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Unread 05-20-2019, 12:39 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: San Diego, CA, USA
Posts: 6,725
Default Interview with Stephen Dunn

Tim Green of Rattle just sent out a reminder of his excellent interview with Stephen Dunn, in a past issue. Well worth reading it if you haven't already, or re-reading if you have.

Some snippets I particularly liked:

DUNN [after a discussion about being "in the zone" in either sports or poem-writing, in which everything comes magically easily and your ego disappears and you lose all sense of time]: Well, there are two processes, I think. One is the process you’re talking about and the other is revision. Most of my poems become poems in revision. It’s a different mentality; it’s a colder enterprise. You don’t want to disappear. It’s problem-solving, really.
DUNN [defining a good poem]: Ah. It’s certainly a poem where what you started with is not what you ended up with. A poem that develops different allegiances as it goes, that surprises and subverts. I always tell my students that a good poem is a very difficult thing to write; don’t expect it. Of course they do write good poems now and then, and in retrospect they like that I’ve told them in advance it’s not going to happen.
DUNN: [...]Even if we say our best thing, our smartest thing, if it doesn’t have a formal apparatus to hold it together, nobody’s going to pay any lasting attention to it.

GREEN: What do you mean by formal apparatus? Because most of your poems are free verse …

DUNN: I spend a lot of time talking about the formalities of free verse, which are essentially hearing what you put in the air of your poem, following it through, shaping it, writing great sentences, knowing what the arc of the poem is—that’s what we mean by architecture.
[Edited to add: Oh, and a hearty "Amen!" to this next bit, too! Gotta include this.]

DUNN (on why he hasn't written about his Parkinson's): [...] I don’t think my life is interesting unless I make it interesting. There’s no reason anyone should care about me. The burden is on me entirely to make whatever I’m doing interesting. To me, first of all, and then to others.
[Edited to add: And I like the part of the conversation about poetic truth vs. factual truth, too.]

Full interview here:

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 05-20-2019 at 12:56 PM.
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Unread 05-20-2019, 01:16 PM
Catherine Chandler's Avatar
Catherine Chandler Catherine Chandler is offline
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: Canada and Uruguay
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Yes, a wonderful interview. I really liked this part:

There’s nothing intrinsically terrible about writing and trying to publish poems. You haven’t murdered anybody or kicked a dog. But you can get depressed if you read a lot of magazines, because of the prevalent mediocrity.
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Unread 05-20-2019, 06:32 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
Join Date: May 2016
Location: Staffordshire, England
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Thanks Julie, that was great. I loved this

GREEN: How do you think about spirituality? Would you call yourself religious?

DUNN: No, not at all. It’s essentially getting things right. My assumption is that most of the language that we hear on a given day is meant to deceive us—overtly meant to deceive us. Do you know Paul Éluard’s quote, “There is another world, and it is in this one.” To get at that world, the world that is right here, but which is not seen, is a spiritual act, I think.
and this

GREEN: So being too opaque is a problem?

DUNN: Big problem. And that’s not saying that poems shouldn’t be difficult. Sometimes poems are difficult because our lives are so complex. Our emotional lives are so murky. Just the effort to get at that truth and be clear can make it difficult. But I have no tolerance for difficulty for difficulty’s sake.
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Unread 05-24-2019, 07:56 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Location: TX
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Thanks Julie et al, those are some great, thought-provoking snippets. I look forward to reading the whole interview soon.

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Unread 05-25-2019, 07:03 PM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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I've read very little of him, but pretty amazing interview. Thanks, Julie. And, of course, exploding the idea that fv is without structure I like. Of course, that may only be news here, but I live here, so I appreciate that. I'm sure that some will argue that he used his own server and didn't secure his emails, but I'm gonna stand by him.
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Unread 05-31-2019, 09:37 AM
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin's Avatar
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin Duncan Gillies MacLaurin is offline
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Location: Saeby, Denmark
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Walking Light, Dunn's reflections on poetry, is by far the best book I've read in that genre. And I've read a fair few. I wasn't optimistic going in as I knew he was a FV poet. But my expectations were confounded.

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Unread 06-11-2019, 01:39 PM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 2,722

Thanks Julie.
I just came upon this thread and was enthralled by the interview. The essential passages have been pinned by others, yet the whole of the interview including Green's expert guidance of the conversation is like panned gold. The only excerpt I think needs mentioning was Dunn's quote of a passage from his book of essays about Wallace Steven's and the imagination -- That and the discussion of the two processes being a kind of Yin and Yang.

I am tired of being humbled. : )
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