Bart Edelman on Dr. Andy's Poetry and Technology Hour
KDVS, Davis, CA
August 22, 2012
Click here to download an unabridged PDF transcript as featured in Volume 1, Issue 3 of "The Oddity," or read the excerpt below.
Dr. Andy’s Poetry and Technology Hour
August 22, 2012
Poet BART EDELMAN Interviewed by DR. ANDY JONES
Edited by: Evan White
BART EDELMAN has been the recipient of several prestigious grants, and is a poet whose work is widely anthologized. He has published six collections of poetry and teaches in the MFA program at Antioch University in Southern California. He is from New Jersey and lives now in Los Angeles.
ANDY JONES is a local poet, professor, and host of the radio show Dr. Andy’s Poetry and Technology Hour, and bi-monthly live event, “The Poetry Night Reading Series.” He has taught a wide range of topics at the University of California, Davis, for the last twenty years.
Dr. Andy: Congratulations on your most recent book The Geographer’s Wife, from Red Hen Press. Red Hen Press has published a number of your recent books over the last decade. Tell me why they’re a press you return to and what’s special about Red Hen Press?
Bart Edelman: Well I think they are special because they are able to find different niches and they allow poets the page, and they allow poets the voice, and I have always worked very well with Mark Call and Kate Gale. The last 4 books have come out with Red Hen and they have given me a wonderful opportunity to write and to publish and to provide a forum for my poetry. And what’s interesting is now they’re right in Pasadena, they have moved three miles from where I live, so it’s a wonderful neighborhood published, but certainly they’re known all over the country.
DA: Absolutely. And with regard to, I guess almost meeting the expectations of red hen press as well as your readers and anthologists and editors, you must have a pretty systematic way of approaching your writing of poetry as well as sending it out. And when I taught the advanced poetry workshop this past summer this is something that many of my students had questions about. So I’m wondering if you could say a little bit about the discipline of writing and how you approach the creation of poetry in your own working day life.
BE: Well I’m glad you said something about the discipline, because that’s what I think it always is, it’s discipline. It’s putting yourself in the chair to write as often as possible. I only write when I have a couple of hours – I never want to be interrupted. But I find that it’s often a matter of kind of, I think William Matthews said, of kind of leaving the window open. And so what I mean by that is very often unless I’m revising a certain piece, I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I have a loft upstairs where I write and in those few hours I never know what’s going to happen, what’s going to fly trough that window. And so I was just telling this to my students at Antioch the other day, you’ve got to leave that window open and you have to allow for stuff to come through that has been percolating there for years. And you’ve got to be very gentle with yourself because there are some times when you will take an hour or two out and you know, you’ll end up if you’re lucky with a couple of lines. Other times there’s a burst of something that comes out, but I need to make myself write because if I’m not writing I don’t see the world in the same way, I see it much more as a literal world. When I’m writing and in the process of writing everything becomes more symbolic, more figurative. And I like that world. And I like that gray world, a world not so black and white where you’re not sure exactly where the truth is, but you enjoy speculating and you enjoy experimenting with words and trying to make sense of a world that sometimes seems so large that the only way you can make sense of it, is to put it in your own words and justify it to yourself.
DA: That’s terrific. Very well put. I find with some of my students at the University of California, Davis, and this is something you might encounter at Antioch, that that idea of not necessarily knowing or even naming the truth, but exploring questions and possibilities – that that’s off-putting to some students, especially students who have been taking say lots of biology classes or who are very concerned about their GPAs, to have a class or assignment depend upon on that receptivity you’re speaking of when you quoted William Matthews.
BE: I don’t think it is just students. I think it’s lot of people who – they want to know that when you add 13 and 13 you’re gonna get 26, and the idea that it might not exactly be 26, or that the way you perceive something may not be the way the guy next to you or the woman on the other side of the room perceives it. I think that’s jarring for a lot of people and I think that’s a difficulty with people in the beginning accepting poetry because sometimes it’s like “well what does this mean?” but I think it’s also been a problem with people who have taught poetry, very often, who seem to want to get their hands around what appears to be the truth and teach a poem a certain way and I think teachers have turned off lots of students and people to poetry and I’m always saddened by that. I think most people don’t do that, but poetry is so rich, it’s got all that blank space, all those lines between stanzas, lines on the other side of the page, all that wonderful space where the reader should get in, crawl in and create their own brand of truth.
DA: I understand that The Geographer’s Wife returns you, so to speak, and the reader to New Jersey in places, is that right?
BE: Absolutely. The book is divided into four sections, East, South, North and West. And there are quite a few poems that do deal with this whole idea of how geography defines us, in one way or another and how we’re always kind of moving from place to the other.
DA: It makes me think about how, like geographers, other sorts of academics have to be called on trips from time to time, but also made me think about the work of the poet and all the explorations the poet must engage in.
BE: I think there’s definitely a connection there.
DA: In terms of specifics, will people who know parts of NJ that you know recognize images and places in your poems?
BE: I think that yes, in the first section, in the East section, there’s at least three or four poem that definitely speak to places where I grew up. They speak about childhood and about how important that is in forming who we are and where we’re going in our lives.
DA: We could certainly trace New Jersey poets through, say, Pinsky to Ginsberg to William Carlos Williams and maybe up to Walt Whitman. Are there geographic predecessors that are important to you in terms of thinking about New Jersey? Or do you look for influences thinking about primarily other qualifications and concerns?
BE: Well certainly the poets you named are important, and poets that I’ve studied. But I’m just as interested in the Theodore Roethke and the William Butler Yeats, just, I probably robbed and stolen in my own way from so many poets. And I mean that in a generous and good way. I do like poets that have geographical boundaries in their own way. But I don’t think even the New Jersey poets have influenced me to the point where I feel that I’ve followed them. And I actually got into poetry much, much later. The only creative writing course I ever took was in tenth grade.
DA: Now, do you find, and maybe I should ask your students this, if there’s kind of a naive sort of freshness you might have brought to your first classes? Because I think that, you know, many of us teach creative writing in the ways that we’ve been taught creative writing. So it might even feel liberating to you that you can take approaches that are not well trod in the creative writing classroom?
BE: Yes, and when I do workshops and when I go to different colleges, this often comes out, especially with English majors and even with my students at Antioch, that many of them feel that there’s a certain voice in their head, especially with graduate school, that’s saying “look at this,” and “I don’t want to say you should do this,” but these voices very often from professors that they’ve picked up, and you’re right, it’s very liberating to have come to it because it was something that I truly loved, didn’t really think about doing, and then found that I was just drawn writing this way. And started writing lyrics when I came to LA, and just little by little so that everything that I’m doing, it’s wonderful. My expectations were not the way perhaps many are who do go to graduate school, and do get an MFA, and do think, “this is what I could do, or should do.” It is a different road. And I tell students all the time that people should write because the joy of writing is there, and because they feel compelled to.
DA: Absolutely. And that compulsion it sounds like it hit you later than it does for many poets, and that may be one reason why you’ve been able to take a kind of adult perspective towards discipline in your writing, because you were not often in a situation where adults were telling you to write poems. You were choosing it yourself.
BE: It was always a love for words and the multiplicity of meaning of words, and the rhythm of using words. I often feel like a kid. Even the recent appointment to teach in the MFA program is great stuff, it’s not stuff I was expected, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.