National Poetry Month is sadly coming to an end. To send it off Big Shoe style, we thought we’d share a brief interview with Mark Wunderlich, poet, writer and professor of literature at Bennington College. Mark is one of the judges for the Big Shoe Diaries Poetry Contest that concludes this evening (get those final submissions in!). We hope you're inspired by Mark's interview. We certainly were.
BSD: When did you first realize you were a poet?
MW: I came to poetry rather late. I wasn't one of those kids who always wrote poems. I didn't even know this was possible; I remember being surprised when I learned there was such a thing as a living poet. I thought they were like stagecoach drivers or match sellers. In college I took a writing workshop by accident and never looked back.
BSD: How many poems do you write a year? Has there been a time in your life when you wrote more than this?
MW: If I write five good poems in a year, I would be happy. I've written fewer than that, and once wrote about twenty poems in a year. I work slowly.
BSD: When did you first celebrate National Poetry Month?
MW: I don't think I would say I actually celebrate poetry month. To me, that's a little like celebrating Carbon Cycle Month, or Photosynthesis Month. Poetry is so essentially human an activity that it doesn't belong to just one month of the year--it's eternal.
BSD: If you were going to sit down and read some poetry this afternoon, what would you be reading?
MW: I did read some poetry this afternoon! I read two student poems, and I read the poems of a terrific poet named Shane McCrae whom I'm introducing at a reading tonight. I also look at Leaves of Grass by Whitman, which I'm teaching this semester.
BSD: Why does poetry matter?
MW: Asking why poetry matters is almost like asking why music matters, or why gardens matter, or why dancing matters. Humans make things that are complex and beautiful, and that expand our sense of mystery, beauty, complexity. Poems connect disparate notions and images and bind them up in language and make that which is unknowable into something that is understandable. Reading and writing poems has no function other than to expand our souls, our humanity.
BSD: We forget poets are people too. Any funny anecdotes about famous poets you've interacted with you'd like to share?
MW: Allen Ginsberg once put his hand down my pants. I was 21 and had just moved to New York from Wisconsin. I was introduced to him at a reception, and he took my hand to shake it and didn't let go. The other hand landed on my lower back and then slid down into the back of my pants. He copped a feel and I wriggled away. In a way, he was no different than some dude on a crowded subway who gets handsy.
BSD: When is the best time to write poetry?
MW: I like to write first thing in the morning, before my mind clutters up with all the things I need to do.
BSD: What will poetry be like in 50 years?
MW: In fifty years? Poetry will be the same, but fifty years older.