blackbird online journal spring 2002 vol.1 no. 1



A Conversation with Rodney Jones

Part I

Gregory Donovan: When you start out with undergrad students and you’re first beginning with them and you’re trying to help them to find out how poetry works, what are some of the things that you try to clue them in to understand it better? The first things you try to help them to understand what you think will make it possible for them to make their . . .

Jones: Reading more than anything else. Reading, and I think writing with an attention to language, and an attention to the line. The line is pretty challenging and interesting, and I love prose poetry, but I think poetry has something significant to do, at least at the beginning, that it’s very helpful to pay attention to a line. I don’t know what the right way to begin is. I think it may differ from time to time, because people enter into poetry from different places. I entered into it, I had written just enough that I could overcome my having written a lot without having read much. I think that if someone has written a lot without any kind of idea of quality of language that it becomes a real challenge to look at the poem as something other than yourself, because you’re accustomed to thinking of it as yourself.

And it’s odd—I was that kind of person, and when I began to read some people that I liked, I realized they were good or great poets. I realized I didn’t have the language, so I began to try to construct the language in a very, it was almost like I was writing the poems with sort of emotional erector set, you know? I mean, just like putting the line down very, very consciously. I noticed that if something was very dear to me that the language would go. So I had a choice between writing what seemed to me to be language that had fiber and integrity and diction and so forth about things that I didn’t care that much about, or writing bad poems about things that I cared a lot about.

And in retrospect, that’s not very instructive to someone, for instance, who would start writing poems and was literate. My first teacher said, “You’re illiterate!” He told me that, and I to some degree believed him, and I think most of us in this country when we begin to love poetry, one of the first things we understand is our own impoverishment as users of the language, you know? And so we have to back up.

Yesterday I was talking to somebody who was talking about if you ever go to a really interesting graduate program and you look up people’s MFA theses, I think it’s really interesting, and I was visiting friends in Iowa after I got out of graduate school, and I went through the library, and it was really interesting. The one that stood out was Albert Goldbarth’s MFA thesis. The titles were all things like “The Lamp Under the Blood” or “The Testament of Stone Flies.” That sort of title that suggests iodine, you know, the charm of iodine, when you first smell it. I mean, it’s sort of the exotic title, and Goldbarth’s thesis was called Goldbarth’s MFA Thesis. And it stood out, but another friend there with me was talking about Yusef Komunyakaa, and he knew Yusef pretty well and Yusef got his MFA I think at, was it Colorado State? I guess it was at Irvine, maybe. He was in undergraduate school at Colorado State and then he went to Irvine, and he was talking about how just utterly abysmal Yusef’s MFA thesis was. And that wouldn’t surprise me because I would bet that he began the other way; that Yusef did begin not trying to construct a language, or an image of language, but trying to truly sort of portray the level of his deep feeling at the level he could. I would think he had some kind of stoical resolve, like he’d know when he was awful. And I’m speculating. I haven’t seen the thesis. But I think some kind of writers stick with what they feel from the beginning. I mean, they’re just that way. And other people are more pretentious, and I was one of those. And we understand that we can create an image of language that we may not quite know what things mean, so you’re writing lines like, “The dalliance of shrubbery and the moon undermines. . . .” You know, and you go on and on, but each word is occurring as an example of a tone that you approve because it—whatever else, it’s not you. And you think, “It must be good, it’s not me.” There’s something like that.

Are those two very different ways to begin? I don’t know. The thing that I believe in more than I should, maybe, is I think it’s very helpful for people to copy poems down when they’re beginning. For me, too, now, you know? If I really like a poem, I like to copy it down to feel the rhythms of it, and then to go on from that and write. Not with a mind of imitation, but at least a mind that, it’s like, maybe playing giant steps or something before you start playing your own jazz. You know, just to warm up. And to some degree, it’s a matter of getting in the zone.

As I’ve gone on, it strikes me that most people that are in my classes have enough words that they could write really superb poems, you know? And I think that occurs to all of you, and you say why is . . . I think tone is very important. I think that there’s a big thing in, if you’re taking creative writing the way I did, and the way you obviously are, to where you can kind of itemize craft, and you can be after a poem that comes from some deep premonitory feeling or faith about a subject that you find curious or aesthetically provocative or morally necessary or whatever. And you create it bit by bit, line by line, element by element, and then you think, “I can revise each line.” That’s the way I did. I mean, desperately trying to change each line. But it occurs to me often that if the tone is wrong, and the tone is your feeling, I know it doesn’t come across that way, but that’s what it is. And if you’re not, if you don’t have the tone right, you could revise the lines forever. And it’s one of the ways of becoming educated as a poet, I think, when we do that. Others can point that out. They can point out that they don’t like your poem, for instance, or it doesn’t move them very much or something, and that’s very different from saying, “I think you should change ‘skeedaddle’ to ‘get out of here.’” You know, that sort of itemized craft decision.

