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Poetry in Person: Twenty-Five Years of Conversation with America's Poets

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“In the fall of 1970, at the New School in Greenwich Village, a new teacher posted a flyer on the wall,” begins Alexander Neubauer’s introduction to this remarkable book. “It read ‘Meet Poets and Poetry, with Pearl London and Guests.’” Few students responded. No one knew Pearl London, the daughter of M. Lincoln Schuster, cofounder of Simon & Schuster. But the seminar’s fir “In the fall of 1970, at the New School in Greenwich Village, a new teacher posted a flyer on the wall,” begins Alexander Neubauer’s introduction to this remarkable book. “It read ‘Meet Poets and Poetry, with Pearl London and Guests.’” Few students responded. No one knew Pearl London, the daughter of M. Lincoln Schuster, cofounder of Simon & Schuster. But the seminar’s first guests turned out to be John Ashbery, Adrienne Rich, and Robert Creely. Soon W. S. Merwin followed, then Mark Strand and Galway Kinnell. London invited poets to bring their drafts to class, to discuss their work in progress and the details of vision and revision that brought a poem to its final version. From Maxine Kumin in 1973 to Eamon Grennan in 1996, including Amy Clampitt, Marilyn Hacker, Paul Muldoon, Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, and U.S. poet laureates Robert Hass, Robert Pinsky, Louise Glück, and Charles Simic, the book follows an extraordinary range of poets as they create their poems and offers numerous illustrations of the original drafts, which bring their processes to light. With James Merrill, London discusses autobiography and subterfuge; with Galway Kinnell, his influential notion that the new nature poem must include the city and not exclude man; with June Jordan, “Poem in Honor of South African Women” and the question of political poetry and its uses. Published here for the first time, the conversations are intimate, funny, irreverent, and deeply revealing. Many of the drafts under discussion—Robert Hass’s “Meditation at Lagunitas,” Edward Hirsch’s “Wild Gratitude,” Robert Pinsky’s “The Want Bone”—turned into seminal works in the poets’ careers. There has never been a gathering like Poetry in Person, which brings us a wealth of understanding and unparalleled access to poets and their drafts, unraveling how a great poem is actually made.


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“In the fall of 1970, at the New School in Greenwich Village, a new teacher posted a flyer on the wall,” begins Alexander Neubauer’s introduction to this remarkable book. “It read ‘Meet Poets and Poetry, with Pearl London and Guests.’” Few students responded. No one knew Pearl London, the daughter of M. Lincoln Schuster, cofounder of Simon & Schuster. But the seminar’s fir “In the fall of 1970, at the New School in Greenwich Village, a new teacher posted a flyer on the wall,” begins Alexander Neubauer’s introduction to this remarkable book. “It read ‘Meet Poets and Poetry, with Pearl London and Guests.’” Few students responded. No one knew Pearl London, the daughter of M. Lincoln Schuster, cofounder of Simon & Schuster. But the seminar’s first guests turned out to be John Ashbery, Adrienne Rich, and Robert Creely. Soon W. S. Merwin followed, then Mark Strand and Galway Kinnell. London invited poets to bring their drafts to class, to discuss their work in progress and the details of vision and revision that brought a poem to its final version. From Maxine Kumin in 1973 to Eamon Grennan in 1996, including Amy Clampitt, Marilyn Hacker, Paul Muldoon, Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, and U.S. poet laureates Robert Hass, Robert Pinsky, Louise Glück, and Charles Simic, the book follows an extraordinary range of poets as they create their poems and offers numerous illustrations of the original drafts, which bring their processes to light. With James Merrill, London discusses autobiography and subterfuge; with Galway Kinnell, his influential notion that the new nature poem must include the city and not exclude man; with June Jordan, “Poem in Honor of South African Women” and the question of political poetry and its uses. Published here for the first time, the conversations are intimate, funny, irreverent, and deeply revealing. Many of the drafts under discussion—Robert Hass’s “Meditation at Lagunitas,” Edward Hirsch’s “Wild Gratitude,” Robert Pinsky’s “The Want Bone”—turned into seminal works in the poets’ careers. There has never been a gathering like Poetry in Person, which brings us a wealth of understanding and unparalleled access to poets and their drafts, unraveling how a great poem is actually made.

