"I'm very positive about poetry today. I think it has become a force."

More Perihelion:

Bob Sward's Writer's Friendship Series

Book Reviews

Need to Know



Issue 10: Out on a Limb

Issue 9: The Missing Body

Issue 8: The Lily

Issue 7: Passages

Issue 6: No More Tears

A quick list to poets featured in this issue:

Robin Behn

Richard Garcia

John Hennessy

Adrian Matejka

Ayukawa Nobuo

Eunice Odio

Kathryn Rantala

Anna Ross

Mathias Svalina

Larissa Szporluk

Kevin Tsai

Featured Poet:
Larissa Szporluk

Larissa Szporluk is author of three books of poetry, Dark Sky Question (Beacon Press, 1998), winner of the Barnard Poetry Prize; Isolato (University of Iowa Press, 2000), winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize; and The Wind, Master Cherry, the Wind, forthcoming with Alice James Books in fall 2003. She has new work in Daedalus, Faultline, and Meridian.

In addition to having received a 1998 Rona Jaffe Writers Award, her poems have been widely anthologized in Best American Poetry 1999, Best of Beacon 1999, New American Voices, and Young American Poets. She is Assistant Professor of Creative Writing and Literature at Bowling Green State University.

Perhelion's Poetry Editor, Beth Woodcome, had the following conversation with Larissa Szporluk about her poetic development.

Beth Woodcome: I first read your work in AGNI: Take Three and was instantly a fan. I've talked to many readers who also saw your work in that issue. What came before and what has come after for you in terms of your writing career?

What has your journey been like?

Larissa Szporluk: What came before Take Three was four years of post-MFA stress, frustration, depression, rejection, etc. which I think almost every writer must experience. In fact, I think, in a perverse way, it's actually essential, somewhat good, to go under like that. When Take Three emerged, I was pleased, but safe from true pleasure--I didn't really believe it. I crawled back into my hole. I did the same thing after Dark Sky Question--didn't believe it, back to the hole. Some part of me understood that while publication is wonderful and necessary, it shouldn't be let in--it shouldn't participate in the actual writing process. That's been the most difficult part of the journey, keeping those worlds separate. My publishing side is my nastier side, shallower side, nothing poetic about it at all. It's so hard to strip it all away--the ego cries out for affirmation and it's worse than a suckling pig. As for my writing career now, I feel the need to innovate again. I had lost it after Isolato. What inspires me now is my own impatience. I almost feel hatred now for casual language. The words I want to use have to be sharp, energetic. No more meandering.

Who or what are your influences? What do you draw from in your work?

For a long time, Linda Gregg's work was magical for me. It acted like a balm. It gave me a space to write it. Rilke too. Then I'd mix that space up with Plath, vitalize it with her brilliant chisel. I would peek at Dickinson. I'm so afraid of her work. I'm afraid that if I actually read it, I will never write again.

In the past year or so, I've tried to draw less from other poets and more from isolated pieces of language. I like books that I would never read if I weren't a so-called poet. Small-Scale Pig Raising; The Triumph of the Trees; Beasts, Brains, and Behavior, to name a few. Even more recently, I've begun to mis-translate from other languages. I can sort of read Italian, so I take bits of text and translate them without the use of a dictionary. They usually sound silly, but sometimes the meaning goes somewhere and I get inspired. What's bad about this process is that it's anti-educational.

Who are you reading now?

I've been reading Jane Mead, Anne Carson, Brenda Hillman, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. I hope to broaden my repertoire this semester. It's very hard to keep up with it all, but I know that some terrific work is being written--every second.

Your poetry is often described as work that is very active, very full. I often feel like each poem is a small wild animal. How do you feel when you read your own work? How much does the readers' perception concern you?

I'm completely uneven as a reader of my own work. I revise endlessly. It's kind of sickening, goes beyond what is actually constructive. I suppose that might be why the work seems "active"--because it's always being acted on. I can't leave it alone. I'm too aware of all the possibilities. I know with conviction how much better every poem could be. The reader's perception concerns me a lot, but I try to postpone that concern until the end, near-end, of the process. I have an imaginary reader who is very demanding. He/she will not tolerate any fluff. I hope the small wild animals you feel are hairless because if there's anything I can't stand it's decoration. And yet I do it all the time.

I've heard various people claim that there is no Auden or Eliot to look up to and follow these days. But people are writing poetry. Each year more people enroll in Creative Writing programs and submit work to literary magazines, so something must be driving them and encouraging them. As a poet and a professor of Creative Writing, what do you think of the state of poetry in this age?

I think it's fine to be Audenless. Why should we have another one? We should have something of our own, and we shouldn't worry about its name or nature. What I love about the state of poetry in this age is how passionate the students are--they become completely involved in the process of writing and I think they realize that they can apply that same intensity to the rest of their lives. One graduate student confessed that she wasn't happy when she wasn't writing, that everything else seemed dull. (Which is what my husband says about surfing.) For me, it's a sign that people are connecting to the creative process, which is bigger than ourselves, and infinitely more wonderful. I'm very positive about poetry today. I think it has become a force.

What kind of relationship do you have with your own poetry? We all have different roles we live which compile part of the self. One's work can feel drastically different when held in his/her own hand privately than when it's on the way to the publisher. Do you feel that with your work? Does your work meet different needs within you as a person, as a professor, as a publishing writer?

I think I answered part of that question above, but I'll reiterate a bit. My work now has become inseparable from myself as a whole, inseparable from teaching, from parenting. It's the publishing part that I worry about; it's the one part I can't reconcile. I'm not sure anybody can. When I'm writing a poem, it's as alive as I am. So alive in fact that I feel an urge to send it out immediately, a very stupid urge I've learned. A vast sea lies between my desk and the desks of editors. They look at my spasmodic arrangements and frown. I've had to discipline myself. Now I only (usually) send out work that has calmed down. Once it's published, it becomes dead to me--a good dead I think. It has crossed the sea. I no longer speak to it. I'm definitely the kind of writer who prefers the process to the finished product. This is an annoying quality as a teacher--I try to keep the students buried in their work. I throw things at them to distract them. If they want to polish, I should let them polish, shouldn't I?

What is to come for you? What are you working on next?

I'm working on a novel-in-verse that is kind of ridiculous. It's more or less science fiction. It's too weird to describe but it gives my poetry a setting that pleases me. I like to go back to the same place when I sit down to write. The "place" in this case is a gigantic head made of stone. The head is alive. I like to speak for it occasionally. In other poems, I'm the seagull that lands there, in others, the waves. I guess I'm using it as an axis. I'm trying not to question it. I'm trying not to think about it at all!

Thanks, Larissa, for sharing your experience and insights with Perihelion.

Larissa Szporluk's poetry can be found here.