2007 National Book Award Poetry Finalist Interview With Stanley Plumly

Stanley Plumly

Old Heart: Poems

W. W. Norton & Company

Interview conducted by Craig Morgan Teicher.

Photo © Elizabeth Stevenson

CMT: A lot of the poems in Old Heart try to paint vivid pictures of the natural world, but there is also always a temptation toward mythic energies. What’s the relationship between those two things in your work—how do you view the relationship between a poem and experience?

SP:I’m frankly more a modernist than a post-modernist in that respect. I believe the poem is a made thing, an object. I grew up with the New Critics—I was essentially discovered by Cleanth Brooks. The idea of the poem as independent of its author seems to me to be the only way autobiographical content can work. That’s how transformation actually happens, through agencies like metaphor and archetypes—archetypes are big to me.

I feel like some poets are shy of archetypes, or at least of drawing attention to the use of them in poems, and to others, they’re the only way to tell the truth.

I think they’re inevitable—you can’t avoid them, and I don’t think you have to disguise them. They’re a natural, not an artificial part of human perception and experience.

CMT: In one poem, you write, “It was poetry to say what it looked like.” Would you say that’s a fair way to describe how you think of poetry—that any kind of comparison is poetic in nature?

SP: It’s about resemblances, how one thing is like another thing. To me the essence of metaphor is that they’re both things. I often say to students, metaphor is not something you make up, it’s something you make from.

CMT: There are a few places in the book where you mention about Keats, and I know you have a book of prose about Keats on the way. Can you talk a bit about your relationship to Keats?

SP: To me, he’s the first true modern poet. Coleridge and Wordsworth are groundbreakers and precursors, and you can find their modernism, if you will, in different poems, but in terms of a poet actually treating the poem as a self reflexive entity, that is to say separate from the self—and for whom the subject is the poem itself—he is the original. The odes in particular are the template for modernism. The new critics first fell in love with him for that reason.

CMT: And, on the subject of poetry in America in general: do you think plenty of people are still falling in love with it?

SP: Poetry I think is read fairly across the board in this country. At least people pay attention to the poets. I think more people read poetry than buy it, which is a funny kind of disconnect.

CMT: And what would mean to you to win the National Book Award?

SP: It’s a very good group of people. It would mean, I suppose an elevation of recognition. You just get a kind of attention you wouldn’t receive otherwise. It’s good for those around you, those people who published you. It’s a happy event for a book.

Craig 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.