30 review for Poetry in Person: Twenty-Five Years of Conversation with America's Poets

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tibby (she/her)

    2020: I read this book a lifetime ago. Or at least it feels like it. I also didn't finished the first time I read it. I picked it up again this April for National Poetry Month and read one interview a day for most of the month (as the titles says, there are only 25 interviews, plus an afterword and an introduction). This time through I had more thoughts I wanted to add. What a fascinating collection of poets and insight into poetry. It certainly could have been more diverse in terms of race and 2020: I read this book a lifetime ago. Or at least it feels like it. I also didn't finished the first time I read it. I picked it up again this April for National Poetry Month and read one interview a day for most of the month (as the titles says, there are only 25 interviews, plus an afterword and an introduction). This time through I had more thoughts I wanted to add. What a fascinating collection of poets and insight into poetry. It certainly could have been more diverse in terms of race and possibly other identities, but it was dependent on who was interviewed originally in Pearl London's class. I think each poet offered something interesting to say about how poetry is written and how it should be read. I think it also shows that each poet approaches their craft differently, but with reverence. It was interesting to see how many of these poets refer to a few seminal Western poets (they all seem to have read and loved Robert Frost as well as Yeats and Rilke) as well as each other. They all also offered something about how you, as a reader, can approach poems when really looking at them and understanding them deeply. Or not. Many of them allow that the reader sometimes just needs to feel a poem and to "get it" you don't have to examine each word choice, line break, and metaphor. London would have been an incredible teacher to have had. It's clear how much she loves the art and craft of poetry and how well read she is. Her thoughts on the different poems and their revisions is often astounding. There were times I wished she wasn't so present in the interviews as she tends to interrupt the poets, but I think that was part of how she was doing the teaching with these interviews. Meaning they weren't traditional interviews, but part of how she was teaching her students to dissect poetry. 2011: Poetry in Person collects 25 interviews with some very famous poets. I will be the first to admit I picked this book because I liked the cover, but I was also drawn in by the concept. Fiction is a genera that I tend to like hearing more about the process than actually reading the product and thought I may feel the same way about poetry. The interviews all provide some wonderful insight into how the poets go about writing and the techniques that they employ to get their meaning across. I was also very surprised to learn that each poet has a different method and thought process so that applying a one-size-fits-all method of interpreting poetry (as I was taught to do in English classes) may not be the best way to approach a poet's work. Plus, I was always amused each time a poet was surprised by a meaning that a student found that was completely unintentional.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    Let me be clear about something: no matter how much I read about poetry, I still feel like I know nothing about poetry. This is mainly because I am a fiction writer who forces himself to teach it. Even on my best days, I often feel like a baseball player teaching cricket. It seems, at first, like a similar game, but the the more I look it at it, the more I don't know what the hell is going on. What's a wicket? Why does the bat look like a spanking paddle? Since when did we allow bouncing pitches Let me be clear about something: no matter how much I read about poetry, I still feel like I know nothing about poetry. This is mainly because I am a fiction writer who forces himself to teach it. Even on my best days, I often feel like a baseball player teaching cricket. It seems, at first, like a similar game, but the the more I look it at it, the more I don't know what the hell is going on. What's a wicket? Why does the bat look like a spanking paddle? Since when did we allow bouncing pitches? Where am I? Help. HELP ME GOD! So, in order to try to make myself a more competent teacher for the future-poets in my classes who need inspiring, I try to read poetry and books about poetry a few times a year to up my game. Which leads me to this awesome little tome. More than anything I've read recently, this baby cracks open some mysteries. It's a series of transcripts of recorded sessions with poets talking about a poem in progress. Why did they get rid of that ant metaphor? Why remove those adjectives? What exactly are they trying to accomplish with sound? As you might imagine, some interviews are better than others in this regard. Robert Hass and Phillip Levine are great. Li-Young Lee sounds like he's from another planet. June Jordan is pissed off. Part of the fun though, is seeing whose philosophy resonates with your (in this case "my" very limited) ideas about poetry. Anyway, this book provides a small window into the poetic process that non-poets can relish. I looked at it partly like a anthropologist studying a new strange people who like rhyme and assonance, and partly like a baseball player who, for a few fleeting moments, thought about changing games.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Miro Capili

