Beyond Post-Modern Poetry
A conversation with Mark Wallace
Mark Wallace is an important contemporary North American poet who is unique not only in his own poetic style but also in his stance on contemporary American poetry and the shifts we observe. He teaches poetics at George Washington University and has 4 major verse collections to his credit. Mark's most talked about books include "Nothing Happened, and Besides I Wasn't There", "Sonnets of a Penny-A-Liner" and "Every Day Is Most Of My Time". He has also featured in The Gertrude Stein Awards In Innovative North American Poetry: 1993-94. Mark Wallace began surfacing as a new voice in North American poetry towards the end of the 1980's. He belongs to a generation of poets who have written a new kind of poetry that could be vaguely described as "post-language poetry" (in his own words).
Between December 2001 and April 2002 I had a prolonged conversation with Mark Wallace in an effort to understand and make understand the terms "language" and "post-language" poetry. We also discussed the state of contemporary American poetry, the belated post-modern outlook of Indian poetry and the problems that confront the world of poetics today. What follows is an excerpt of our electronic dialogue.
AM: How do you define “postlanguage poetry” ?
MW: Like the term postmodernism, the term postlanguage
poetry implies that such poetry comes after another significant area of
literary activity, in this case language poetry. So defining postlanguage
poetry involves defining language poetry also, and defining as well what it
means to "come after" that previous literary movement.
It's important to recognize that providing a complete definition of any area of literary activity is impossible, since literature is too multi-faceted, rambunctious, and iconoclastic to fit the limits of any definition. So any definition of an area of writing practice must either be conceived of as limiting, or what is perhaps more useful, as a provisional and partial way of understanding the changing complexities of literary practice. At best, definition should perhaps be seen as a shifting process which enables illuminations about a shifting practice. Broadly, then, language poetry can be defined as the work of an associated network of writers who share in the main a number of questions about the relation between language and the politics of cultural production, although the directions in which they take these questions are often significantly different. Some language poets, like Charles Bernstein, Lyn Hejinian, Ron Silliman, and Leslie Scalapino, have become well-known; others of equal excellence (Joan Retallack, Carla Harryman, P. Inman, Nick Piombino, Tina Darragh, James Sherry, Tom Mandel, Hank Lazer, many more) have not, although for some of them this situation may be changing. Language poets tend to see language as constructed by relations of power, and not as either transcendent, universal, or natural. Language poets are for the most part intensely interested in literary theory, and thus see the theoretical issues raised by their poetry as a central part of the poetry itself, in contrast to more traditional literary practitioners who think of criticism and theory as descriptive, secondary, and in many cases irrelevant. In particular, many language poets have noted the way in which grammar structures tend to support the power structures of western societies. One key concern of the language poets involves the ways naively representational language that claims to describe the world "as it is" remains blind to its own encoded structural limitations. Language poets have also pointed out how traditional European poetic genres and forms tend to naively reflect western values. These writers consciously identify poetry as conditioned by the ideological limitations and power of the written word in western culture. For all these reasons, language poets are radical revisionists on the level of poetic form. They tend to reject traditional forms, lyricism, narrative, subjectivity, and naively representational writing, as well as the emphasis of their own predecessors in American innovative poetry, the New American poets, on poetry as dictated speech. Many of their rejections are meant as strictly proscriptive -- there are things many language poets believe poetry should not do if it is to stay true to their theoretical insights. For the most part, postlanguage poets have accepted the notion that language structures inevitably affect, and are affected by, the politics of cultural production. They have also accepted that language is constructed by relations of power, and that it cannot naively access either transcendence or the natural world, or unproblematically represent the way the world "actually is." Yet their relation to literary theory is often very different from language poets. For the language poets at the time of their emergence, literary theory was a marginalized discourse that freed them to ask questions about the relation between language and cultural production that academic discourse and the established poetry networks of that time ignored and even denied. For postlanguage poets, who are usually 10-30 years younger than language poets, literary theory often seems a dominant discourse of academic and literary power. While offering theories about their practice was a revolutionary move for the language poets, albeit one with a long history, postlanguage poets often feel that theorizing their practice is a burden. Literary theory has often seemed to them something that the dominant power structures of the academy and their elders in avant garde poetry have demanded that they create in order to justify their practice as poets. Literary theory does continue to be a central part of the practice of many postlanguage poets, yet they tend to undertake it with an ambivalent and often wearied eye.