I have a sense that if you’re tone is right, that if you’re writing from your deepest sense of a subject, that sometimes the poem is easier to write. And I think any of us know, and you all should know, I mean, revision is so terribly important. But it’s also important not to get locked in revising something where you’re really, you don’t have your tone and you’re just, you’re sort of climbing up an impossible mountain. To me it’s very important to just blast through some revisions that are just crazy, if it’s what moves you at the time, to try to get it out and come back. Because I think after you write long enough, you do begin to settle into a tone. And if you’ve been writing a lot of words for a number of weeks, sometimes you enter a period where you write four or five poems in a week that are better than the one, if you just stuck on the one, would be in six weeks. And you write four or five that are better in one week. I think that sort of thing happens sometimes.

The other side is the Richard Hugo notion that you shouldn’t be too instructed in craft, or you shouldn’t be too instructed on how to write a poem. I think we’re all interested in that, but it does seem to be a pretty idiosyncratic business, how we find our way to a poem, from person to person. I guess the other things in the beginning is, one of them that I’m not all on board with, it seems important to have people be more visual. You know, concentrating on images, being wary of abstractions, having a sense of language, and so forth. It bothers me a little bit to get on that horse, to get on it too strongly. But in general, it seems the right idea. I mean, most people say, “Be specific, be specific, be specific.” That seems to be a big issue. It all comes out of that combination of your reading and how much you enjoy it. How much you enjoy . . . I get scared of it sometimes.

I think everybody who respects the art works in terror a great deal of the time. It’s the terror of failure; it’s compounded because you realize that poetry’s not exactly in your local Wal-mart, you think, “I’m doing something that is so outrageous. Well, I should do it then. I should do it well. I’m not doing it well.” You know, as opposed to most who are in this, they really like writing. And it seems very important to move out of that mode of where you love writing, not being so afraid of it. I mean, the fear should be maybe one of the latter stages of writing, as opposed to, like the initial stage, which should be maybe self-provocation. But just trying to open. I believe in working myself a lot without thinking of a product. Just writing. Just writing. And something comes on the fly that will not be urged into being like a brick building. And I don’t want to miss that.

I know that there’s a great deal of sort of internal verbal diarrhea that issues out of those daily entrances into the journal. If you’re working in a journal, I think it’s very important to work with certain limitations, if you’re thinking about using it for poetry. I think writing with rhythm is very important, writing with a real sense of rhythm, writing with a real sense of specificity, not writing into the tedium zone in early drafts. This makes workshops problematical, I know. But like, I feel really strongly that if you get bored, that’s what the asterisk is for. Put the asterisk and start writing about something else, or copy another poem. At least at the stage where you’re generating, generate, don’t get involved in the part that is, I don’t know if the word’s tedium, because it can be challenging, and understand that the craft level of a poem is very satisfying at some level. But what I’m saying is, it seems like staying in that improvisational mode where your mind is really flowing, to me, is very important at some stage of the game. And you don’t get into fear in that part. I understand, too, that that works against a workshop. Any question about what I’m rambling on about here?

Q: When you were just starting out and dealing with some of these tensions that you’ve been talking about, who are some of the writers you turned to to help you through that?

RJ: Well, it was more of a desperate clinging to the structures of sound that I felt in certain poets, and one of them was oddly enough, not oddly at all, James Wright was one of them. The Icehouse Lights is a great, great book. I copied a lot of those poems, I mean at some point. If I like things, I copied them and by clinging to them, I mean to say that I would copy them and then I would try to write to that level. And that’s different than being afraid. It’s just kind of like, just kind of am I being good? That constant reminder of am I being good, am I being good? Not in fear, but the idea that you could create a level higher than you exist and start with by conscious thought, I think. There’s so many sides to what you’re addressing, though, because the other one is just like, I think like I’ve always been liberated, turned loose, set off by reading certain books. I found With Ignorance by C. K. Williams and The Red Coal by Gerald Stern in a bookstore in Denver. And I took them home and they changed everything. I just felt all this enormous sense of possibility, and I mean to me, when you really read somebody who does it for you, it’s kind of a release from the burden of the self. So discovering people . . . some of the people aren’t necessarily good for you or usable.