    Chronicles an educator's abiding fire (because all other words fall short) for poetic iterations through interviews with some of the most authoritative American poets. Among others, one chapter discusses the process of creation and revision behind one of my favorite poems, "Meditation at Lagunitas," with its author Robert Hass. The resulting discussions are informal yet incisive, with the interviewer displaying an admirable grasp of the social, personal, political, and (ultimately) linguistic nu Chronicles an educator's abiding fire (because all other words fall short) for poetic iterations through interviews with some of the most authoritative American poets. Among others, one chapter discusses the process of creation and revision behind one of my favorite poems, "Meditation at Lagunitas," with its author Robert Hass. The resulting discussions are informal yet incisive, with the interviewer displaying an admirable grasp of the social, personal, political, and (ultimately) linguistic nuances reflected by and assimilated by each poem. Despite the clear academic purpose behind each conversation, a sense of probity remains intact from which the reader can consume the text as both spectator and proverbial co-creator. Impassioned, astute, delicious. Worth re-reading. An invaluable resource.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Diann Blakely

    The largely unknown Pearl London made poetry—or, to be more specific, poets—accessible to her students at the New School in Greenwich Village over the course of 25 years. The invited poets were required to bring not completed works but unfinished drafts, even jottings on envelopes, scribbled phrases or anything else that contributed to “works in progress as process.” The astonishing humility of poets who accepted the increasingly coveted summons included Nobel and U.S. poets laureate, as well as The largely unknown Pearl London made poetry—or, to be more specific, poets—accessible to her students at the New School in Greenwich Village over the course of 25 years. The invited poets were required to bring not completed works but unfinished drafts, even jottings on envelopes, scribbled phrases or anything else that contributed to “works in progress as process.” The astonishing humility of poets who accepted the increasingly coveted summons included Nobel and U.S. poets laureate, as well as National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winners. Equally astonishing is the genesis of POETRY IN PERSON: some 100 cassette tapes, a complete catalog and, as editor and transcriber Alexander Neubauer tells us, “file upon file stuffed with copies of the [poets’] manuscripts and drafts” were found in a closet of London’s home after her death in 2003. Winnowing the tapes and papers of 100 poets to the 23 represented in this book was only the beginning of Neubauer’s task; each chapter also includes an introduction that locates the poets’ visits at a specific point in time: “who they were when they arrived at London’s doorstep, what they had written, what was later to come.” If you protest that you don’t live close to a doorstep through which someone like Maxine Kumin or Seamus Heaney is likely to pass, check out the rapidly growing numbers of special events and readings devoted to poetry in your hometown this month. Also take note of Robert Polito, author of the book’s postscript. As the director of the New School’s Writing Program, Polito was London’s boss as well as a participant in Works in Progress, as the seminar came to be known. Polito’s most recent addition to his string of much-lauded titles, a collection of poems called HOLLYWOOD AND GOD, has been featured on the web in a variety of forms, including interviews, personal statements and archived audiovisual material. For a sample, go Googling.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Klawitter

    This book was a marvelous discovery for me. I'm also fairly certain that any serious reader of poetry will find this book interesting and informative. Among the many poets interviewed in the book are three of my favorites: James Merrill, Edward Hirsch, and Charles Simic. To learn more about their writing process and how they revised some of their well-known works was great...a little peek behind the artistic curtain so to speak. But I personally (as a poet myself) found the following remarks by This book was a marvelous discovery for me. I'm also fairly certain that any serious reader of poetry will find this book interesting and informative. Among the many poets interviewed in the book are three of my favorites: James Merrill, Edward Hirsch, and Charles Simic. To learn more about their writing process and how they revised some of their well-known works was great...a little peek behind the artistic curtain so to speak. But I personally (as a poet myself) found the following remarks by William Matthews about the difference between different kinds of artists going on retreat remarkably funny and accurate as hell: "There's a castle outside Edinburgh, a writer's retreat. I went there because it was exotic, because I like Scotland. I was there for a month surrounded by wet sheep. I don't know if any of you have ever sent yourself off for a month someplace to write, but one of the things you discover early on is that those places work much better for painters and composers and novelists than they do for poets, because, you know, you get up and you work really hard for three hours and you think, OK, I've had it, that's it. I'm a sprinter. I work for these intense bursts and then I'm done for the day. So it's noon. And you look out the window and there's thousands of wet sheep."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Therese Broderick

