“My poems are pretty much all I care to offer the world.”
Interviewed By: Kaveh Akbar
This week, something a little different. A yearish ago when I was starting Divedapper, I sent Albert Goldbarth a postal letter (he doesn’t use email) soliciting an interview for the site. He replied quickly and said he didn’t want to do it, but his rationale for turning it down was as interesting and worthy of attention as any interview I could’ve hoped to conduct. We’ve been sending regular letters back and forth since then, mostly not about Divedapper, but I did ask him permission to publish my original letter of solicitation, his response, and his most recent letter (sent after a final bit of interview nudging). Albert graciously obliged, and so here they are, typed for readability’s sake. Albert has a (phenomenal) new collection called Selfish (not to be confused with the forthcoming Kim Kardashian book of the same name) out with Graywolf on May 4th. You can order it here. Divedapper will be back next Monday with its regularly scheduled programming. —KA
June 17 2014
Greetings! This is Kaveh Akbar (rhymes with “java snackbar”), who you may remember as being the aggressively enthusiastic young poet whose car seat had the distinction of ferrying your backside around Indianapolis when you came to read at Butler. I wrote you a letter and you wrote back, variously threatening to sue both the university higher ups and me. I count it among my most cherished possessions.
I have wanted to write back for some time but didn't want to abuse the privilege of our open channel of communication, so I've been biding my time until the opportunity to organically reach out to you presented itself. This is that, and like most communiqués from out of the blue, it's being sent because I want something.
The spiel: I'm starting a new project, a website exclusively featuring interviews with poets I like. It's not for school, it's not for fame or glory or any third party; the whole project is an excuse to get poets I like to talk to me. Nothing more, nothing less—but! I hope it’ll be well-read. I think it could mean something to other weirdos for whom poetry occupies an unhealthy portion of waking consciousness.
It'd work like this: I'd mail you a set of questions, maybe six or so, you'd answer them at your leisure and send them back whenever, I'd write a couple follow-ups and mail those to you, you'd write a couple responses, send them back, I'd put everything together, throw it on the website, and then we'd wait for the kudos to roll in. (Alternately, we could also do it over the phone if that is your preference.)
It could be good press/promotion for your forthcoming Graywolf collection. You could send along a confidential bit'f the new book and I could focus questions around that, or I could concentrate on your past works. However you'd want to do it.
Okay, that's my pitch. James Garfield would entertain White House guests by having them ask him questions, then writing his answer in Greek with one hand and in Latin with the other, simultaneously. What I'm asking of you is far easier, Albert. I really don't know why you're making such a fuss.
July 5 2014
Yep, I remember you, and our Thelma and Louise drive around the throbbing heart of Indianapolis, and your burbling-up poetry excitements, and all the rest. I remember it fondly. I’m still politely declining your request for an interview. Even though you enclosed a Lifesaver candy in your envelope (do you know the Hart Crane connection?) and even though you’ve brought the art of being an engaging bright wide-eyed neophyte enthusiast to the heights of perfection. But I believe that the poems are enough, and—if they’re written well and read well—ought to be self-sufficient, and not in need of the casual gas of an interview surrounding them. Indeed, the better the poem, the more I believe that all of the blogosphere garnish only diminishes it.
The Georgia Review once devoted 60 pages to a “special feature” on me, and wanted very much to include an interview as part of it—but I declined. As part of the current 2014 season of Motionpoems, a woman was assigned to interview me through the mail, and provided a thoughtful, well-intentioned and well-researched set of questions and I declined. I recently was in Portland, OR to take part in a spiffy evening of “poetry theater” called Poetry Press Week, for which a nifty Airstream trailer had been fitted out as a sound studio for the broadcast of interviews with the participants—and I declined. Requests to provide “statements on the poem” for the inclusion of work in the annual Best American Poetry?—I’ve declined numerous times. Q and A sessions following a reading?—oh you betcha I’ve declined. And sorry, but I can’t betray all of those people now by suddenly acceding to the pizazz of your letter.
I’m only human of course, my fantasies to the contrary, and it twinges a little when you say “It could be good press/promotion for your forthcoming Graywolf collection.” I’m proud of the book, and I’d be happy for it to wind up in the hands of the right people. You wanna forget the interview and, nearing pub date, partner with Graywolf to preview two or three of the poems from that volume, with a link to their site and its ordering information? Fine with Yours Truly. But let the poems promote the poems, not a bunch of unnecessary jibberjabber posturing. For that matter, kill your interview website, and launch a new one devoted to reprinting the work of unjustly neglected poets of the past, or unjustly neglected poems by living poets: give work that’s passing into obscurity a new hold on life: let poems of merit speak for themselves (not serve as an excuse for webchatter), and allow fresh light to strike masterful writing that’s headed otherwise into the darkness. Start with some of the recent deceased: Jack Gilbert, Maxine Kumin, Russell Edson, Vern Rutsala… one can sense the waves of oblivion beginning to lap at their poetry, some of which is close to magisterial. But interviews? We need more stinkin INTERVIEWS??? Oh please. You and I are going to have to love one another despite this glitch in sensibility. If a future project of yours does seem right for me, drop a hello. Me, I’m going to mail this off to you, and then do some reading and writing, which is the basket in which my Eggs of Effusion get deposited.
April 4 2015
As usual, your tsunami of enthusiasm leaves me amazed and feeling, in comparison, enervated. Though I recognize someone I almost might have been, when I was your age…
Ever ready to disappoint you as I am, I’m still declining your invitation to be interviewed (even as I continue to appreciate the kind, uptempo nagging toward that end). More and more, it just doesn’t feel like my kinda thing. That bespeaks, perhaps, my own limitations as much as the spirit and quality of some interviews; but having just read a recent interview with a poet-friend of mine—here nameless—I find myself shrinking from what sounds like posturing, preening, self-satisfaction, and palaver that either has nothing to do with the poetry or that the poetry itself should address best… even as I realize that my friend is proud of this further arrow in his quiver, and that no doubt many of the readers in the audience for it find it, especially these days, to be a standard, unquestioned part of their poetryscape. Anyway, my poems are pretty much all I care to offer the world, uncontexted. And, as I’ve perhaps said in an earlier correspondence, someone’s got to say “no” to this verbal lagniappe once in a while. I just looked in the mirror and deputized myself.
I’m still happy with what you call the “current plan”: your original letter of solicitation and my original letter of response (to which, you can feel free to add this letter, too, if you think that would be useful in presenting a more complete history of our correspondence).
I hope to have some pittance of leisure when I’m back from the godawful AWP convention, and look forward to your next postal missive.
Interview Posted: April 27, 2015
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