Six Poets, Six Questions: Gabrielle Calvocoressi in Conversation
Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Matthew Dickman, and Cate Marvin participated on a panel titled "Regional Aesthetics and Sensibility in American Poems" at the fifth annual Poets Forum in New York City, October 20-22, 2011. Find out more information about Poets Forum.
Poets.org: How do you begin a poem?
Gabrielle Calvocoressi: Often, I begin a poem with a walk, or a song I hear that begins a movie of the poem getting made in my head. That's funny to write "out loud" but it's true. I'm a daydreamer and a wanderer so a lot of my day is spent imagining the world of the poem before the words even come. Particularly for this new book that I'm working on—the poems are a real story so I spend a lot of time just imagining what the characters might do and how the light looks and the car radio sounds when they do it.
Poets.org: What poets do you continually go back to?
Calvocoressi: Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Frost with a good dose of Randall Jarrell dreaming beside me. There are so many others but those three have been a real foundation for me, particularly Frost who I thought I hated for so much of my life until Marie Howe told me to go read him book by book. The realization that I hadn't understood him at all, and how that actually changed my view of looking in general, changed my life. I love Bishop's wonder at her own doubt when it comes to perception, "I liked the place; I liked the idea of the place." Perhaps that has to do with my own bad eyes and my mother's mental illness (which mirrors Bishop's experience with her mother in some ways). I love Jarrell for being Jarrell and no one else. I love that he wrote a poem in which he remembers being a child playing with the MGM lion. That's a gift.
And Joan Didion. I love Joan Didion beyond reason.
Poets.org: Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poems?
Calvocoressi: My idea of who I am as a poet has changed. I think I used to believe I needed to be unhappy and distraught all the time. I may have thought things like having a happy marriage and not drinking a bunch would keep me out of the game. These were things I thought when I was much younger. Now I feel so happy to know that any life has enough unhappiness to serve a poem but that I also have to work to be happy and healthy and a good enough person to those around me to make the writing of poems sustainable as a practice and a vocation. I have to be a decent steward of my poems and that means making a world that respects how much energy it takes to write them.
Poets.org: Are you on Facebook or Twitter? Does that fit into your writing life, and if so, how?
Calvocoressi: I am on Facebook and Twitter. Avidly. Though right now I have told myself that I will not go on until I've finished all the things I need to finish. I really love the community Facebook affords and I like watching people perch on their virtual branch and tweet. I do worry about becoming hooked on it so I have various rules for myself. I used to try and write poems up there and now I don't because it takes something from me in terms of the privacy required for a poem. I do have a Twitter feed where sometimes I think about the third book but that's only got 28 followers and that's just fine.
Poets.org: Do you have a writing group or community of writers you share your work with? Who are they?
Calvocoressi: I am so blessed by all of my friends and teachers. There are too many to name but I would say that on a day-to-day basis Jen Chang, Robin Ekiss, Alicia Jo Rabins, David Adjmi, Adrian Matjeka, and Tom Healy are writers I ask for advice and support. My editor and friend, poet Gabriel Fried, is immensely important to me, beyond words. They all keep me honest. And they are very good friends. But truly, my cup overfloweth and I could crash your server with gratitude and names.
Poets.org: What are you reading right now?
Calvocoressi: Oh boy! I am reading so many good things. I'm a co-editor of the poetry section of The Los Angeles Review of Books so I get so much good poetry. Pat Rosal's, Boneshepherds is ridiculously good. Roger Bonair-Agard's Gully is just fantastic and makes cricket and poems go together seamlessly. I'm about to recommend Meghan O'Rourke's new book of poems for The Rumpus Poetry Book Club. I'm reading Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin. And I'm reading all about rock bands in Los Angeles in the late 1960s. Oh, I'm also reading This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared throughout the month of September as I prepare for the Days of Awe.