you are fighting with the words.
A: Yes, that’s true. Yeats said, “Out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.” While crafting a poetic statement recently, I confessed, or maybe once again realized, that writing did not come easily to me, that I fought with the words every time I sat down to write, that I was fortunate to stagger away with 100 words.
Q: What do you most want to accomplish with your poems?
A: When a fellow fellow at Sewanee told me he wanted to break hearts with his poems, I felt surprise. We were sitting behind the fellow residence on iron patio furniture while he smoked. Later I thought breaking hearts was as good a goal as any. I don’t want romance, though, or even heartbreak. I want haunting. I want to haunt the everyday, the actions of the reader, with a phrase I have made. I want to give the world its frightening names.
Q: What do you do to keep writing?
A: I write. That’s the best way to keep writing. Years ago, someone—maybe Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Sandra Beasley or Erika Meitner or maybe it was me—gathered a group of poets together to write 30 poems in 30 days. Erika Meitner was the technical brain behind setting up a private wiki where we posted our poems on a daily basis. We participated in this exchange on and off for years. Some people separated into different groups. Some stopped. No one was expected to comment, which removed pressure for everyone involved. Creating was the sole purpose, and it worked.
Q: What do you like/dislike about editing 32 Poems Magazine?
A: My favorite part is working with the team of John Poch, Bill Beverly, Rikki Campbell, Scott Douglass, Dirk Fowler — and the poets. Each person has proven necessary in taking 32 Poems Magazine from a saddle-stitched journal to a perfect-bound magazine with a professionally created cover and interior. The main challenge for me is time. I never seem to have enough time. So I’m working to delegate, transition, and to say no to things that aren’t what matters most.
Q: How are you celebrating National Poetry Month?
A: By getting people to talk about poetry. On the 32 Poems blog, more than 32 writers will recommend 175 poetry books in 30 days during National Poetry Month. The project, as projects do, morphed over time. At first, I thought I’d just ask poets to share a list of books. Then it made sense to ask poets to share a sentence or two about each book. The project promotes the poets recommended, promotes the recommenders – we profile them, they link to their websites and projects, it’s juicy – and it gives our blog readership something good to read.
32 Poems also joins in the Great Poetry Giveaway that Kelli Russell Agodon created: poet bloggers offer two books of poetry. Give them away, ship them anywhere. Many poets give their own book and one by someone else. Last year, I gave my book and one by Neruda. This year, I’ll give my book and Alexandra Teague’s Mortal Geographies, which then I’ll have to purchase again. If you want to enter the contest, enter your name in the comments.
Me myself, I’m going to try to write a poem a day through National Poetry Month. Thirty days, thirty poems. And to reread “The Waste Land.” Both good traditions.
Deborah Ager is the author of the poetry collection MIDNIGHT VOICES. She’s received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and Sewanee Writers’ Conference. She founded 32 Poems Magazine. Many poems first appearing in 32 Poems have been honored in the Best American Poetry and Best New Poets anthologies and on Verse Daily and Poetry Daily. Ager codirects the Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Reading Series in Washington, DC and hosts the Poet Party Twitter chat (follow hashtag #poetparty on Sunday nights at 9 pm ET).