Hi Folks! John Morgan asked if he could post his edition of “The Next Big Thing” on Being Poetry. Of course, I’m glad to help out! More and more and more Alaskan writers!
John: My thanks to Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow, who wrote the terrific poetry collection, THE DAY JUDGE SPENCER LEARNED THE POWER OF METAPHOR, for tagging me. Her interview can be found here.
What is the title of the book? FORMS OF FEELING: POETRY IN OUR LIVES.
Where did the idea for the book come from? It’s a collection of essays and memoirs relating to poetry, so the ideas came from a variety of places: my undergraduate classes with Robert Lowell, my experiences at the Iowa Writers Workshop, what it means to be a poet living in Alaska, as well as my thoughts on the writing life and some advice for younger poets.
What genre does your book fall under? Creative non-fiction.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? FORMS OF FEELING includes a section on my poetic development, and for that we’d need someone to play the budding poet. How about a young Dustin Hoffman (I’m thinking of THE GRADUATE, of course). For Robert Lowell (“handsome, tall, self-conscious and ill-at-ease”—Lowell was bipolar), I’d cast Daniel Day-Lewis, whose father, the poet C. Day-Lewis, I actually met when he served as a visiting writer at Harvard. My wife, Nancy, essential as muse, has suggested Meryl Streep for her part, and I won’t argue. Finally, for the virulently anti-Semitic paleontologist who led the fossil hunt I (as a young Jew) took part in, let’s cast an aging Harrison Ford or, for an edgier version, Steve Buscemi.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book? FORMS OF FEELING investigates the role of poetry in the contemporary world, including where poems come from, what the audience for poetry is, and the ways in which poetry can offer a spiritual path in a secular time.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? The essays and memoirs included in the book were written over the course of 35 years, but the book as a whole came together in a couple of days when I figured out how to organize its parts. It’s in four sections: “Poetry in Our Lives”—general essays on writing poetry; “Becoming a Poet”—recalling my own poetic development; “Feelings into Form”—the how-to section about the poetic process; and “A Poet in His Place”—covering my experiences in Alaska and how they’ve influenced my writing. The book concludes with a lyrical essay on poetry and place.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? One of the essays deals with my son’s five-day coma and how poetry helped me keep my sanity as we went through it. Then there’s that memorable fossil hunt and how, in a number of different genres (poems, a novel, this essay), I’ve written about it over the years. Another piece describes the village of Wales, Alaska (pop. 130), located at the tip of the Seward Peninsula; an arrow outside the village post-office points west and announces, “Russia, 30 Miles.” But whatever the subject, the intent is always to show how poetry can be integrated into our lives.
Who or what inspired you to write this book? Normally when I sit down to write, I’m thinking about poetry. Non-fiction is a side-line and I only do it when I feel compelled to, as I did on that amazing visit to Wales (Alaska), or with the journal I kept while serving as writer-in-residence at Denali National Park. Several of the shorter pieces developed from blogs I wrote for 49writers.blogspot.com.
Was your book self-published or represented by an agency? Neither. Salmon Poetry had published my new and selected poems, SPEAR-FISHING ON THE CHATANIKA, in 2010. I was very happy with the result, so I sent this new book to them. Within about ten days I got a one word e-mail back from my amazing publisher, Jessie Lendennie. It said, “Yes!”