Friday 2 April 2021

Robert van Vliet : part two

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

I could mention quite a few poets who have expanded my understanding of what can be done within the form; who, as it were, gave me permission to go where I wanted to go (even if I didn’t necessarily end up going even remotely where they went). A few of them: Arthur Sze, Joanne Kyger, Harryette Mullen, Lyn Hejinian, John Taggart, Robert Bringhurst, Louis Zukofsky. 

But I’m not sure that’s quite the same thing as changing how I think about writing. For that, I’d have to look to my poetry teacher, the late John Engman. He was the first poet to help me see that poems are not accounts of our experience but are experiences in and of themselves. Even when a poem is “telling a story,” the poem is primarily an event that the reader experiences. This was the first necessary step for me to realize that “self-expression” generally takes care of itself and is therefore not on my checklist for what makes a poem, much less a successful poem.

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