Video: Regional Aesthetics & Sensibility in American Poems
From a 2011 Poets Forum panel discussion titled "Regional Aesthetics & Sensibility in American Poems" featuring poets Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Matthew Dickman, and Cate Marvin as they discuss how ideas of place and travel operate in their work and in the poems that have influenced them.
Gabrielle Calvocoressi: When I hear the word 'regionalism' attributed to my work—which is something that happens to me a lot—the question that I often have is: What exactly does regionalism mean? I'm not sure that I understand.
When I got into New York on Monday, I read at KGB. And the very kind host introduced my work by saying, "This work is very, very American." He also said that many of the things I wrote about are only written about by midwestern men—of which I am one.
Both of these comments seem to connect to the idea of regionalism, and both confuse and intrigue me. There are multiple levels to that word, and the surface interests me the least.
"In the Waiting Room," [by Elizabeth Bishop] is a regional poem, as is "The Lost World," by [Randall] Jarrell. There are all kinds of specific things about place in both poems. And one might say, "I know just what that poem is about (or means) and where that poem comes from." What makes those poems interesting to me is not that they locate the speaker in a specific place (Worcester, Massachusetts or Los Angeles, California), but the fact that naming and specific detail actually allow the poet to destabilize the reader and the narrative—to such an extent that we enter lyric time and space where there is no separation between oneself and the experience, and the region we have to make our way through is the region of interiority.
Cate Marvin: I do strongly feel that I'm an American poet.
But, generally, even though I think that some poets write regional poetry really, really well—such as Maurice Manning. I think he's a terrific poet. He, in his poems (he has four books now) has a real sense of place. And in his life he lives in that place. He really adheres to it.
And I respect that, but I could never write a poetry that could be that sort of thing. Because, basically, poetry is my home. I don't really feel at home in the world. And I can't blame anybody for that. It's not actually a problem. I'm kind of used to it.
Matthew Dickman: In a way, every poem is regional. I mean, these are very simple ideas, but, again, I'm from the West Coast.
You hear this thing sometimes: there's a student, a younger student, to whom the teacher says, "You just write what you know"—which sounds very Buddhist and wise. But it's actually all you can do.
Even if a science fiction writer is writing about the planet Zortar and at the same time finds out that her husband is sleeping with his secretary. I mean, someone on the planet Zortar is getting a divorce. So whether it's obviously regional or not, our experience in a place always comes out in our writing. And that's what I wanted to say.