Poetry News

'The Other' as Endearing and More Lovely Talk from Paul Legault

By Harriet Staff

There's a fantastic interview over at Lambda Literary with Paul Legault, whose third collection in just a few years, The Emily Dickinson Reader, is out soon with McSweeney's. (We think you've already seen the video?) Tony Leuzzi writes of Legault's The Other Poems that "[it's] one of the most original poetry books to have emerged in years. But underneath their eccentric, stylishly ephemeral surface, the poems there seem urgent, and not a little sad, I think, for they illustrate the inexhaustible ways our attempts to connect with one another are stymied by the very language we use." Later, Legualt says, "I discovered I was writing sonnets by accident." More:

In a prior conversation, you told me you wrote these poems rather quickly—one per day, I believe. What was the reason (or reasons) for this surge of creative urgency?

Speed became a theme—or was one already, but then became mine. The Other Poems were the things I was writing while writing other things, and their daily output (about one per day) didn’t interrupt my other projects—in a generous and humble way, like a background. But backgrounds are often the most interesting artistic arenas anyway.

They were partially composed that way in response to starting my first official office job. The regularity of their output became a regular comfort—and one that I missed, if I missed a day. So the editing process became more about cutting back from the 150 I wrote, down to 75 (or whatever number of them “worked”). Editing ought to be subjective. The ones that worked became the final work.

When reading these sonnets, I assume, rightly or wrongly, that many of them are built from collage methods, where you sample and appropriate others’ bits of speech, and parody tropic phrasings from other poems. You told me poet Billy Merrell provided you with the hilarious final line for “The Things You Find Underwater.” And in a few places I could have sworn you were citing a fortune cookie. Was collage a frequent compositional method? If so, why? If not, what were some of the methods you used?

Billy did inform me that “An octopus’s butt is also its mouth.” He also took my author photo and designed the cover. He’s a good friend and a constant companion in my 9-to-5-life at the Academy of American Poets, so, inevitably, he’s in the book. In fact, a lot of my friends make “appearances,” though I didn’t do a good job of cataloging everything I stole from them. I guess the book is the best catalog I could come up with.

It’s interesting how appropriation—as a writing method—still has the stigma of being “impersonal.” It’s actually the most personable thing you can do—in a social media sense: liking, reposting, remixing. It’s not just a form of flattery; it’s love or art’s equivalent.

Acknowledgment pages make me nervous, but if there were a proper one it’d be as long as the book—each character’s line requiring a line of acknowledgment. Maybe it’s helpful to point to the book’s epigraph here, since I put it there to be pointed to. Anyway, bpNichol said it better than me when he wrote, “The other is emerging as the necessary prerequisite for dialogues with the self.” Though “the other” might not seem like a term of endearment, it’s what leads to everything.

Read the full interview here.

Originally Published: June 26th, 2012