Monday, August 8, 2011

Foster Robertson: Thoughts on Being an American Poet

Foster Robertson, photo by Holly, 2010


Foster and I met in 1967, toward the end of my graduate school years in Berkeley. She was studying Art History, and we got to talking, walked home together, liked each other. I shared a poem called "Bougainvillaea Vision," and she gave me a photograph of red Bougainvillaea. I gave her copies of a little family/friend newsletter I did called The Kanga-Roo News. Out of that grew our poetry magazine, Hyperion, which Paul Foreman and I edited, after we met because of Foster. She and Paul live now in Austin, where they’re having a terribly hot, dry summer, with fifty consecutive days of temperature above 100 and no rain. Her garden is a desert, and she’s a devoted gardener. Of course, she’s grieving. She wrote, after answering the questions below: "Levertov is someone I am reading just now, not an influence. To name poets who have influenced me seems like naming the stars of the sky." She closes the note:

I came for something.
I left with something.
They were not the same something.

She published a book in 1970 (San Marcos Press), called Soundings. She wrote once in a poem the words "the earth of ordinary intercourse," a phrase I’ve never forgotten, also this, in her poem "Thanksgiving, of Indians."

Inside a cavity of flesh
a petal
carved of hours of sunshine
So, herewith, the thoughts of Foster in Austin during a difficult American summer. Judy

Foster Robertson: Thoughts on Being An American Poet

1) When did you start writing and what motivated you?

Around the age of sixteen was when I started writing. I wrote to communicate and to share experiences, to share perceptions of wonder, insights, and troubles.

2) Who are the writers who first inspired you to write and who are the writers you read now? What’s changed?

The list the poets who influence me would be very long. When I started writing Edna St. Vincent Millay and Emily Dickinson were among the poets I read most thoroughly. Recent resources include Czeslaw Milosz, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, Josephine Miles, Denise Levertov, Rilke, Robert Creeley, Tao Qian, and Su Shih among hundreds. I explore contemporary American poetry with mixed regard, often finding treasure in new work, but not as often finding a contemporary American poet I treasure whole and return to frequently.

3) How important is 'everyday life' to your work?

Flora and fauna encountered immediately and everyday are essential to my work. I avoid the first person point of view and aspects of consumer culture which would inhibit access across cultural divides.

4) What is the role or place of subjectivity in your poetry?

Expression of the subject through object and action are the goal.

5) Do you see your work in terms of literary traditions and/or broader cultural or political movements?

American, European, Chinese, and Japanese poetic traditions celebrating the natural world and friendship.

6) What aspect of writing poetry and working as a poet is the most challenging?

Pursuing publication.

7) What reading, other than poetry, is important to your work as a poet and why?

I explore the varieties of the human condition through reading fiction, studying art history, and reading writing on literature by writers.

8) What is ‘American poetry’? Do you see yourself as an ‘American’ poet?

American poetry is the collective, un-selected gathering of all poetry written in America in the American idiom or translated into English.

9) What is the current state of American poetry, as you see it? How do you think American poetry might best develop in the next ten years?

American poetry may explore more musical sound patterns.

10) How is poetry relevant or valuable to contemporary society and culture in the U.S. and/or at an international level?

Song writing is influential and occasionally deeply poetic. Lyric poetry is the unnoticed garden that rests the core.

No comments:

Post a Comment