I was thinking of people who lately knocked me down. One was Anne Carson, and for a long time I read Anne Carson and I would go to bookstores and I’d open it up and I’d think, Huh, that’s not Robert Lowell. You know, it’s like that with poets, you think everybody hated him and wishes . . . Robert Haas’s book, after Praise . . . after years you go back and you say, “Huh, is that better than Praise?” It’s certainly different, it’s good, but when I read it, I thought, You’re not my mommy. It was like that. Some people I couldn’t be instructed . . . James Tate just knocked me down when I started reading him. I think everybody who smoked dope and got stoned and read poems when they did, James Tate you go, Wow, whoa, like lemon Jell-O on a dream’s [unintelligible] and here’s my heart, or like my girl is the kind of goose who goes cruising through cemeteries snipping periscopes off graves. Man, that is so clever, it was like the conversations I was having with people about Etruscan civilization while drunk. You know, I mean it was like, Whoa, this dude’s got . . . but I couldn’t get anything out of that, I just, I so badly wanted to be James Tate. The way he stood, he was like Elvis, man. And he was young and everybody loved him and it was like and then when I met him, he’d say, “Leave me alone.” I’d be saying, “Who do you read? Who do you read? What kind of ink do you use,” you know? Do you think it’s possible to really love some people’s work, though, that you aren’t necessarily instructed by, or that you just, you can’t do some things that people do? You’re not . . . the characters aren’t kindred enough that . . .

Q: Berryman’s a great example of that. Nobody could possibly imitate credibly Berryman.

RJ: That’s exactly right, and I spent a year, a year of kind of like writing stanzas, trying to get to something that Berryman had and I couldn’t get . . . a guy who was really tough for me was Milosz. Reading him, I really respected what he was doing, understood how intellectually tough it was, how full of this kind of stodgy character it was, how un-hypocritically political it was. And one of the only things that I took out of my childhood about writing, one of the only attitudes was that I didn’t want to be just somebody who put things down that pleased people. And I guess probably a lot of people who like creative writing are like that, you’re the kind of kids who write “ain’t” in your high school, whatever, something that is going to provoke. And I thought I wasn’t like that, but when I read Milosz, I saw I was like that. You know, you always see the little charmed devil is in you and it’s doing something that’s nasty and that’s been done by nine other people, you know. It’s like you should be sent to the Catskills hell. I mean, it was some kind of level of reading Milosz that challenged me and kind of held me back like a dam, but that ultimately I was able to get something from it. Some people you get, you get something from them like the first day you read them. And then there’s some people who just kind of like the vanilla model. Some jazz musicians that you’ve got play the vanilla chords. To me like, I do not mean this as an insult, but Elizabeth Bishop is the vanilla chord of poetry, she’s like dead center. Elizabeth Bishop is at the dead center of a poetry of a certain period. And she somehow doesn’t get old and I don’t know how much I can take from her, but I, she certainly, she called you to do things well.

Q: You’ve read the new Bishop, the uncollected book, that Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box?

RJ: Well, I’ve seen poems as they show up in The New Yorker, and some of them seem like she might not much like it getting out.

Q: Oh, yeah, I mean it was just revelatory to realize she could write that. Then she could write a lot of bad poems, actually, because the book’s like four hundred pages long and, yeah, they probably very much embarrassed her. But it made me feel good that, you know . . .

RJ: It does me too. That’s what we were talking about was the great, the great joy of hearing somebody you think is really great reading a really bad poem, you know. I mean, I heard Galway Kinnell one time after he had just finished The Book of Nightmares and man, he looked like Goran Ivanisevic or something. I mean, he looked like . . . he looked like an actor, he was, you know, craggy chin and he would quote the poems. And it looked like he smelled good, it just looked like, it looked like, you know, what a physical presence, and he read these things and they were all just perfectly uttered. And then about five or six years later, I heard him read and he’d just had oral surgery and he was working on this poem about his brother’s death which turned out, when he finally published it, to be a hell of a poem. But he read it very prematurely out of an emotional connection to the poem and it was . . . I’m not saying it was as bad as my drafts, but I know he wrote some lines that I wouldn’t have written. It was pretty bad. On the other hand, it’s, I think it’s kind of encouraging when you see some of these people who write not first drafts. But some of the people that I like of the older generation, like Phil Levine would say that he, basically he’d say, “Well, I write pretty much when I write a poem, I write a first draft. I go back to it in about three weeks and I revise it.” That’s all he would say, and I think that’s true. I think that’s true, I don’t think he makes, he’s not a poetry god kind of person. He thinks, Well, I’m going to get it down. I think a lot of Merwin’s really good poems are kind of first draft kind of things. I think a lot of Louis Glück is like, sure she’s like sitting there full of spleen and malice and the thought that she’s worthless for months and finally it turns loose, and The Wild Iris she wrote in six weeks. But my real thought was stupider, it was like, Okay, you’ve got an IQ of about 67. Still, if you work all your life, you may be able to write three great small poems. That’s one of the other abiding thoughts.