    Excellent collection of interviews, with tailored questions focusing on the craft of writing, with diverse major poets providing line-by-line "process notes" for their own short poems -- dazzling and profound poems that have artistic merit well beyond their instructive value -- and with a skilled interviewer intimately known to the interviewees. The book's 23 chapters date from 1973 to 1996; nevertheless, the remarks of these learned and thoughtful poets remain as relevant and important as ever. Excellent collection of interviews, with tailored questions focusing on the craft of writing, with diverse major poets providing line-by-line "process notes" for their own short poems -- dazzling and profound poems that have artistic merit well beyond their instructive value -- and with a skilled interviewer intimately known to the interviewees. The book's 23 chapters date from 1973 to 1996; nevertheless, the remarks of these learned and thoughtful poets remain as relevant and important as ever. I highly recommend Poetry in Person to writers of all stages.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Cosmic Arcata

    I really enjoyed listening to poets discus their work and the work of those that influenced them. This audio gave me a deeper appreciation for poets and how hard they work. Listening to them read their own poetry was also revealing. Loved the interplay in the classroom....everyone was engaged.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay

    Some of these interviews were inspiring and spot-on; others were less interesting to me. All of them are a true testament to the craft of poetry and to these poet's dedication to the work. My only wish: more women poets, please. Some of these interviews were inspiring and spot-on; others were less interesting to me. All of them are a true testament to the craft of poetry and to these poet's dedication to the work. My only wish: more women poets, please.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    It’s truly a shame that Pearl London, this book’s raison d’etre, isn’t credited on the cover.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jen Ashburn

    Great insight into the writing and revision processes of several very good poets.

  11. 4 out of 5

    John Fredrickson

    This is an enjoyable selection of interviews of poets, with a discussion of their poetic methods as seen through a focus on one of their poems.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kasandra

    Tons of great quotes and thoughts and back-and-forth meaty conversation on poetry with some great poets (Derek Walcott's interview in here is wonderful, as is Molly Peacock's)... shortly after beginning to read this book, I was glad I'd bought it, because I ended up highlighting a good deal of inspirational material. Entertaining and funny and insightful. I only wish it were three times as long! The New Yorker ad for this book was a bit misleading, because it mentioned Mark Strand, who did atten Tons of great quotes and thoughts and back-and-forth meaty conversation on poetry with some great poets (Derek Walcott's interview in here is wonderful, as is Molly Peacock's)... shortly after beginning to read this book, I was glad I'd bought it, because I ended up highlighting a good deal of inspirational material. Entertaining and funny and insightful. I only wish it were three times as long! The New Yorker ad for this book was a bit misleading, because it mentioned Mark Strand, who did attend one of these classes/interviews, but there are no excerpts from him in the book, which was a disappointment. Regardless, I can't see how anyone who writes poetry could fail to enjoy this. Much good (and often reassuring, and happily contradictory, since every poet has an opinion!) food for thought.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kirsten

