Ellen Bryant Voigt
© Barry Goldstein
Messenger: New and Selected
W. W. Norton & Company
by Craig Morgan
It was strange in ways that
I was not prepared for. It was difficult in ways I didn’t
expect, and the things I thought would be hard were
easy. My main concern was about having sufficient new
poems for the book to be a “New and Selected.”
And I write very, very slowly, so I had been focusing
on that and thought, “once those are done, I can
go back. How hard can it be?” I worried over what
to do about my poem Kyrie, which is a book-length sequence.
But after I made my little list of four or five from
the first book and six or seven from the second, what
I found was that those little groups of poems didn’t
always inform one another nicely, for different reasons.
I also then discovered that I wanted this to be a whole
book, the same way the individual book had been, and
not just a kind of anthology. So what that meant was
really dismantling six books and then looking to see
how to make a new larger one. I ended up not included
some poems that I had initially thought I would.
CMT: What was
it like going over all of your books to compile a “Selected
Your poems seem to have a mythic
quality to them, a kind of ominous, mysterious feeling.
How do you achieve that?
I would almost put it the
opposite way, in terms of trying to look hard enough,
that you defamiliarize yourself with what you see every
day. One of the things with poetry that I love, both
as a writer and as a reader, is that you sit there longer,
look at the things harder, until you begin to see their
strangeness, and I mean the strangeness of the things
we think of as ordinary. I think those things are, in
the main, layered and strange and mysterious. My notion
is to get to that by way of more realistic presentation.
I feel that it is deeply strange and mysterious. To
cope, we tend to turn away from strangeness. Otherwise,
if we deal with the significance of everything that
crosses our paths, we go mad.
The new poems especially seem
to deal with a number of hard, though not necessarily
biographical, life events. To what extent do you use
poetry as a way of working through crisis or tragedy?
I don’t know that I
use poetry to deal with things. I think that there’s
just a kind of pressure that builds up around various
subjects or occasions, and when the pressure is sufficient,
then that tends to drive poems for me. Sometime they’re
autobiographical circumstances, sometimes they’re
not. Or sometimes they’re autobiographical circumstances
that are veiled. I’m not sure a reader would be
able to pick out which ones are which. Some of what
feel to me like the most personally revelatory poems
I’ve ever written have been oblique, sort of like
Elizabeth Bishop writing through the voice of Robinson
Crusoe. Others might speak from within an experience
that I actually didn’t live through, I just had
occasion to imagine them.
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.