Furthermore, postlanguage poets have tended to use genres and forms often explicitly rejected by some language writers. Thus, while narrative, lyric, spirituality, and a poetics of the everyday appear often as elements that language poets think should be rejected, postlanguage poets such as Juliana Spahr, Susan Smith Nash, Jefferson Hansen, Liz Willis, Peter Gizzi, Chris Stroffolino, Jennifer Moxley, Joe Ross, Lisa Jarnot, myself and many others have been consciously using one or several of these elements in their work, without returning to the sort of naive justifications of those elements that continue to be a feature of more mainstream American poetry. The result has often been the extension of key questions asked by the language poets into areas that the language poets were not interested in. It's important to point out here, also, that both language and postlanguage poets have been very interested in what Bob Grumman has called "pluralaesthetic" work, that is, work that uses the language arts in conjunction with such non-word based arts as music and the visual arts. Postlanguage poets have a much broader geographical spectrum than do language poets, who tended in language poetry's initial phases mainly to be urban writers living on the coasts of the United States, particularly New York City and San Francisco, although there were also strong groups in Washington, D.C. and Toronto and Vancouver in Canada. The broadened geographical spectrum of postlanguage poets attests to the success of language poetry; many more writers have been influenced by language poetry than were initially a part of its practice. This geographical expansion has effects on the level of practice, since postlanguage writers tend to be influenced by a broader spectrum of environments than the language writers. For instance, it's possible for postlanguage writers to come from New Orleans or Oklahoma or Minnesota or Hawaii, and to be influenced therefore by a different environment than coastal urbanism. Postlanguage poets have been exploring the links between poetries from a growing number of traditions and these very specific regional influences, and often explicitly use such possibilities to open boundaries. Only one of many such examples is the work of Buck Downs, Jessica Freeman and some other poets of southern background who are interested in applying the disruptive elements of language writing to southern literature and music, producing work that does such things as cross language poetry with the Texas blues or Cajun music and culture.
Inextricably linked to this geographical diversity is the problem of gender, and also of cultural diversity. Both language and postlanguage poetry have a large number of female and male practitioners, although gender problems are no more easily resolved in experimental poetic contexts than anywhere else. At this time, postlanguage poets are beginning to develop a broader cultural diversity than language poets, although there's certainly a fair amount of diversity in both groups. But given the larger number of postlanguage poets, a greater cultural diversity is almost inevitable. There are a growing number of postlanguage writers who highlight problems of identity politics from specific cultural positions, who critique the limits of identity politics, and who intend to cross and shatter cultural boundaries. Writers like Harryette Mullen, Tan Lin, Susan Schultz, Rodrigo Toscano, Myung Mi Kim, Bob Harrison and many others have explored the complex ways that problems of cultural identity interact with poetic practice.
Furthermore, while language poetry is, initially, essentially a moment in North American poetry, albeit with a complex relation to world poetries, its world-level success has created effects which can be felt in many areas of world poetry. What definitions one would want to give to these world poetries, and how those definitions would relate to language and postlanguage poetry in North America, probably is better left to someone who has greater access to those world poetries than I currently feel I have. Taking all these possibilities for postlanguage poetry into account, I would therefore focus on two aspects of such work that seem to me crucial. One is hybridity: the great emphasis in postlanguage work on mixing traditions, crossing boundaries, and critiquing notions of form as pure or singular. This hybridity perhaps seems most clearly different from language poetry in the way postlanguage poets use elements rejected by language poets -- narrative, lyric, spirituality, and a poetics of the every day -- although by no means are these the only elements of postlanguage hybridity. The other is resistance to definition: many postlanguage writers refuse to fit singular and identifiable categories, in some cases even switching forms and influences radically from book to book. Far from offering similar solutions to problems of poetry, postlanguage poets tend not even to agree on similar problems, a tendency which makes them hard to anthologize, generalize, or even critique in more than individual cases or small groups. Thus, an essay of this sort, in intending to provide a general understanding of postlanguage poetry, comes dangerously close to being an oxymoron. In both this hybridity and resistance to definition, postlanguage poetry also remains a consciously critical poetry, one unwilling to accept either the norms of the surrounding culture or of previous generations of poets. For me, the most troubling aspect of postlanguage poetry is the way some of its practitioners deny outright the significance of literary theory, or reject the idea that literary production is shaped by conditions of power. Such writers have argued, to differing degrees, that language can access transcendence or naively represent the world. They have on occasion argued that literary politics is irrelevant to their practice, that mainstream poetic forms can be accessed unproblematically, or that there is no significant distinction between avant garde and mainstream literary practice. Some have suggested that fragmented or disjunctive language needs to be rejected in favor of language that synthesizes and unifies various strains of poetry. Such writers seem to me to have failed to deal with the theoretical challenges presented by a genuinely postlanguage poetry, and thus not to be genuinely postlanguage writers. But making such a judgement, of course, arises simply from the specifics of my own definition of what constitutes postlanguage poetry, and thus begs the question of the usefulness and limitations of such definitions. Perhaps at best it defines a field of worthwhile discussion.
