Poetry News

"This makes me happy and slightly confused": An Interview with Dan Magers

By Harriet Staff

Dan Magers, author of Partyknife, took part in this interview with Adam Robinson over at HTMLGIANT.

Here Magers speaks to his process, a bit, which gives way to a brief meditation on the landscape of contemporary poetry:

How concerned are you with conveying things through your poetry?

When he was reviewing the novel Luminarium, Justin Taylor wrote something that I really liked, saying the book “is one of those books that is not shy about being about what it’s about.”

I feel like the writing in Partyknife conveys things pretty directly, and I avoided being “poemy,” if that makes sense. At the same time, I guess all the quick jumps have a discombobulating effect.

I guess I don’t know what “poemy” poems are, but I figure they are things that mediate themselves behind the artifice of poetry? Yours don’t do that. That’s one of the best things about your book, is it changes what poetry is. It makes poems in a new way, through the combination of your process and your interests and your clever curating.

But what do you think of R. M. O’Brien’s charge, that the good poets today are embarrassed about poetry? As a cool guy with a great book of poems that claim not to be “poemy,” does poetry embarrass you?

Yeah, I guess I should be careful I don’t use the adjective “poemy” as a straw man. I’m not embarrassed by poetry. I think about it on a daily, if not hourly, basis (probably also when I’m asleep). O’Brien makes a really interesting point, and I hope I can chat with him about it. If I understand correctly, he’s saying that good poets are writing in a distanced, cool-type style that masks an embarrassment about the existence of the very writing coolness is conveyed in.

There is a lot to unpack there, but I think it is always the case that ambitious writers and artists will see limitations of the present conditions of their medium, not just in poetry. I’m not sure if poets feel that more acutely. I think it can be a challenge for someone deeply familiar with contemporary poetry to discuss it with people who aren’t (ie everyone). And I think it’s also the case most, and maybe nearly all contemporary poetry is specialized in such a way that it’s going to resist the cursory attention that most non-poetry readers will give to it, and maybe also resist even more attentive readers.

So, but, then is contemporary poetry failing the world somehow?

Because it’s not doing for everyone what it’s doing for you and me? That’s a lot of pressure to put on contemporary poetry. I do think a lot about how to grow the readership of poetry, and it can be frustrating to encounter perceptions about poetry from even really well-read people.

I think that since poetry has such a niche readership; since poets don’t have to buy expensive materials (like paint, cameras, film); and since poets don’t have to collaborate with others (like in filmmaking), I think we can experiment in ways that would be unacceptable in more popular media like photography or film. I think that’s a good thing, but I guess it can create an insularity. But maybe it is the insularity that goes on when a bunch of geotechnical engineers get together to talk about slope stability.

Full interview here.

Originally Published: July 31st, 2012
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