October 22, 2012

Whatever you want from me
Whatever you want I'll do

Ed Miliano, October, 2011

* From a Paris Review interview of William Meredith:

Interviewer: You've said that you average about six poems per year. Why so few?

Meredith: Why so many? Ask any reviewer. I remember one particularly wicked review of Edna St. Vincent Millay whose new poems weren't as good as they should have been. "This Millay seems to have gone out of her way to write another book of poems." You're always afraid of that. That could be said, I believe, of certain people's poems. So I wait until the poems seem to be addressed not to "Occupant" but to "William Meredith." And it doesn't happen a lot. I think if I had a great deal more time it would happen more often because I would get immediately to the typewriter. But it might happen eight times a year instead of six- not much more than that. I'll say this because it may be interesting or important: I think it is because poetry and experience should have an exact ratio. Astonishing experience doesn't happen very often. Daily experience is astonishing on a level at which you can write a poem, but astonishing experience would be the experience which is not astonishment of reality but astonishment of insight. It is for me, as a lyric poet, to make poems only out of insights I encounter. Robert Frost used to say, "How many things have to happen to you before something occurs to you?"
Interviewer: Do you think writing a poem is a specific engagement of a mystery?

Meredith: I would say exactly that. It is the engagement of a mystery which has forced itself to the point where you feel honor-bound to see this mystery with the brilliance of vision. Not to solve it, but to see it.
Interviewer: In poems like "Politics" and "Nixon's the One" and "On Jenkins' Hill" and "A Mild-Spoken Citizen Finally Writes to the White House" you develop an unusual civic stance for a contemporary poet, a kind of "poet as concerned citizen" approach to the political scene. Does that characterization seem accurate to you? And does this attitude signify a new kind of openness or political engagement in your work?

Meredith: I believe it represents an openness that I've always felt and acted on but never found much way, before this, to talk about in poetry. The lyric poem is often so private. For example, my intention in writing "The Wreck of the Thresher" was to write a public poem about my feeling of disappointment in the hopes of the United Nations. When I was writing that poem I remember seeing it change from a rather pretentious public statement to the very private statement it turned out to be. It occurred to me that this is simply a demonstration of what Auden said in the "Dyer's Hand," that we don't trust a public voice in poetry today. I would say that my concern about politics is precisely the concern of a Joan Didion or a Denise Levertov but that my stance is very different, so it doesn't appear to be the same. There is a spectrum of political opinion and a spectrum of political involvement. I stand with regard to involvement where those two women stand, but in the political spectrum I'm much more Jeffersonian-I'm nearer the middle.
Interviewer: Theodore Roethke once said, "In spite of all the muck and welter, the dark, the dreck of these poems, I count myself among the happy poets." Do you want to be one of the happy poets?

Meredith: I would like "The Cheer" to seem like someone who would say, "Yes. Without any reservations, I say yes." I speak about other things with reservations: things that I would want to change, things that I wish hadn't happened, things that we need to do and that we're not doing. But there are people who involuntarily give off an aura of "No," and those seem to be the people I quarrel with. It is inevitable to quarrel with that which you consider damaging in life.

* Name that drum-fill.

* "My movie is born first in my head, dies on paper; is resuscitated by the living persons and real objects I use, which are killed on film but, placed in a certain order and projected on to a screen, come to life again like flowers in water." -- Robert Bresson


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