AM: Why did the language poets choose to write "L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E" ? Does that suggest the birth of a new language in which poetry could be written more effectively ?
MW:You probably want to dispense with thinking about what "the language poets" did. Probably these writers can't be talked about as if they are all generically doing the same thing; many of these writers share similar questions, but hardly similar answers. Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein published a poetics magazine they called L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E; the title is meant to highlight that language is a series of signs rather than simply references to the world "out there".
AM: I read your net article on "Uneasy collaborations: Language and post-language poetries". I do understand most of the variations these poets bring to Language Poetry and especially, "hybridity". I am beginning to read quite a few of them now, like yourself, Peter Gizzi and Chris Stroffolino. I am beginning to notice a dissonance in these variations in poetic style and language-concerns that is almost as strong as the common threads they share. So, how valid is the attempt to apply a single term (post-language) to this kind of poetry ? Would "post-language poetry" go to mean a particular generation or a definitive poetic style ?
MW:Again, I think the question above is looking for a single defining term, or trying to dispense with one, a little more relentlessly than is useful. I use the term to talk about a terrain, NOT to give a final label to any writer or group of writers. I think my essay is very careful about its suggestion that such terms are only a way to BEGIN a conversation. I use the term to talk about writers who might share a certain set of circumstances. I don't think they write in the same way much at all.
AM: I am reading your "Dreams of Distant Cities". Extremely moving, must say ! I see a need in you to move on, as if like a floating bubble, tossing, turning, lurching, touching upon apparently unconnected thoughts, that do relate to each other in some occult sense. The "ever-wandering self" or the "eternally moving theme" has been practised and perpetrated by post-modern poets worldwide. Post-language poetry reflects that too, but there is probably a subtle uniqueness to their approach. What is that ?
MW:I'm glad you like the DREAMS poems! And I like what you say about them too. They're some poems I wrote and they need to be considered in that specific way, not as evidence of an attempt to develop some self-conscious group movement in poetry.
AM: I see your poems ("Dreams of Distant Cities") constantly avoid visuals. Was it a conscious attempt ?
MW: I'm not convinced that they DO avoid visuals constantly. But certainly they're not trying (usually) to set a scene and then reflect upon the implications of that scene. I think they're pretty narrative at times anyway, though. And I see images all over the place in them.
AM: You have talked about the "plural-aesthetic" nature of post-language poetry. Could you exemplify ?
MW: Plural-aesthetic is Bob Grumman's term for more than one media, more than one aesthetic history in play in the creation of the art work. Concrete poetry is his most consistent example, but hypertext poetry would serve just as well.
AM: "Synesthesia" is a common disease of senses known to have prevailed in many writers and artists, Vladimir Nobokov amongst one of them, where people sense an object with the other "sense" - like smelling a letter, tasting the color of a red apple, listening to a green vase...etc. Does post-language poetry try a similar sensing of the commonplace with the "other" sense ?
MW: Synesthesia has been present in western poetry as far back at least as Homer, according to the Princeton Encyclopedia on poetics. Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath use it. Synesthesia is no more purely a feature of contemporary avant garde poetry than it is of the poetry of any other context.
By the way, Aryanil, I enjoyed looking at your recent poems, appreciated the sort of contemporarily updated surrealism, although I'm not always convinced that there aren't problems with so much reliance with the strange, supposedly psychologically/spiritually/politically revealing image--a critique of the limits of image might be useful in some cases. I admired the energy and range of awareness of your poems, but I wondered about some of the grammatical inversions, which read in English as quite archaic.
