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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Not Dunn Yet

Station WCHE (from West Chester, PA, only minutes by car from where I grew up) comes this podcast interview with poet Stephen Dunn, by host Steven Brodsky on The Entertainment and Culture Show.

Dunn talks about how when writing in the first person, he tries to be bored with himself but to choose topics that interest him. He also says, "I'm not into a poem until the first moment I 've startled myself, till I say something I didn't know I could say. Then I feel I could go further. But I'm not interested in poem as autobiography at all, even though collectively one can see a life. I would think one could make certain assumptions about my life, I suspect."

Another recurring point of discussion is how often the last lines of a poem get juxtaposed with a stronger line from a previous draft, or replaced entirely. He gives examples, which is quite useful as a craft point.

When asked how he has been able to be so prolific and yet keep so fresh, Dunn mentions a book of essays currently being compiled about his work, as written by other prominent contemporary poets. "I haven't known what I was doing for years, and maybe that's why I can keep going forward. Right now there's a danger of somebody describing to me very accurately, it seems, what I do in poems, and the impulse to do that again is very strong, once you know what you're doing."

His discussions of the costs and payoffs of writing poetry, "giving over your whole life," is something that anyone who wants to be a serious poet should consider. (This discussion comes just past the 20-minute mark of the podcast.)

Interestingly, he refers to the revision process as "your coldest eye." 

"You need to think of yourself as makers rather than as utterers, and if you do, there's a chance you may find something that's your own," he says in part of his response about how he encourages students to find their own voices (which he finds less important than staying limber as an artist: "I don't encourage them to find their voices, I encourage them to take themselves seriously, as other artists do. Poets are famous for being happy with their feelings, and very few other artists think that way. If you want to be a dancer, you have to be limber.")

He closed the podcast by reading "If a Clown," which you can enjoy here.

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