January 9, 2012 § 1 Comment
The following interview was conducted by email in late January and early February, 2011 and was published by The Asheville Poetry Review (www.ashevillepoetryreview.com).
DW: In literary circles, you are best known as a Southern poet, an Arkansas native who founded the first M.F.A. program in Louisiana. The Southern Review called you “The most engaging and lucid of the postmodern southern poets,” and when you were profiled in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Lawrence Biemiller wrote that you were “as well rooted [in Lake Charles, Louisiana] as one of the city’s live oaks.” And yet, in 2007 you left Louisiana and the South altogether, retiring to Saxton’s River, Vermont. I am wondering, first, if you still (or ever did) consider yourself to be a “Southern” poet and, second, how your move to New England has affected you as an artist. I am struck, for example, by how deeply some of the poems in your new book, The Fictions of History, engage with Puritan figures like Cotton Mather and Edward Taylor.
JW: No, I never thought of myself as a “Southern” poet, but I certainly wasn’t going to tell The Southern Review I didn’t appreciate the nice compliment. I appreciated it very much. I don’t think of myself as “postmodern” either, but again who could complain in the same sentence with “most engaging and lucid”? Of course, there are some Southern characters in my work because I lived in the midst of them—nutty, dancing preachers and hysterical women and so forth. There was a church on the end of the block I grew up on. They got very loud there. We lived at the other end of the block but on Sundays and Prayer Meeting nights you could hear them clearly, and I would sometimes go peek in one of the windows and watch the show. My mother was friends with Pastor Jimmy and Frank, the man who lived with him, a fact my mother found wonderfully amusing. She would take them extra tomatoes, okra, and so forth from the garden, as she did other neighbors. I would go with her sometimes, and though I didn’t know the word at the time, their house was a masterpiece of “camp.” Pierre and Gilles would love to have photographed it. « Read the rest of this entry »