3 Questions for Eamon Greenan

1. What is you personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That
is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.

The line is our lovely unit of rhythm—it’s how we take in any poem, I
suppose—the whole thing orchestrated line by line by line.  Doesn’t matter short
or long, doesn’t matter Whitman or Dickinson, nervy Hopkins or deliberate
Herbert,  Robert Creeley or Jorie Graham, the line is where our eye and ear and
pulse beat all gather together as we read a poem.  For me in the making of a
poem, the line is the most physical of facts, I guess.  A poem can’t really
start for me unless I have a feel for a first line—a way of phrasing something
that seems to have some sort of implicit music, some sort of rhythmic lift to
it.  That’s thinking in line.  I’d imagine that’s true for most poets.  It’s the
necessary setting out first step.  (Which is its necessary connection to metre,
even when one’s not writing metrically.)  I’ve written quite long lines
(especially in The Quick of It, long lined ten-line untitled poems) and
occasionally (earlier work mostly) quite short lines.  Right now I’m trying to
do very short-lined things without punctuation, but I don’t yet know if this is
working.  The other thing I have been keen on always (and talk to students and
young poets about) is the exact relationship between line and sentence that
exists in any poem.  The sentence as the unit seeking *sense* as it runs through
lines down the page; the line as the retarding element, an instrument I suppose
of *pleasure* as it holds back from closure and sense.  Something like that.
And in this relationship the activity of a poet’s syntax seems a determining
force or energy.  In all of this I guess the aesthetic is the personal.  But
what that means I’d let someone else work out. I guess the best test or
illustration of all this is to be found in the *Selected Poems* I’ve just done.

2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human
body? Or between your writing and your body?

I imagine my answer to the previous question is sort of an answer to this one as
well.  I wouldn’t add much more, except to say that I believe there’s a distinct
and important connection between writing poems and the body.  That has all sorts
of possible implications.  For example in  the sense that there’s always
something erotic about verse-making—you’re trying to make something that conveys
and communicates and prompts and provokes feeling in someone else—someone
particular, or someone like the *general
reader*.  Or the way when a poem is being read aloud the body can sort of beat
time to its movement.  That seems to be a habit of mine in public reading
sometimes anyway, and must have something to do with how I feel the poem as a
series of breaths—breath is implicit in the whole process, at the heart of it.
And of course there’s the pleasure in words themselves, in language itself, as
physical presences—in their sound, their colours, their weight, their history.
It was Edmund Spenser who talked about “The brightness of brave and glorious
words.”  I like that. (Small as my own stock of the bright, brave, and glorious
is!)  I love poets who seem to be savoring the language, each in his or her own
way.

3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?

a)  “The life so short, the craft so long to learn.”

b)  Working on a poem that just isn’t working and nothing I do can “get it.”.
Like having a perpetual toothache.

c)  I guess there’s at times a sense that if you’re called a poet you’re
expected to be special, or it’s assumed you think of yourself as special.  But
you’re just your ordinary self, getting on with things.  My sense is probably
that if someone thinks that what I’ve written are poems, sees them in that
light, then that’s enough for me as far as “being a poet” is concerned.  And
there’s not much to dislike in that.

Window

Sleek blades of rain.  Through the window
wind-shriven fuchsia twigs
won’t stop shivering.  Light, its escalations
and retreats: quickened limb-shapes
fling themselves into the willing curtains.
A naked lemon: waxy skin-gleam
leading its coruscating, bitter life
on the window-ledge.  And one orange
lighting up my writing table—resurrected
like a single square inch of a Caravaggio
by the sudden sun-shaft calling it to awe; half
its incandescent, sweet-stocked globe in shadow.

Eamon Grennan’s most recent poetry collections are Still Life with Waterfall,
which won the Lenore Marshall Prize, *The Quick of It*,  and *Matter of Fact*,
as well as a co-translation (with Rachel Kitzinger) of *Oedipus at Colonus*.
Graywolf publishes this summer a new collection: *Out of Sight: New & Selected
Poems*.  He taught for many years in the English Department of Vassar College,
and currently teaches in the graduate writing programs of Columbia and NYU.

3 thoughts on “3 Questions for Eamon Greenan

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