AM: Your critique is well taken. I have never attempted to be "surreal", so I am a bit concerned that you saw that trend in my poetry. Psychologically, I feel more at home with American poets of your generation. My poems are mostly English transcreations of my original Bangla poems. Maybe, that has created a problem. Other than that, the fact that my emotional and cultural experience is perhaps a bit more "international" than most contemporary American poets, might have caused my imagery to look "excessively revealing". Modern Bangla language grew based on an english syntax. My attempts have been to carefully alter this syntactical algorithm. Maybe, I shouldn't try to maintain that in my English transcreation. I understand that makes my language sound quite "archaic" at times. On the contrary, my original Bangla compositions, as some fellow-poets point out, make an attempt to free up certain linguistic constraints leading to a newer "meaning-production".
MW: My comments about "surrealism" have to do, I think, with what I saw as the effect in your work of the reliance of odd juxtapositions of IMAGES--they're certainly not realist, but the disjointedness is still imagistic, or at least it seemed that way to some extent.
AM: I am trying to understand the politics of American poetry here. Every language and literature has a mainstream. I am sure we do have one in the States too. Do you see any noticeable transformation in the role mainstream American poetry has played since the advent of the post-moderns ?
MW: In a certain way, no, the mainstream hasn't transformed at all. They've always played the role of presenting poetry as a uncritical reflection of dominant American values. But I suppose an important difference is this: the mainstream of the 1950s was much more purely upper class and elitist. Today's mainstream poetry is more likely to reflect middle class American values. Not that there isn't plenty of upper class elitism still around.
AM: Who, according to you, are the major mainstream American poets today ?
It depends of course what you mean by "major," a word I don't like very much since I'm not interested in distinguishing between major and minor poets. I'd rather mention several more mainstream poets whose work interests me at times. I'd say then James Tate, Richard Wilbur, and Carolyn Forche. But maybe I like Tate and particularly Forche because of the way they call into question mainstream poetic norms, whether of subject matter or form, while still retaining big followings in the mainstream context, a tough trick indeed.
AM: Well, when I said "major mainstream" I obviously meant "popularity" as I assumed the word "mainstream" has to do with "popularity" or that which the press-owners love to sell. Correct me if I am wrong. While it definitely will interest most of our readers to know who, in your view, are the important mainstream poets, to provide a more general backdrop it would help if you could also name some of the "popular" poets today.
MW: Well, according to my own understanding of "popularity," which might translate as major sales and a public profile, there's simply no such thing as a popular poet in the United States. Even the one or two poets recognized by the media, such as Maya Angelou, are not really known for their poetry so much as for their public profile. People know Angelou is a poet (because she appears on television) but have never read her work; the people who do read her work prefer her autobiographies. Establishment poets (i.e. so-called "mainstream" poets), who win all major prizes and have the backing of the big publishing houses, might in intensely rare instances sell 10,000 copies even of a prize-winning book, but half that would be considered good sales. These poets are not popular figures outside of the professional network in which they operate. So in the United States, "popularity" is an irrelevant word when it comes to poetry.
AM: That is a statement that tempts us (Bangla poets of this generation) to look at Bangla mainstream poetry from a radically different angle.
Who, according to you, (if at all it exists) represent a literary establishment that tries to control the way poetry is read and written in this country?
MW: The American literary establishment consists of the people who run the well-funded poetry presses, magazines, and the prizes that go with them. It consists of the people, writers and others, who are asked to make decisions about those prizes and publications. The issue revolves around who has resources and who doesn't, simply, and how the people with the resources use those resoures to publish poems that reflect dominant American values. Although there are occasional exceptions, almost everyone who publishes a book of poems in that context is either already a member of that establishment or in the process of becoming one.
AM: I was reading your "Sonnets of a Penny-A-Liner". Could you explain in brief what are you up to in these poems ? What prompted you to use a dollar value instead of a title for each poem ? Should the reader see that as symbolic ?
MW: A Penny-A-Liner is a term for a 19th century British freelance journalist who survived by writing penny-a-line contributions for newspapers and other publications. The dire financial difficulty in which such people lived had a direct effect on the accuracy of their reporting--accuracy rarely sells, while sensationalism always does. For the book, I imagined myself getting paid a penny a line for the sonnets I was writing. I was also making my living as a freelance journalist at the time, so the book is very consciously an exploration of different modes of writing and self-presentation. To simplify, I'd say that the book traces the connection between Romantic presentations of self and presentations of self created out of financial needs and desires. The Sonnets present a series of shifting personas who critique the limits of thinking of one's self as transcendent, beyond either the history of writing or the history of money.
