September 23, 2009

Asked & Answered

Are you in the area tomorrow? If so, head over to the Fall for the Book to hear poets Paula Bohince and Brian Teare at 3 PM (M&T Bank Tent, Outside the Johnson Center). Teare will read from Sight Map and Bohince will read from Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods.

I was so, so thrilled to have a chance to interview Paula for the "First Person Plural" blog of the Writer's Center. You can find the full interview here; I'll include part of our conversation below, in which Paula talks about mentorship received from Galway Kinnell.

SB: I'm struck by the depth and complexity of your first collection, Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods. What are some of your key influences--professors, beloved books--and how are they reflected in these poems?

PB: "Thank you, Sandra, for saying that. I’ve been lucky to have had a number of incredible professors, including Philip Levine, Sharon Olds, Marie Ponsot, Mark Doty, Lynn Emanuel, and Agha Shahid Ali. I think, for brevity’s sake, I’ll concentrate on Galway Kinnell, who was my MFA thesis advisor at NYU and whose presence might be most evident in the book, both by his books and his teaching.

During my last semester of graduate school, Galway and I would meet weekly in a coffee shop near school. We’d go over my poems line by line, side by side, and talk about word choice, about simplicity, about creating a musical line, about thoughtful description. I remember making a lazy description of a snake moving through grass, and he said very gently, “You know, poets have been trying for centuries to describe the way that a snake moves.” And we were both quiet for a minute. That moment felt very humbling and generous to me. He made me want to go more slowly, to be more thoughtful. In the book, I describe a snake in “The Gospel According to Paul,” and I thought about Galway when writing it. After those meetings, after school ended, I wanted to begin fresh. The only poems in the book that began in graduate school are “Trespass” and “First Day of the Hunt.”

I learned so, so much from Galway and his kindness toward me and my work, from his time and attention given to my rough poems. I thought of him often during the writing of this book and continue to do so, especially during revision when I have those WWGD questions. Wondering what he’d find necessary or obfuscating. How he would respond to a particular music. I feel such kinship, via his poems, with his vision of the natural world. I always return to his books when I’m feeling lost, when I need to be grounded in the qualities that I want my poems to have."