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 Michael Klein!
When did you first discover poetry? What poets made you want to write poetry?
I first discovered poetry at the Jefferson Market Library in Greenwich Village, where I lived as a kid. I took out all the books of poetry and plays back then because I could read them all in a week or so. They were all short, and I loved to read but had a hard time entering novels. Those first poets for me that really started everything were James Wright, Bob Kaufman, W.S. Merwin, Adrienne Rich and Clarence Major.
What is the role of poetry in the twenty first century?
I’m going to go against W.H. Auden here who said that “poetry makes nothing happen” and say that in the 21st Century, poetry has to make something happen.
Tell us about your favorite experience reading for an audience.
I think I may have just had it! I spent a week teaching at the Frost Place in Franconia, NH, and the second night there, I got to give a reading in Robert Frost’s barn. I was looking at a sea of beautiful faces and the White Mountains in the background. It was a kind of paradise and the reading was—because of the setting—probably the best one I’ve ever given. I also read last year at McNally Jackson bookstore with Marie Howe and that was a special night, as well.
What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?
“So, you probably never have sex.”
What is a misconception about poetry that bothers you? Why?
That it’s difficult—to which I always say, then read more of it.
How important is accessibility of meaning? Should a reader have to work hard to “solve” the poem?
I don’t think there should be any kind of rule when it comes to reading a poem. You experience the reading of a poem as that: an experience. Meaning is gathered, too, in the same way. I let poems wash over me and every one of them has a different way of being “understood”. But I also think a poem should reflect complexity and not, necessarily, simplicity. It should stand for something beyond the givenness of mere understanding.
Michael Klein has written four books of poems and two books of non-fiction, as well as editing three anthologies which deal with the AIDS pandemic. He is a five-time Lambda Literary Award finalist and his first book of poems, 1990, tied with James Schuyler to win the award in 1993. The landmark anthology he edited, Poets for Life: 76 Poets Respond to AIDS won the Lambda Literary award in 1990 and his third book, The Talking Day, was both a Lambda Literary and a Thom Gunn Award finalist. His most recent book is When I Was a Twin and his work has been published in Poetry, Ploughshares, Tin House, New England Review, American Poetry Review, Provincetown Arts and many other publications. He has taught at Sarah Lawrence, The Frost Place and was a guest writer at Binghamton University. He currently teaches at Hunter College in New York, the MFA Program at Goddard College in Vermont, online (24PearlStreet.org) and summers for the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, where he lives when he is not living in New York City.