AM: Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in a recent essay, stated that perhaps lyrical poetry lives only in the United States today and it is a mystery that it still lives. What would be your reaction to that ?
MW: Obviously, the idea that lyrical poetry lives only in the United States is absurd. I don't know the context in which Ferlinghettit was speaking, and without knowing that I'm not in a position to say that his comment is definitely xenophobic, but that's how it reads in your question here. And of course it's a mystery that lyrical poetry still lives; it's a mystery that it ever did live. But what would be even more mysterious would be the idea that lyric poetry might be dying out.
AM: Why would the death of lyric poetry sound mysterious ? Who writes lyric poetry today ? I know dozens who are probably experimenting quite savagely with lyric poetry, trying to evolve something completely new, but I thought in most parts of Europe, Latin America and Asia, traditional lyric poetry is quite "bygone" by now.
MW: Perhaps you and I have completely different senses of what is meant by the term "lyric poetry." None of the major American lyric poets have ever written something called "traditional lyric"--their poems have always been challenges to tradition, whether we're talking about Poe, Whitman, Dickinson, or more contemporary writers like Alice Notley. "Traditional lyric" is therefore not a phrase that has any import in my own cultural context. It could be that some "traditional lyric" poetry is vanishing in some contexts, but it would seem to me to require a pretty narrow idea of lyric to suggest that such poetry would constitute the whole range of the lyric impulse in poetry.
AM: In most world poetry anthologies published in the United States, the Indian or Asian poetry included, often goes five centuries back, as if poetry written in modern Asia hardly exists. T.S.Elliot, Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levertov, Frank O Hara and many others have often made references to "exotic" and rather mythological India. Strong, complex and original urban poetry has been written in India for more than 100 years now. The first Asian to win a Nobel Prize for Literature is a Bangla poet , Rabindranath Tagore (1913). A few more have followed him from the east. They were all more urban classical modern artists than traditional. I have grown a sense that we have more poetry readers in India than in North American. Is it indifference then? How would you see it?
MW: Some people in every place read poems; many other people don't read them. Of course, the condition of poetry is certainly different in different countries, but concepts of the "common man" aren't really going to help us get at that condition. I don't know whether the condition of Indian poetry in American anthologies is more poorly represented than the condition of American poetry in American anthologies; I can guess that it is. But since the representation of American poetry in American anthologies is also a disaster, it hardly comes as a surprise to me that contemporary Indian poetry would be represented even more poorly here. The condition of contemporary poetry everywhere, here, India, wherever, is poorly handled by most poetry anthologies published in the United States.
AM: Well, maybe, I failed to drive my point home. Most religious and ancient Vedic texts in India were works of poetry. Almost all hymns, incantations, mantras that exist in India today, religious or not, represent stone-aged but rich poetry in their use of the language and the subject. In fact , there is little reference to a "God" in these, they generally tend to reflect on the metaphysical nature of the universe. So historically, poetic forms of language-writing existed in ancient India for thousands of years. The so-called modern Indian prose is relatively young and deeply influenced by the western hemisphere. There has been a lot of western influence on our poetry too in the last 100 years, but I feel that has led to newer rebirths/innovations. The common man, thus, is more easily attracted to the poetic form than prose. A young Bangla poet, writing in Bangla, sells more easily than a young novelist/short story writer. I do not think this is quite the case in North America. Rarely do we see a poet come on T.V. Also, I wanted to suggest, perhaps, that if you randomly pick up people from the American streets (who have at least been to high school) and ask them if they knew who William Carlos Williams was or who wrote "Ariel" how many do you think would be able to correctly answer. I haven't met anybody in this country who went to an engineering school and has still heard of Arthur Rimbaud. There's a picture of Gregory Corso in my office. No one person, by far, has identified him. We cant imagine this in Bengal or in Bangladesh. It's a question of historical affinity. So, there is indeed some historical validity in what I wanted to suggest. If one prefers not be non-chalant and is curious enough to look into the "other" world, it will show itself.
