Friday, November 19, 2010
Talking with Poet David Wheeler
Below are some questions I asked David that are related to the poems and to his reading in general.
In a recent essay, you wrote about the experience of preparing to run a 10K, and how you happened into it almost accidentally. And you did cross the finish line. Would you do it again or stick to walking?
Look. Running and I are on good terms. We hang out sometimes; we've just learned to set boundaries, one being that under no circumstances will I run competitively, nor with companions. That's kind of a pillar of our relationship. That circles back onto my own insecurities about myself physically; but, they're insecurities I'm okay with, as long as I don't get pushed too much. We've all got them, and we just learn to deal. I'm a walk commuter; that's how I deal.
You said you preferred reading Dickens and Tolstoy to sports (and I agree). What writers have influenced or impressed you?
Lately, I've been most impressed by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Kathleen Norris. I haven't read a book so absolutely revolutionary and compelling as The Brothers Karamazov. Something I do every year around Christmastime is pick up lengthy work of fiction; that was last year's book, and I can't stop raving about it. An incredible piece of fiction--three brothers, all with conflicting worldviews, clash in the wake of their despicable father's brutal murder--Dostoevsky manages to work theology and philosophy seamlessly into it's textures, with out ever preaching or giving over to dogmatic statements. He asks questions, he poses hypotheticals that have literally changed the way I think about both fiction and faith.
And then there's Kathleen Norris, this feminist poet from North Dakota who's spent considerable time with Benedictine monks. You don't live like that without having some fascinating stories to tell. I just finished her memoir, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, where she looks around at the beautiful and harsh badlands, comparing the ascetics to Plainsfolk and vice versa. What got me hooked was her book The Cloister Walk, a collection of essays about faith and writing, what it means to live as a creative personality in relationship with a creative God, in a church that doesn't always know what to do with creative types, people who buck the trends. She's provocative, one of the best living writers I've ever read.
Some of the poems in Contingency Plans reflect a strong sense of place, or the importance of place, for example, the seven poems grouped in the section “Lake Padden, Bellingham” and several in “Sanctuary.” What does place do, or not do, for a poet?
Place doesn't confute the poet. That's an opinion. Any setting in the Northwest, I have come to believe, cannot go unheeded. It is there, and it demands attention: for its beauty and for its bravery. It is a subject that is constant and stalwart. Place, it seems, is sometimes the only thing grounding me in reality when I write. A poem like "Against Acedia" has the subject so veiled under this lackluster detachment to everything around him. Acedia or what is sometimes referred to as "sloth" or the "noonday demon" is an intangible mentality, emotionality, to the point I'm not sure how anyone can adequately excavate its emptiness; so, I pitted it against Place.
Adage goes that "the devil is in the details," working us into frenzy and sometimes shutting us down altogether, over the small things; we have kitschy gift books about how not to sweat the small stuff. Then there's the converse argument that God himself is actually in the details, so close at hand, so carefully looking out for each of us.
But, I'm inclined to agree with Ezra Pound when he states "The natural object is always the adequate symbol." The details are the details, and it's up to the poet, the reader, the artist, and everyone to decide what to do with them.
Interview at the High Calling.
My review of Contingency Plans.
Q&A at TweetSpeak Poetry.
Photo display and prompt for Contingency Plans at Three from Here and There.