SENTINEL POETRY

ONLINE MAGAZINE MONTHLY     ISSUE #10 SEPTEMBER 2003     ISSN 1479-425X

SV: And coming abroad, though he tragically died so young, your nephew Nnamdi Obioha Azuonye, is another example of someone with a poly-lingual imagination. My own son, Lucas, up to his shoulders in hip-hop, immediately related to Nnamdi's rap lyrics. But these are also examples of two poets listening and learning from languages that speak to them which, in turn, get translated back out into ideally something new and fresh.

Current Christian evangelical, cultural and otherwise xenophobic leadership of my imperial country non-withstanding, I believe the global and poly-lingual play of languages is what gives birth to literature upon literature. Utopian or not, the multiplicity of languages are the good chemistry of the planet and will continuously reshape the ways in which this sphere literally grows and through which one views, hears and reads all our various neighbors!

"A good reading is like being in touch
with the bone, fiber and soul of the poet.
At its best it is something similar to
going to a unique church that offers
this unique brand of communion."


NA: Whenever I am lucky to talk to a creative writing teacher, I like to pick his brain for the benefit of young members and readers of Sentinel Poetry Magazine, many of whom are still trying to find their creative routes to successful careers. I must ask you as a creative writing teacher to Suggest five tips to the up and coming poet on how to create poetry that will outlive him or her.

SV: (1.) Read as much and variously as possible - including inside and outside your culture of origin. (Language is the property of no one.) Practice
critical interpretation. (2.) Use your eyes and ears to look and hear as much as you can and as closely as possible. Whatever electrifies your observation - including dreams and memories - write it down. (3.) Look for and even travel to find great teachers. Listen closely and make friends and share your writing with the students around you. Ultimately these friends will be your best critical teachers and readers - often for life. (4.) Treat and love words as if they are the skin and material of life. Imitate the work of the elders and peers you love; turn that work upside down and shake it out; experiment with different shapes, forms, rhythms, musics. Exhaust yourself. (5.) Be quiet. Be very quiet and listen. Gradually, overtime, these things we call 'real' poems will emerge, take shape and a life of their own. When they are good - real good - these poems will last a long time and be like sculptures in the forest, an electric multi-colored neon sign in the City,
or waves of birds that continue to sing long after the light of morning.

NA: Cid Corman talks about Improvised Poems  in "Speech: As It falls: Is Poetry" contained in Poetry Reading - a book you edited with Ellen Zweig. Corman seems to favour the spontaneous as against the rehearsed speech. Many will disagree preferring to view poetry as a fictive art that requires plenty of honing. Seeing that in your own article in Poetry Reading - "Poetry Readings/Reading Poetry:  San Francisco Bay Area, 1958-1980" You clearly seem to agree that a poem gains its full life when it is read or performed.

How does this apply to improvised poems which are testimonies of snatched thoughts or feelings. Is it ever fair to go back to recordings of these improvisations and try to knock into shape, for future study, any line or beat that does not quite with a benefit of hindsight work? You have now heard poems read for over forty years, which has had the more lasting impact on you - the improvised or the written/rehearsed poems?

SV: In a way your question establishes an "either or" proposition around the formal possibilities of a public reading versus the formal characteristics of text on the page. The public performance makes possible a vocal architecture that can give a poet a variety of tools and a certain kind of freedom. Lines can be improvised, rhythm and timing slowed down or speeded up, tones and/or pitches enriched. The language itself can bring the poet up to an emotional and moving pitch.  Audience, microphones and the actual space will enable different experiences of the poem. Indeed, as you suggest, a reading will take the poet back to the page to revise, expand or even kill the poem entirely!

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