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 chat with Bryan Borland!
What are you reading?
Right now, I’m reading Collected Poems: 1950-2012 by Adrienne Rich. Each time I read Rich, who, posthumously has become my mentor and teacher thanks to the weight and substance of her body of work, I find some truth to the current moment. That’s the beautiful duality of the best poetry, really. How it observes and reports on a specific situation, something we need to be aware of, but at the same time, to make that commentary timeless. Her book, Dark Fields of the Republic, which is included in her Collected, could have been written about the United States in 2016. It’s like she was warning us. But why didn’t we listen? And that begs the question, who is writing right now to warn us? And are we listening?
What is a misconception about poetry that bothers you? Why?
There’s often a misconception, particularly among students who are just being introduced to poetry, that there’s always a right answer as far as what a poem means, and when that’s taught as an absolute, it can educate the love of poetry right out of someone because it prevents that very personal transaction of energy from occurring between the poem and the audience. It’s important to study a poet’s intent, but the truth is, when a poem is raised and walks on its own into the world to be discovered by an audience, it becomes the property of the reader or the listener, and the end point of that poem, the final part of the equation, is up to that audience. As a reader of poetry, you finish the equation. And that transaction of energy I mentioned? It’s a transaction of energy from the linebreaks to your body and your brain. And as a writer, as a poet, creating a poem means having the ability to shoot fire from your hands. What readers do with that fire, whether it’s to light up the night, warm their feet, or burn down the house, that’s not up to the poet or the teacher or the textbook. In this way, the reader becomes the most powerful part of the poetic equation.
Tell us about your favorite experience reading for an audience.
The poet James Tate said in his Paris Review interview, “I love my funny poems, but I’d rather break your heart.” My favorite thing to do with an audience is use poetry to span that range of emotion. I love to make an audience laugh early on by reading something that disarms them and makes them laugh. An unexpected use of language. Some unusual way of approaching poetry. Or if it’s a younger audience, I’ll do something silly, like have my hosts introduce me like I’m a professional wrestler. I’ll run in as “The Poet” and give high-fives and talk about the muscle of language and how it can break down walls. And then, when they have their guard down, I’ll go right for the heart. I’ll break it a little, or a lot, and then I’ll use poetry to mend it, too. Once you connect like that, on a really human level, the audience is in for the long haul.
With all the other demands and distractions in life, how do you make time for poetry?
If I don’t make time for poetry when a poem is knocking at the door, it throws everything off. It’s like an electric current, and if I don’t let my fingertips do their thing, the electricity is going to end up other places and something’s going to short out. The microwave is going to explode or the toaster’s going to smoke. Ignoring creative energy can be dangerous. Especially on one’s appliances.
Bryan Borland, a Lambda Fellow in Poetry and winner of the 2016 Judith A. Markowitz Emerging Writer Award, is the founder and publisher of Sibling Rivalry Press. He is the author of My Life as Adam, which was selected by the American Library Association for its first annual “Over the Rainbow” list of recommended LGBT reading, and Less Fortunate Pirates: Poems from the First Year Without My Father, both from Sibling Rivalry Press, as well as DIG, just published by Stillhouse Press. He is the founding editor of Assaracus: A Journal of Gay Poetry, which was honored in its first year by Library Journalas a “Best New Magazine,” the editor of Lady Business: A Celebration of Lesbian Poetry, which was included on 2013’s “Over the Rainbow” list, and the co-editor of Joy Exhaustible, an anthology highlighting the writing of gay publishers and editors, which was included on 2014’s “Over the Rainbow” list. He lives in Arkansas with his husband and co-publisher of Sibling Rivalry Press, Seth Pennington.