You grew up in Memphis, Tennessee in the 1970s. Can you talk about that city’s influence on you as a poet, translator and scholar? How much influence, if any, did Memphis Soul or the presence of Stax and Hi Records have on the young Don Share?
DS: Poet, yes, great influence; translator, yes, because my high-school Spanish teacher set me to reading great things in that language. Scholar? Not so much, I’m afraid. I imbibed Memphis music like water, if you’ll pardon the metaphor. Music was everywhere, and radio was amazing. But then, too, the musicians were real people all around us, and we’d just see them everywhere, no big deal, from Elvis and Al Green to Isaac Hayes (who lived next door to me for a while), Alex Chilton, The Hodges brothers, Tav Falco, I could go on and on. There is no Memphis without music. That music still influences me. In fact, the prosody for the long title poem of my first book Union was derived from what I heard Ma Rainey II (Lillie Mae Glover) do when she performed from a wooden throne in a blues joint by the river:variable 2- and 3- beat lines with a stomping-foot counterpoint!
What are your memories of living in Memphis during the Civil Rights Movement? I’m particularly curious to know your thoughts about the current tenor of the country pertaining to race and the recent removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s capitol given your youth in Memphis during the ’60s.
DS: Well, I grew up rather later than that, coming of age in the mid 70s. Which was an ecumenical period. You can best read about it in Robert Gordon’s book, It Came From Memphis, which is a kind of spiritual autobiography for me. If it’s ok to mention Union again, I have work in there about the eerie places that have become sites (long before this summer) of conflict about history and symbolism: Confederate Park, Tom Lee Park, and the spot where the notorious Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest lies buried beneath an equestrian statue. Only Virginia saw more battles on its land than Tennessee during the Civil War, yet there were also pro-Union areas; so there was lots of push and pull, you could say. Grant even occupied the best hotel in town at one point, and the Union Army took over the newspaper for a while (again, there are poems about that in my book). That our union is fractured today is no surprise and no accident – the fault line is as built into our history as the Mississippi is engraved upon the continent. My thoughts about this ever-unfolding and ineradicable living tragedy remain as they were when I put together the poems in my book, though perhaps they’re more pertinent now than when it came out.
Talk about your work on the Northumberland poet, Basil Bunting. He was a poet who moved around a bit—from various places in England (including a stint in prison) to Paris to Italy to Persia and back. What was your particular interest in his work and did place play into that?
DS: Wherever he moved, Bunting was still and always a man of the British north! So yes, his deep and in some ways wonderfully perverse sense of place is what appeals to me. He always pointed out that we don’t all speak the same English. The fake standard English that “southrons,” as he called them, espoused was not the language that Wordsworth and Keats used. You can’t hear Keats if you don’t know that he was a Cockney, you can’t comprehend Wordsworth’s rhymes if you hear him as a BBC announcer. He was wary of the dilution of identity, and predicted the violence and economic disaster that unfolds from trying to suppress our own real history. At the same time, he was cannily both inside and outside of his own culture. That’s the vantage point of the poet.
You wear a lot of different hats when it comes to poetry: poet, editor, translator, literary critic, curator. Can you talk a little bit about the different roles? Are they like visiting different places in poetry? Or do the different kinds of work you do connect or even bleed into each other?
DS: It’s all of a piece, for me. I read, I think, I write, I put things, and people, together. I’m lucky to have been in a set of circumstances in which all of my deepest passions can be intertwined.