Vrzhu: Truth and poetry. Laura Riding famously gave up poetry in part because she felt it couldn’t tell the truth. Obviously, we know that the voice in and of the poem is not the same as the poet, or least is not co-extensive with the poet, but in a larger sense, how important is capital T Truth to a poem or poetry? You said above that in poetry you seek brilliance. What makes up the brilliant in poetry?
Sandra Beasley: Capital T Truth is only recognized in hindsight. So I agree, it is important--but you have to have a certain amount of arrogance to keep writing without knowing if what you're getting at is Truth, or just a convincing facsimile, or utter hyperbole. You'll never know for sure, and maybe Riding grew weary of that doubt. There's no shame in deciding you have better ways to spend a life,
Trying to define brilliance in concrete terms is going to make me sound like an ass. I know; I've tried. All I can say is that you have to try something new. You have to enter a poem without being confident that the subject or language at hand can, in fact, constitute a good poem. Taking the risk is critical--and when you read it, you know it. Some contemporary poets I've read whose work carries (for me) that spark of genius are Bob Hicok, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Matthea Harvey, Josh Bell, and Gabrielle Calvocoressi. But don't tell them I said that. You'll freak 'em out. I suspect it's a terrible burden, brilliance.
Vrzhu: Related question: Plato put forth two famous statements about poetry. In the Ion, he said that poets do not contain the genius that writes the poems, but are possessed by the Muse who works through them, in the same way that a paperclip held by a magnet becomes magnetic itself. In The Republic, he banned poets from the Just City because they lied about the gods: they did not tell the truth. Agree, disagree, or something else with these two views?
Sandra Beasley: This is the stuff of dissertations, not interviews! I like that you're asking the question, I just wish I wasn't the one charged with answering. The Muse is a potent and unpredictable force, and I know that favorite poems of my own tend to be the ones somewhat untraceable in their origin. I assume that's the Muse at work. And of course, poets lie. Rampantly. Mercilessly. All the while justifying it, in pursuit of the Capital T Truth. Can't live with us, can't banish us from the Just City without a fight.
There's a gap between the way we're talking about poets, in these last few questions, and the everyday reality of writing poems and moving them out into the world. We're supposed to honor being possessed by the Muse, and write accordingly--yet also get kids to school, make a stir-fry for dinner, work, pay our taxes on time, and love the people around us. That doesn't even touch the professional side of submitting and publishing, all the while trying to maintain your integrity and passion. Let's not even pretend there's a Platonic balance to be attained; there is only the joys and sorrows of the act of balancing. To be a poet is to be a zebra standing on a marble, trying to make it look like it's all going according to plan.& You can find the full interview here.