© Star Black.
Fire to Fire: New
and Selected Poems HarperCollins
by Craig Morgan
Craig Morgan Teicher:
How do you feel about the nomination?
Doty: I feel completely thrilled—I’m
in wonderful company, and it’s particularly satisfying
to me because my nominated book is a ‘New and
Selected’ poems, so it’s 20 years worth
of work. To have that volume singled out feels like
a kind of affirmation of what I’ve been busying
myself with for the last two decades, so I’m delighted.
CMT: So the fact that
this is a ‘New and Selected’ feels very
different from being up for an award for an individual
collection of poems?
It does. There’s a way in which
when you try to look at your own life over time, it’s
very difficult to get enough distance to make any kind
of assessment of the value of what you’ve done
over the years, but to have this wonderful group of
judges say this work is worthy of notice is more than
I could have hoped for.
CMT: Was it hard to
figure out what poems to include from each of your books?
Did you find yourself thinking about old poems in new
It was really hard—part of that was the project
of reading the stuff and trying to decide on what basis
to make these decisions. Was it what I liked today,
or should I think about what readers had liked or commented
upon over the years? Should I think about how the poems
talked to one another, because I thought, I want this
to be a kind of experience for the reader, who might
start at the beginning and read right through. All these
things were in the air, and I was confused about it.
I asked some friends of mine to read my tentative selections
and comment, and that turned out to be completely useless,
because my friends just said, “Where’s the
poem that I like?” or “I never really cared
about that one.” I just couldn’t do anything
with their very well meaning comments. So I thought,
I’m on my own with this thing and I’ll do
the best that I can. Honestly, if I decided I was going
to make a ‘New and Selected’ poems every
six months, it would be a different book every time.
It’s like when you tell somebody the story of
your life—you make choices about what to put in
and what leave out at that moment, and we’re always
telling ourselves that story a different way.
CMT: The last couple
of books revolve around a sequence of related poems:
the various versions of Heaven in School of the Arts,
the “Theories of Beauty” in Fire to Fire.
What’s drawn you to working this way?
I really am interested in making an architecture for
a book and letting that architecture help guide how
the poems unfold. When I started out I did what most
young poets do—take all the poems I’d written
that I could stand and put them in my first book. But
more and more it’s a matter of building relationships
between poems, and the way that new poems get made is
out of the suggestions and possibilities of what I’ve
already done. In the case of the Heaven poems, I was
very grateful when I had written a poem called “Heaven
for Helen,” which comes out of a friend of mine,
a painter, who was in conversation imagining what paradise
would be like for her. I was so interested in what she
said that I wrote it down and began to elaborate upon
it, and in a while I had written a poem. Then I thought,
that’s just one person’s idea of heaven.
What else? I began to think of other people that I know
and other experiences which pointed towards kinds of
paradise, because even if you don’t believe such
a thing, the way you imagine it says a lot about who
you are and what you want in this life.
In these new poems, I found
myself turning over notions that have always been at
the fore for romantic poets: the nature of beauty, the
nature of the soul, how love exists in time. I’m
always thinking about beauty as a subject—that
contested, difficult, fascinating ground that’s
so important to me. So I wrote a poem in which I proposed
a little theory of beauty. It was about the unlikely
circumstance of looking at a prison tattoo on a man’s
shoulder and realizing that it was quite an awkward
looking thing, but it became beautiful when someone
explained what it represented—it was a sign language
character. This is beauty that is emerging out of knowledge.
But there was more to say about kinds of beauty.
Morgan Teicher is a poet, critic, and freelance writer.
His first book of poems, Brenda Is In The Room And
Other Poems, was chosen by Paul Hoover as winner
of the 2007 Colorado Prize for Poetry and was published
by the Center for Literary Publishing. His collection
of short stories and fables, called Cradle Book,
will be published in spring 2010 by BOA Editions Ltd.