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2009 National Book Award Finalist,

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Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon
Open Interval
University of Pittsburgh Press

Interview conducted by Craig Morgan Teicher.

Craig Morgan Teicher: Open Interval is your second book—how does it feel being nominated for an early-career work?

Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon: Surreal. It’s very strange. It’s kind of bizarre, because I just feel really, really honored to be included with such a talented group of people. It hasn’t sunk in yet. To be considered for a prize that people I respect so much and look up to feels great. All last week I was obsessively reading one of Carl Phillips’ books, Pastoral, and I kept reading from it to every student who came into my office—insisting that they listen to Carl Phillips poems. When the list came out, I just couldn’t believe it—Carl Phillips and me!

CMT: What do you think about being included on a list with so many experimental writers on it?

LVCS: It’s kind of my goal to be claimed by all the groups. I think anything that I can have at my disposal in my poetry toolbox, I should use. You could say that I’m experimental, but you could also say I’m a neo-formalist. I don’t like lines. I don’t like those boundaries. I think they’re artificial, and not very useful.

CMT: What’s your writing life like? Do you write all the time?

LVCS: I do write all the time, but I also write really slowly. There was a seven year gap between my first book, Black Swan, and Open Interval. I have a really good life here in Ithaca. I’m part of a really supportive program here at Cornell, so I’m able to find time to write outside of my teaching and other responsibilities. I’m also part of a really fantastic community here with a lot of artists in it. It’s a really great town. Most of my friends here not associated with Cornell are musicians. I spend a lot of time with musicians and looking at art trying to find inspiration.

CMT: A lot of the poems in this book borrow lines from other writers, or have epigraphs and dedications. Is important to the way you write to keep other voices or sources in your work?

LVCS: Definitely. One of the things I really wanted to do was acknowledge other poetry so you could see other poems reaching out from behind my poems, to sort of fight against that whole “make it new” thing. I don’t necessarily think “new” is where it’s at. I believe in acknowledging one’s literary kin, your forbearers. Also it’s more like the way life is, all of that layering and collaging, everything overlaps.

Craig Morgan Teicher is a VP on the board of the National Book Critics Circle. His first book of poems is Brenda Is in the Room and Other Poems. A collection of fiction and fables called Cradle Book will be published by BOA Editions in the Spring. One of his poems appears in The Best American Poetry 2009.


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