© Nina Subin
Houghton Mifflin Company
conducted by Craig
CMT: This is your 4th
collection of poems in about 25 years. What’s
your process of writing like?
I do not write quickly, and
I do other kinds of work. I also teach at University
of Michigan, and I do renaissance scholarship, so I’m
always begging from Peter to pay Paul. I’m extremely
happy when I get corralled to doing something on assignment.
You wouldn’t think poetry on assignment would
be very promising, but in fact, the poem to which I’m
most deeply wedded in this book, the final one called
“Elegant,” was commissioned by two very
lovely poets in England who got a small grant and commissioned
poets to enter into conversation with a scientist. I
thought it was just a thrilling idea. I had an extremely
generous colleague named Ron Ellis at University of
Michigan, who had in fact worked with a couple of that
that year’s Nobel laureates. He basically gave
me a private tutorial—he set up slides and labs
and introduced me to a gorgeous microscopic roundworm.
I’m a complete lay person and I really just worship
this kind of work. I think it’s really as close
as we get to the mysteries of creation. So that one
was on assignment. Other times I’ll be prompted
by something, some harrowing headline, some story told
to me by my mother, a work of art, something I don’t
want to let go through my life too quickly.
CMT: While there’s
often a touchstone for your poems in the experienced
world, your work has a different relationship to what’s
“real” than, say, Robert Hass’s does.
How would you describe it?
I’ve had to learn how to live
in the material world, and I learn it immensely from
my daughters, because they’re gifted with a wonderful
quality of attention. My relationship to it probably
relates to the fact that I’ve actually been sick
most of my life: I was a very sickly kid. I’ve
experienced my body as a place of debility and crisis.
That has probably also contributed to my sense of wonder
and admiration about physical science and life science,
because my sense of the oddity of our embodiment is
based on a keen awareness that bodies are much more
intelligent than we are and that they don’t always
have us in mind. They don’t always have what we
believe to be our best interests—things like living
longer and being without pain—in mind. Our access
to the physical world in our consciousness is intermittent,
precarious and highly contingent.
CMT: One of the first
things a reader will notice about the poems in this
book is the distinctive, sprawling line you’re
using. How did you come to use that line?
For me, the primary elements
of this work are the syntactical unit and the line.
They are at odds with one another more often than not.
That resistance or syncopation is a very fertile one.
It’s what tells me where to go. And so I fret;
I work very, very closely with lineation and rewrite
endlessly. It’s partly about cognitive pacing,
though it starts out very practical, with a rhythm and
cadence and a need to not let the poem get too airless.
I need to make sure I build in some white space so that
it’s not too compressed or heaped up or too thick
on the page, so there’s a chance to breath, to
pay attention. It may be that lineation is as much about
listening as speaking.
CMT: So what would
it mean to you to win the National Book Award?
I don’t think I
can even contemplate that. To be on this list with other
writers I so admire and to have this kind and generous
recognition means more than I can say.
Morgan Teicher's poems, essays, and reviews have appeared
in many publications, including, The Paris Review,
The Yale Review, Bookforum, and Poets &
Writers. His first book, Brenda Is In The Room
And Other Poems won the 2007 Colorado Prize for
Poetry and is due out this November. He works as an
editor at Publishers Weekly.