Talking with Poets (page 4)
Talking with Poets
page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5
Who do you read (poets)? Any African poets?
Brazaitis: Lately, I’ve devoured the poems of Kim Addonizio. They’re blues-y, sexual, sensitive and lovely.

Conlon: This would be a big list, so I’ll just stick to contemporary Americans if I may (with the caveat that Philip Larkin is probably my favorite poet of all).
     I run a local poetry reading series here [in Silver Spring Maryland], so I spend an awful lot of time with local poets, those who haven’t yet burst into national prominence. But of “well-known” poets (if any poet today can be said to be "well-known"), I tend to read those who show some level of awareness of the world beyond the ends of their noses. William Heyen, author of Erika: Poems of the Holocaust and Pterodactyl Rose: Poems of Ecology, is a great favorite. I adore much of Lyn Lifshin’s work and ignore those small-minded snipes who, in their envy of her extraordinary productivity, claim she’s bad. Robert Bly has a few things I like, and Jack Gilbert is a fascinating, unique writer — his collection The Great Fires is, I think, one of the truly great books of modern poetry. Donald Hall and his wife, the late Jane Kenyon, I read.
     But, with a small handful of exceptions, I confess to pretty well ignoring most of the vast mainstream of American poetry, which I find overwhelmingly juiceless and dull. These days the interesting work is found almost entirely in small independent journals, not in the academic quarterlies. I suppose there must be people who possess MFAs and teach Creative Writing in universities who produce interesting work — I’m open to the possibility — but I haven’t found very damned many. I despise the entire tendency toward the institutionalization of poetry, which some claim keeps verse alive but which is really, on a very basic level, self-defeating, and which has turned American poetry into a cult for a tiny band of initiates.
     I’m not supposed to say any of that, I imagine, but there it is.

Szumowski: I read lots of poets. The African poet I enjoy most is Leopold Senghor, but I’ve also read some Diop. I also love African folktales and think their imagery has influenced my poems. I like Ann Neelon’s translations of Senghor. I love Seamus Heaney, Pablo Neruda, Jane Kenyon, Marie Howe, Agah Shahid Ali — I read a wide range of poets.

Neelon: I love so many poets — an infinite number, it seems. Cesar Vallejo, Pablo Neruda, Nazim Hikmet, Seamus Heaney, Denise Levertov, Elizabeth Bishop, Miklos Radnoti, Miguel Hernandez, Czeslaw Milosz and Wislawa Szymborska might be at the beginning of my twentieth-century list.
     As for African poets, Leopold Sedar Senghor is the one I know best. I had the amazing luck to be assigned to Senegal while he was still in power. A poet as president — talk about cognitive dissonance! It was a real trip to confront his Collected Poetry whenever I went into a Naar store to buy 50 francs worth of tomato paste. In reading and eventually translating Senghor, I came to discover and appreciate many other poets who appeared alongside him in francophone anthologies, especially Aime Cesaire of Martinique. Senghor and
Cesaire launched the Negritude movement in Paris in the thirties, so the connections there are profound.
     I also had the good fortune, about ten years after coming back from Peace Corps, to spend a month at the Yaddo Colony with the Nigerian poet Tanure Ojaide. Under his influence, I began to appreciate the voices of anglophone Africa — Dennis Brutus, Christopher Okigbo, and John Pepper Clark.

Rich: Elizabeth Bishop, Pablo Neruda, Adrienne Rich. African poets — Ingrid de Kok and Jeremy Cronin.

Meek: I try to read as much poetry as possible, both by new and established poets; African poets that I read include Keorapetse Kgositsile, Christopher Okigbo, and Mongane Serote.

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