Poetry News

The Best Game in the World: An Interview with Marie Ponsot

By Harriet Staff


Marie Ponsot, winner of this year's Ruth Lilly Prize, has been interviewed at Interrupting Infinity, the authorial site of David St.-Lascaux. Ponsot talks to St.-Lascaux about "the good world, the utility of idleness, language and fable, the sacred, the doing of things, and the pleasure principle of life." It's amazing from the get-go: "I had the privilege of having seven children. I loved having babies, but I was making the big bomb of population. Lots of people have five children, seven children, ten children. We all kept doing that because we had known all the wars for a long time." Here's a longer excerpt:

DS-L: What do you want your poetry to do? Does poetry magnify our experience, emotionalize it?

MP: I think language gives us most of what we’ve got. The most incomparable game of language is the making of poetry, because it tries to bind ideas and imagination and hard reason. Surges of feeling come through language when you manage to put all those forces of the human animal [to work]. It’s the best game in the world.

She can’t imagine that. Nothing
she needs can be got; if it could
she’d go get it:

DS-L: You quote Alice Quinn as saying, “If we knew where poetry comes from, we’d all go there.” But Edward Hirsch says that people find poetry challenging, and thus poetry will have a small audience. Is it important that society at large want to read and write poetry?

MP: Why is it important? Of all the arts, we all have it. Everyone speaks language, we have the matrix of language that is very personal. It’s body by which we are informed. Whether you are rich or poor or educated or [not], we all have this body of poetry.

A small breeze rises and the leaves stir
as uneasy as we, while the woods go black;
its voice touches and parts the air of summer

DS-L: Given finity, should a poet read poetry, or simply write? Isn’t time spent reading time not spent writing?

MP: I can’t imagine someone who just writes and doesn’t read or who doesn’t do the reverse either. The matrix is language. Right now I haven’t written a poem in two months. I usually write all the time. Right now in this broken brain that I have right now, it’s as if it’s right there in my periphery, right there, but I’m not using it. I don’t want to rush into it. I want it to open to me, to want to do it. I can’t explain to you how different it is to be with this break in the language.

DS-L: Are you reading?

MP: Yes, I read all the time. I do two kinds of reading. I read junk, accidentally, whatever it is. I like philosophy: I read philosophy. I’m reading a man called John Rawls. He took the big work that he did in the 70’s called A Theory of Justice, and developed it further and broke it down into smaller and more developed parts. And that’s what I’ve been reading. He gives you a hypothesis, a way of imagining the good world. He has a theory [of a] just world in which we behave well, nations, individuals. He says don’t call them nations – call them peoples, because we are all alike.

DS-L: Is his view utopian?

MP: He says we need the utopian image in the back of our minds. He’s not saying, crack, it’ll be done. We need to think that all the parts of it could balance out without restraining people to say this is [what] you must do. You take the good part of the justice in people.

Read the full interview here.

Originally Published: March 20th, 2013