If you’re an editor with a penchant for publishing fantastic books of poetry, there’s a new name that you really need to know: Amy Graziano. Especially with this month’s badass Poetry Feature, I’m inclined to just let these poems speak for themselves. So take a seat and check them out. Then, when you’re tired of staring wide-eyed at your computer screen, come back and read this interview.
Michael: I’m pretty sure Gestation is one of the tightest, most visceral poems I’ve read in ages! It reminds me of the work of Anne Sexton and Sharon Olds, though you definitely have your own, distinctive style. Can you talk about some of your influences?
Amy: Thank you. A few of these are earlier poems, so yes, heavily influenced by Sexton, Plath, Olds, Louise Gluck. They result from experimentation, awe, and play, before I “found my voice,” as they say. I would caution that “finding your voice,” though, can mean limiting your capacity, believing your own myth. I prefer the dangling carrot approach—pushing boundaries to see what’s on the other side. With that said, I hope there is yet a world behind the wardrobe. As long as the voice is authentic—and that’s the hard part—you’ve found your voice.
M: Like Gestation, your poem, Spring Meteor Shower in Oakdale Cemetery, feels meticulously crafted. There seems to be more of a push nowadays towards a stream-of-consciousness, what I’d frankly call slapdash style of poetry that decries revision and doesn’t have anywhere near the connective tissue your poetry has. Can you talk about your aesthetic? Put another way, what’s your secret? What’s your process when you sit down to write or revise a poem?
A: I wouldn’t call these poems straight narrative, but, like you, I wouldn’t call them slapdash. There is something to be said for a poem that seems to decry “the rules” or some obvious “craft” that succeeds. I suspect there’s more to it than a haphazard spin-the-twister-board-dial and see where it lands aesthetic. My own approach seems to be to let the poems emerge. 90% of it is mental garbage. Every once in a while, I find something to keep. I’m a big deleter, too. I tend to not find my way into poems until I’m in the middle of things. If I had a secret, you could probably buy it at the local supermart for under ten bucks.
M: One thing that draws me to your work is that your poems take risks, but they never feel like risks taken purely for the sake of appearing provocative. I also appreciate the mix of dark humor and tenderness in your social commentary. When it comes to making lyrical observations about touchy subjects or aspects of our collective American identity—as you do in Listening to the Magnetic Fields in Central Illinois and Wabash Valley Nights—do you have any rules you make for yourself? Any suggestions for other poets who might be reading this?
A: Dostoevsky purportedly once said, “There are two stories: a man goes on a journey and a stranger comes to town.” I’m a woman, obviously, but my story is that I’ve gone on my own small journey and now I’m the stranger in town. It seems that wherever I am, I’m outsider, not “from here”—but still I find myself making circles in the frost on the window, peeking in. A writer in these shoes would do well to remember that, as Dylan sings, “you’re better than no one and no one is better than you.” To gaze at the other is instinctual. My only advice is to respect and celebrate the small differences, because there are no big ones.
M: Your work also seems to have a lot of stylistic and formal variety. For instance, The Man with a Balloon and Graduation differ significantly from your other poems in terms of form. Once you have the language of your poems down, how do you decide what form they’ll take? Do you play around with a lot of different forms before you decide on the “final” product or does the form just kind of drop down like manna and hot wings from heaven?
A: I rarely play around with forms. It feels a little to me like trying on wigs. I let the poems decide their forms, even if they’re a tad flat, like my real hair.
M: One senses in your poetry a real awareness of what other poets are doing (even though, as I said, you’ve definitely developed your own style). Do you have a routine for keeping yourself familiar with contemporary poetry? How much poetry do you read, and how often?
A: I’m a binge poetry reader. I don’t read every day, but I have my spurts. At this point, I’d say it’s still healthy. I have my favorites, and I comb through everything I can to get my hands on their work. I have a lot of friends who read poetry, so I also readily take their suggestions and discover new poetry to drool over often.
M: In your opinion, what’s the most essential ingredient for a “good” poem?
A: This is a really difficult question. I was thinking the other day about whether a good poem, sitting in a desk drawer, that no one has ever read, is still a good poem. This is why I could never major in philosophy. Part of me wants to say yes, it exists, it is good, no one has read or discovered it yet, carry on. The other part wants to insist that art must interact in order to be called good. I’d say there is no one essential ingredient. If you make a pecan pie without the pecans, you have chess pie. Lots of people call chess pie good.
M: Music also seems to have a strong influence on your work. Who are a few of your favorite singers/bands? What song do you want played at your funeral?
A: This is a great question. I think I’d like a mash up between Dylan’s Maggie’s Farm and Cohen’s Hallelujah played at my funeral, but I’d want them both slightly drowned out by bagpipes, or the Grateful Dead, or Nicki Minaj, or Lebanese folk music. I always see these requests for your top ten favorite albums floating around on the internet. I never participate. I feel like it’s entirely personal, like asking the people two pews behind you in church their favorite positions in bed. I’m a product of my times, I suppose. I love the Magnetic Fields, especially around the holidays, but I wouldn’t put them in my top ten. They just happened to work their way into that poem. I used to ask people, “What CD is in your player right now?” to get a feel for who they are/were. I guess that question is obsolete now, but years ago I asked it of the members of the band Ween, when I met them in a bar. They said, “Led Zeppelin.” Of course they did.
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