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2008 National Book Award Poetry Finalist
Interview with Reginald Gibbons

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Photo © Marc Hauser.
Reginald Gibbons
Creatures of a Day

Louisiana State University Press

Interview conducted by Craig Morgan Teicher.

Craig Morgan Teicher: How does it feel to be nominated for the National Book Award?

Reginald Gibbons: It’s very exciting, very gratifying, and it makes me feel that my work is very present at this moment in the U.S.. The country is so huge and so many thousands of books are published, that it’s not often enough that a writer can feel that a book is present—you can publish it but it still remains absent from the culture. There is a very small number of newspapers that review books anymore—and so getting a book into this finalist stage of the National Book Awards really feels very big. I’m very happy and very grateful to the judges.

CMT: Creatures of a Day is a book that takes everyday people and things as starting points for poems. How much did “current events”—9/11, the Iraq war, the Bush Administration—affect how these poems came out?

RG: I certainly feel that my book, which I spent a long time writing, is somewhat unusual, because I’ve tried to gather into one book a number of different strands of American life. If you’re looking at it in retrospect, if I had to summarize it, though this wasn’t a goal at the time I was working on it, I would say it’s about a variety of different encounters, that I think are very American. It’s not a book about extended human relations the way a novel could be—it’s a book about chance encounters, the testing of one’s sense of the world that is produced by encounters with other people. So I feel like that is something that’s very much a part of this moment in the ongoing narrative of America.

CMT: Can you talk a little about “Fern Texts,” the long poem that closes the volume and that incorporates passages from Coleridge?

RG: I read a lot, though I’m not a scholar—I don’t do scholarship, I don’t do research. On the other hand I’ve read around a lot of stuff that most general readers haven’t. I was reading around Wordsworth and Coleridge, who have always fascinated me. Coleridge was so unable to make full use of his talents as a poet. Wordsworth was an enormously insightful yet tedious poet. It struck me how odd it was that there were these parallels between the 1790s and the 1960s. I couldn’t help but feel that my adventure through the 1960s—though I’m no Coleridge; I didn’t find my way into some new way of thinking about poetry—but nevertheless looking back at it, I saw how unwittingly I had been reenacting some of the same dilemmas, and not just me but lots of the writers I know, were reenacting some of the same dilemmas faced by Wordsworth and Coleridge. They were in their 20s in the 1790s, and England was going through all this turmoil with war. I just began to think autobiographically with the aid of another historical moment in mind.

It’s the 1790s, the 1960s and the first decade of the 21st century. The third parallel is again to be in a time when a writer can’t help wondering, “am I writing something which not only speaks to my world but speaks of my world in a way that some future reader would find helpful?” Interesting, not just helpful? Like when you read a novel about a particular place that I know—you get pleasure from reading descriptions that absolutely nail down a particular street corner. I’m writing in the first decade of the 21st Century, not about it, but it’s the pressure of the now. I don’t think history repeats itself, but I think there’s so much uncanny echoing. Its’ because of politics, I think, just over and over, those who have the power, who govern, make the same mistakes, and those who are governed make the same mistakes in their attitudes toward those in power.

Craig 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.



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