MW: I'm glad to know that poetry has a higher public profile in Bengal than in the United States. But I still think that reference to the "common man" is not the best way to go about considering this issue. Not only is the term highly gendered (after all, is the "common woman" not a relevant reader of poetry?), but it serves as an obfuscation, I think, of the issues of what constitutes education, in your cultural context or mine. From my point of view, I would describe what you are saying as pointing out that poetry continues to be part of general education in your country, when it is not in mine, and that knowing poems is considered an element of what it means to be an educated person there, while it is not in the United States. That's a real and important difference, no doubt about it. Of course, what kind of education one gets in poetry is a different matter entirely. The issue for me is not simply how widely poetry gets taught, but how well, or more particularly, what kind of social biases operate both in the teaching of poetry and in what readers absorb.
AM: I can probably guess why you think American poetry is not well-represented in most anthologies, I think, it is probably the same in most countries, but I would still be interested to know what you think, leads to this mis-representation ? Is it the literary establishment ?
MW: Yes. The U.S. literary establishment is not interested in providing any information about poetry that does not fit with its desire to keep itself in power. So any writer critical of that context, explicitly or implicitly, never gets mentioned. For instance, when non-U.S. poets do become recognized by the U.S. literary establishment, it's usually because they are outspoken critics of U.S. enemies. Joseph Brodsky is a well known poet here (in certain circles only, of course) simply because he's an Eastern European anti-communist. But nobody in the literary establishment here would ever promote Mayakovsky, a much better poet than Brodsky.
AM: Got it. Isn't someone like Yevtushenko or Pasternak (for his prose) more well known here than Mayakovsky for similar reasons ? Grossly similar situations exist in India with their own twists. For example, when Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky were living in Bengal during 1962- 63, in some poetry seminars they faced the wrath of certain leftist protestors who mis-identified them as "CIA" agents. Many Bangla poets had spoken for Allen and Peter then. Today Allen is considered a hero in Bangla poetry circles for a number of inexplicably complex reasons. But none of that has to do with his criticism of American politics. But the question I had here is, how could somebody like Allen, who had always been a relentless critic of the dumb policies his country often pursued, embrace so much fame?
MW: Actually, Ginsberg was a genuinely popular American poet (still is, even after his death), one whose books reach many many people every year; he's one of the very few American poets of the 20th century who have had a popularity which poetry in general simply doesn't have (Robert Frost would be another). His fame was not granted to him by the American literary establishment (which continues to this day to dislike his poetry) but by the many people who read his work. Still, his relationship to the mass media is also unique, at least partly because he came to fame at a certain time. Throughout the 1960s, U.S. media corporations had not yet learned to censor information as thoroughly as they have done since. Americans were shown footage of the Vietnam war of a kind that had never been available before, and has never been available since. Furthermore, the media hadn't yet learned to ignore all major proponents of radical alternatives, and thus some people, artists and others, who were leftists also became famous in a way that's almost unthinkable now. The media didn't create Ginsberg's fame in the 1960s; they just didn't ignore it to the degree that they would do today. And in fact they contributed to his fame in the sense that what they tried to paint as negative (his pro-peace perspective, his homosexuality, etc) nonetheless came through the media to other people who saw Ginsberg as a positive force for change. I think, on the whole, he did great things as a public figure. And I don't think one should argue (I'm not saying you are) that, ethically, he should not have been famous or tried to use his fame. That's equivalent to giving over the field of fame and influence entirely to people who don't deserve it. The problem is not that Ginsberg was too famous but that other artists in America do not receive the attention that their ideas deserve.
AM: What are some of the perennial problems poets of your generation are confronted with?
MW: Well, that's an awfully broad question, so I'll try an awfully broad answer. We're faced with the struggle of how to write insightful poetry in a social environment that's blind to the importance of poetry, and therefore we're also faced with the struggle of how to survive as poets without sacrificing the insight that makes poetry worthwhile. But I think that answer wouldn't just go for poets of my generation, actually.
AM: When I compare Bangla poets in India with American poets by profession, I find that many American poets are engaged in an academic profession that needs them to work on poetry or literature or are vaguely connected to literature, while that's quite untrue about Indian poets in general. Don’t you think, at times, that academic drudgery shuts off a poet from the possibility of many other experiences that might give his work a more varied rendition?
MW: Some American poets are engaged in the academic profession; but most aren't. And yes, I have no doubt that academic drudgery can shut off a poet. But so can all sorts of other drudgery. Besides, when has a lack of drudgery automatically made a poet more insightful?
AM: How does poetry come to you ?
MW: Any way it wants. And I do my best not to shut it off.