One of the things I deeply feel, and I wish it weren’t this way because I’d like to be different. Do you know Posola, the poet Posola who, of course he made an anthology and he created different poets and they have different styles. But most people who really write well that I think of as great poets are past the choice. They might be kind of good at a lot of things, but there’s only one poem that they can write great and it's full tilt boogie. You know, I mean it’s not, it’s not like they could elect to write this kind of poem and that kind of poem, and I think a lot of critics talk about it as though people have a choice or they’ll talk about, “Why can’t Gerald Stern find a late style?” You know, it’s like the talk about the late style, like there’s only one thing that people like Levine can do. I’m sure that Levine could write a James Tate poem, it’d be interesting. There’s an anthology out now where all these poets create an imaginary poet. It’s certainly an interesting idea. One of the weird things was Mark Strand was there, but he just wrote the introduction for his poet. He created the poet, wrote the introduction, but he never got around to writing any poems. But I guess they thought, It’s Mark Strand, goddammit, we’re going to publish it, you know. So there he is. But I don’t think many people could do that. I mean a few people could, but I think for most people it’s like do you believe this: Okay, how do you know a poem is good? Okay, here’s one of the things that would suggest to you that a poem is good. Let’s say you have a master poet in your mind, say the early works of Hitler that you really like and you think I want to be like Hitler. And you write a poem, and it seems to approach Hitler, and so you, that’s one of the things, it’s like if you’re playing music and you’re able to play a Jim Hall solo that sounds like Jim Hall. It seems very good to me that if I could do that, which I can’t. If you write maybe your own kind of poem, you will not have that marker because you do not know what you smell like.

There’s that sort of thing, and other people might say, “That’s really your poem, that’s very good,” but the poem that I think we tend to prefer, I could tell you I think behind this poem lingers this ghost of this poet and that’s why I like this poem. There’s something to that. But I do think it’s some kind of mark of your writing poems and your being able to understand something about your own poems is just simply asking yourself the question, Is this the way I, is this my feeling? It’s like if you’re, apparently if you’re learning to play a musical instrument, and I mean it’s a very good thing to learn the instrument. For instance, to hum and then play: tah dah dah dah dah, and then play dah dah dah dah. Because if you just start depending on that board, you’re just going to be like aping it all the way. It seems to me very important that you not let the poem write you. You’re all in love with certain tropes, certain large bodies of language that you’ve loved, and it seems very important that you not just say, “I’m going to create this and somewhere there I will edge in and get my little, show my own little butt there.” It’s seems very important that you hold your work to a standard that is . . . I know that you’re all complex and multiple just like John Ashbery, but shouldn’t you look at a poem and say this represents a genuine state of mind? It might not be an enduring one, it might be a momentary one, I mean because I think those exist.

Part II

Rodney Jones: Over the last two or three years, I’ve liked several woman poets better than men poets, but there’s no reason for me to just kind of like fall on my knees and say, “I love women," but I do love women, but in a bad way. Not just the good way. There’s a big kind of pressure to come to some kind of political understanding of literature, and I think it’s important to be tempted by that, at least to understand that we’re all limited and we’re all in a box. But I think that poetry is something that to some degree should transcend all those issues, and I know that I’m not big enough for that to happen, but I do think I like some poets who express, let’s say a political vision or a gender vision or a cultural vision. Aren’t you the generation that should be free of a lot of concerns about, for instance, imitate, taking from everywhere; you should be able to rob everything?

