Welcome to Ask a Poet, where each week we will present (in no particular order) a Q&A with a poet who will be coming to the Dodge Poetry Festival this October 20-23. Through these blogs, you’ll be able to get to know these poets a bit better in preparation for #DPF16!
Now, let’s get to know Alicia Ostriker.
When did you first discover poetry? What poets made you want to write poetry? My mom was an English major who wrote poetry herself, and read poetry to me from the time I was born. She poured Shakespeare, Browning and Tennyson into my tender ears so poetry was never a foreign language to me. I was doomed – I mean, destined. But my mom wrote in traditional forms and I write mostly in open forms, which I convinced her to do also. That was a hard job. And I never got her to read the poets who were most important to me–Whitman, Blake, William Carlos Williams, H.D., Ginsberg, lucille clifton, Adrienne Rich…
What is the role of poetry in the twenty first century? Same as every other century. Muriel Rukeyser says “Breathe in experience. Breathe out poetry.” Too bad it’s not that easy.
Tell us about your favorite experience reading for an audience. I opened once for Allen Ginsberg at the Seattle Bumbershoot Festival, in a huge auditorium, packed to the rafters, even though B.B. King was performing at the same time at the opposite end of the festival grounds. I was a bit terrified, but the audience not only applauded, they kept applauding and had me come back for an encore. Talk about thrilling…
Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share? Not really, though I’ve had people walk out when I’ve read poems that were too “graphic” for them, dealing with pregnancy and childbirth, or poems questioning religion.
What is a misconception about poetry that bothers you? Why? The Hallmark-driven idea that poetry should be pretty and nice bugs me. The idea that poetry should rhyme irritates me. The idea that poetry should not rhyme irritates me equally. So does the notion that “real” poetry should be difficult. In fact, whenever any person or group lays down the law that poetry “should” do some particular thing, I want to run in the opposite direction. Beware the Poetry Police.
Richard Hugo said we’ve written every poem we ever loved. He was particularly proud of having written Yeats’ “Easter, 1916.” What great poem are you proud of having written? Now that you ask, I’m pretty proud of having written “Antony and Cleopatra” and “King Lear.”
Alicia Ostriker was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1937. She is the author of more than ten collections of poetry, including The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog (University of Pittsburgh Press); At the Revelation Restaurant and Other Poems (Marick Press); The Book of Seventy (University of Pittsburgh Press); The Volcano Sequence (University of Pittsburgh Press); The Little Space: Poems Selected and New, 1968-1998 (University of Pittsburgh Press) which was a finalist for the 1999 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; The Crack in Everything (University of Pittsburgh Press), which was a National Book Award finalist and won both the Paterson Poetry Award and the San Francisco State Poetry Center Award; and The Imaginary Lover (University of Pittsburgh Press), winner of the William Carlos Williams Award of the Poetry Society of America. In 2015, Ostriker was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She is professor emerita of English at Rutgers University, and a faculty member of the Drew University’s low-residency poetry MFA program. She divides her time between New York City and Princeton, New Jersey.
Stay updated on the 2016 Dodge Poetry Festival as information becomes available!