    I love interviews with writers. I wasn't as excited by each of these interviews as I'd hoped to be, but I got a good feeling from the project as a whole, which ends up being a celebratory documentary of a class held at the New School wherein poetry reader and champion extraordinaire Pearl London invited poets to come talk to her students and share drafts of their poems. She's the primary interviewer (aside from a few questions from her students) and really enters into imaginative sympathy with e I love interviews with writers. I wasn't as excited by each of these interviews as I'd hoped to be, but I got a good feeling from the project as a whole, which ends up being a celebratory documentary of a class held at the New School wherein poetry reader and champion extraordinaire Pearl London invited poets to come talk to her students and share drafts of their poems. She's the primary interviewer (aside from a few questions from her students) and really enters into imaginative sympathy with each of the poets. Note to self: Edward Hirsch categorizes Christopher Smart and James Schulyer (whose poem in this year's Best American I like) as crazies--must read more of both of them. And check out Edward Hirsch. Also A. R. Ammons, who comes up in another interview (maybe with Li-Young Lee)

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    For anyone interested in the process of poetry and in poets as people, this anthology is a unique opportunity to get inside the heads of many respected contemporary poets. Even more compelling than the discussion of how one of each poet's works-in-progress is being crafted is the way their personalities shine through in the dialogues they had with Pearl London (an unusually ardent devotee of poetry) in her college workshops. It's so engaging that reading it makes your back ache from the stiff cl For anyone interested in the process of poetry and in poets as people, this anthology is a unique opportunity to get inside the heads of many respected contemporary poets. Even more compelling than the discussion of how one of each poet's works-in-progress is being crafted is the way their personalities shine through in the dialogues they had with Pearl London (an unusually ardent devotee of poetry) in her college workshops. It's so engaging that reading it makes your back ache from the stiff classroom chairs and your brain's awe synapses all fire at once. All poetry lovers owe Alexander Neubauer a bow of gratitude for compiling such an amazing and enriching book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Karol

    This is a lyrical, sensitive, and eye-opening book that provides a window into the poetic process of some of the best modern poets. Each discusses a work in progress with Pearl London, a poet turned professor who recorded her workshops at The New School. Alexander Neubauer curated these conversations in a rich, illuminating, and ultimately liberating book, because you see how each poet has his or her own distinct sense of how to write and revise a poem. What you take away is a multitude of possi This is a lyrical, sensitive, and eye-opening book that provides a window into the poetic process of some of the best modern poets. Each discusses a work in progress with Pearl London, a poet turned professor who recorded her workshops at The New School. Alexander Neubauer curated these conversations in a rich, illuminating, and ultimately liberating book, because you see how each poet has his or her own distinct sense of how to write and revise a poem. What you take away is a multitude of possibilities and the freedom to follow our own muse.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lefty Right

    Wonderful yet infuriating. If you're reading this as a way to uncover the secrets of poetry, it may not help. The different poets interviewed, in this book, are so varied and often disagree completely about their thoughts on writing and what to write about. This book will make poets feel better about their limitations, as it becomes clear that even the best have them. Wonderful yet infuriating. If you're reading this as a way to uncover the secrets of poetry, it may not help. The different poets interviewed, in this book, are so varied and often disagree completely about their thoughts on writing and what to write about. This book will make poets feel better about their limitations, as it becomes clear that even the best have them.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Amester

    How cool to go through the process of writing a poem with some of the greatest poets of the last 50 years! This book is revealing, thought-provoking, enlightening. Authors of the highest order (Pulitzer and National Book Award winners, poet laureates, etc.) take you through poems that sometimes took years to complete. A great glimpse into the process of creating a poetic work.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sasha

    This book has allowed me to listen in on poets describing their own writing processes and on a sensitive teacher who read their work closely and persistently pursued those poets through questions. A valuable book.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ig-88

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  20. 4 out of 5

    Don Wentworth

    Occasionally insightful, sometimes frustrating ... some jarringly edited conversations.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tara

    Nice collection of a variety of poets talking about specific poems and their creative process. Transcription of interviews conducted at the New School from 1970 to 1998.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Audrey

    http://audneal.typepad.com/my_weblog/... http://audneal.typepad.com/my_weblog/...

  23. 5 out of 5

    Marie

    The variety of poets alone would make this a must-read. I borrowed this from the library, but this is definitely a book I want to have on my shelves to re-read & refer to. Loved it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sue

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ell

  26. 5 out of 5

    Alfred Fournier

  27. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

  28. 5 out of 5

    P.C.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Yoby

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dana Biscotti

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