Q: You should be able to, but like you were talking about before, I asked because I write stuff, and I was going to ask you questions. Larry Levis once said in an interview, “I’ve been obsessed with this question, it’s if you don’t like something like the deepest core of the stuff, burn it. No matter what the workshop says, no matter what the journal’s saying, no matter what anyone says, if it’s not, I guess, coming from you, just get it out of there.” And all that idea of a vision, can you turn that into something that really represents you? I’m just kind of still juggling all those questions.

RJ: Well, he would seem to bear that out in his own work, that kind of really fierce individual stance. I understand that. I don’t think I’m good enough to do that. What if it had made like a gagillion dollars? You could like change your name, right? I mean, there’s a limit to character, right? I don’t know. I kind of am on board with him, though I think it’s pretty important that you be serious. And that the only way you can be serious is to represent your own sense.

Q: One of the things I think that happens to a lot of us is that if as undergraduates we are English majors, that may be a disastrous thing. I recall one time hearing Toni Morrison saying in response to a question, and I think what had commercial motivations behind the question, but this person asked her, “Who do you have in mind when you write?” And of course for her that could possibly be a political question as well, one her audience could lean or work towards or something like that. But her answer was not only wonderful for her, but was it was a big challenge for me because she said, “I always try to write the kind of work I would like to read.” And when I asked myself that evening after I got home from that literary event, “Are you writing the kind of work you want to read,” the answer was no, I was writing the kind of work I thought I ought to write.

RJ: Those are very different things, aren’t they?

Q: And it took me years to recover properly from the journey that that sent me on. And it was a good journey, it was the right journey. I mean, it was almost like I had to tear everything down on the ground and build it all up again. And it’s along the lines of what you’ve been talking about, that there was a kind of inauthenticity, but I’m not talking about authenticity of subject matter, or authenticity of did I have a particular poetic territory I had to claim for myself. It wasn’t that, it was was I doing something that just really got me going, got me excited, and was I sufficiently daring and was I sufficiently risk taking and all kinds of things came into that, and I asked myself would I just really love to sit down and read this. That changed things for me.

RJ: Robert Haas has some things that he writes, like he’s got a poem about, I forget the title, but he says basically “when you’re smooth, you’re dead.” And I think one of the things we like as writers is smoothness. You know, I mean fluidcy super fluidcy. And when I think about it as a reader, someone’s got to get to like Dylan Thomas or Seamus Haney stage before that kicks in. I know I care about the person I perceive behind the language more than the language. And I know I tend to write as though you could get this whipping dervish of language going. And finally people would all get in that and go down your drain. And leave money. And be gone. It bears a lot of thought. The thought I’ve been having for years that’s been difficult. I haven’t been able to perfectly manage dramatic monologue. And trying to figure out how dramatic monologues work. I mean Anne Carson is one of the people that gives rise to the thought, and one of my favorites of hers is “The Glass Essay.” But what I was trying to think about, if you’re writing a dramatic monologue, the way to access that is to understand that you are mostly, that the difference between you and the worst human being who ever lived as far as what might get put into a poem is very small. That you’d have to hone in on your own true feelings. Even if you were writing from the point of view of—who’s the man who just died? Milosevic. If you were writing from his point of view, you’d have to write from your own point of view and assume that part that makes Milosevic the murderer, the horrible murderer, does not make him inhuman. That there’s something else going on there. The reason I started getting into dilemmas, I was trying to write this point of view. Trying to write from the point of view of a racist. Trying to write a book about that. And truly I was trying to write, in this latest book, I was trying to write one from the point of view of a Democrat. And then the Republican, I had to go to the third person. I just could not bring myself to do that. And I know that’s a limitation. You should be able to inhabit that persona.

Now when I’ve had people, “Herbert White,” I’ve had people sort of turn on me for having . . . you might have to over the years. “Herbert White” is . . . what is it? “When I did it to her it felt good.” It’s like Peter Lorre should be reading the whole poem. Bidart’s interesting that way. I found the Bidart pretty challenging because I don’t know how you guys felt, but I started reading from a different ear/era and I heard him he just seemed flat as a flitter. And then his good poems, they hang around pretty well. He’s doing something very, very unique. And he has a very good ear. It’s not the ear that you usually hear. Glück’s poems are interesting, I think. She’s got a new book out, Averno. And I’m curious to hear what people think about it because I don’t like it as well, and everybody is saying it’s the best book she’s ever written.

And sometimes I change my mind and form opinions too early. For instance, they’re out of like, I hate purple, she put the word purple down, and I start hating it. They’re there for really shallow chintzy reasons, but I thought The Seven Ages, that book of hers was just a knockout, and she writes every line like it can’t be taken back. They’re like, “I hate my sister’s children, I don’t hate my children.” It’s like, you go, Wait, she doesn’t use many images anymore, just pretty much seems to be saying it flat out when they’re working. She seems to be able to say mean things in a poem, and by doing that be able to say this other side of really romantic sort of like tender feeling things. I think if you think of the language itself as an image, that’s pretty healthy. If you thought about how language is realistic, it’s not realistic in the same way that a sculpture, for instance, if a sculpture is realistic, if Greg sat very still, and I was able to create him, well, take the wax image of John Lennon being shot in your poem, that’s verbally, I mean that’s visual realism. But if you thought about verbal realism, it has more to do with sound, with something sounding like it’s not poetry like “Love in a Warm Room in Winter” by James Wright: “The trouble with you is / you think all I want to do / is get you in bed / and make love with you. / And that’s not true! / I was just trying to be [make] friends.” I’m not sure I’d talk that way, but it doesn’t seem to be poetry, it seems like something somebody might say. To me that’s realism, linguistically constructed, and there are all kinds of possibilities.

You don’t have to be a realist, but I think people tend to think of realism in terms of how the language represents rather than language. Language is an image; it’s a representation, not a thing. It’s hard to get it to be temperamental, isn’t it? To get that quality which drama has to have, to get it into a poem, and also have it be artful. Poetry’s a great art. I mean it, you know it’s great, isn’t it? Nobody’s ever written one, but we all know that. Do you think that’s a possibility, that nobody’s ever written a poem, that poetry really doesn’t exist. There’s just this ideal of something that we’re all fools enough to believe, but that the people who are riding tractors happily through the meadows are thinking, “Well, I’ve got hemmorhoids, but I’m not a poet.” What do you think? The poetry books that might sell, they always seem to be connected to some other social movement or something like that. For instance, if you wrote a book about your recovery from an attempted suicide, it might draw a lot more readers for some extra-poetical reason. I think feminism was that way for a long time. With, I think, Adrienne Rich, books would sell a lot of copies. I guess not many poets think about, maybe that’s for you guys to do. Think about how to make . . . call it a novel, and it will immediately sell more books, just to be called a novel. We should do that. People will say, But how is this a novel?

I think I take identity for granted. It seems to me that poems are often held together by personality, but by a personality that actually is created, but that tends to exhibit something that you’ve seen in the actual world, and it may be problematical in terms of escaping identity. One of the things that my father would do is at funerals, he would express sympathy to widows in such a way that would require the woman to go into therapy for nine or ten months, and he meant the best, I mean, it created strong tender feelings in people. “I just want to tell you about something that Roy did when we were young that I think you would appreciate, when he saved a little blind girl,” that kind of thing . . . and some woman who was medicated to a point to where she was going to do fine, but it was like he would cut right through the medication. It was the habit of his personality to try to deepen a feeling. Somehow there are all of these habits that one finds one disgusting in one’s self, maybe. One of them to me is lightening things, it’s just sort of irony as a part of the kid. I guess the Southern things are probably, sometimes they’re there and sometimes they aren’t. I could take a pretty easy road through a book that would not suggest Southern-ness, but in general, it may be a weakness, but the images that I tend to have written seem to be images that I have either seen or that I’ve been told about. The places are places I know. I love the advice, and I don’t think it is the only advice, but maybe it was Wendell Berry who said, “I never like to write about a word that I do not hold against the world. I do not like to write about a doorknob to one I do not picture a very specific doorknob.”

To me that’s kind of a . . . it’s not a bullshit. It won’t cut all bullshit out, but it seems very important to be selecting from among the things of the world. I don’t know any other alternative actually. But as far as the sequencing of that and the way it’s put together, I can’t imagine a way to tell the truth. I have an urgency that probably comes from the childhood religion that I had to tell the truth, and it is a bad reason to drink. As a young person, I was not a fighting drunk, but I was a serious sex drunk, and as I got older something worse happened. As I got drunk, I felt the need to tell the truth. Are any of you like that? That’s worse than fighting, and I know part of that informs poetry, and I guess all of us are caught in that bind in that some of our primary energies are pretty pure. They’re like the desire to tell the truth, and our . . . the truth of our feelings or whatever. It seems very important, and it seems very important also to have kind of a Mr. Full-of-Shit pointing back at yourself and looking, not to a point to where it’s paralyzing.  

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