Getting to know Fred Marchant and his new book Said Not Said
Available now from Graywolf Press
When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
Saul Bellow has said that "a writer is a reader who has been moved to emulation." That was certainly the case with me. I had not read much poetry until I was in a freshman English class at Providence College, an introduction to literature, taught by Dr. Rodney Delasanta. We were reading Dante's Inferno and lyric poetry from Shakespeare to Gerard Manley Hopkins and up to the then present tense. Something in the way poetry used language to say more and say it more intensely captured my imagination. I remember writing one of my first poems in the college library at PC, before class. I reflected on that moment in "Elephants Walking," a poem in my first book, Tipping Point.
Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
I have a preferred routine, but not an ironclad schedule. What I like best is to write in the morning. All my poems begin longhand, mostly illegible longhand, so illegible that when I go to bring that first draft out of a notebook and onto a screen, I often feel as if I am "making it up" all over again. That moment is key, for when I bring the draft out of the illegible forest and to the blank page, I am saying I think there is something of a poem beginning here. As I say, the routine is not ironclad. I still always like the fact that an idea for a poem or a word or phrase might come to me almost anywhere. I notice that I do like waiting rooms, and of course the occasional coffee shop. Whatever the place or time in which the poem begins, the one fact of my writing life is that I do revise, and revise, and revise some more. If all goes well, it is sustained concentration on the composition that ultimately brings what I like to think of as the "real" poem into view.
Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
All the above and then some. It is hard to say where my poems most often come from. It is most likely a concatenation of several sources, a wind from here, a leaf from there, a squirrel in a tree, the tree bending over in the wind, the acorn crumbs spilling down, the leaf sort of floating the way a singer might hold onto some notes in a song. I guess what I am saying is that one learns to be alert to the many, many possibilities that point in the direction of a poem. That takes practice and open-ness. Philip Levine once said that the muse is only another part of yourself. If so, then one sign of the muse within is that attentiveness to the infinite variety of sources and beginnings of a poem.
Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?
Hard to measure "the most" but here are some twenty-five writers I know have had some significant influence on my work: William Stafford, Seamus Heaney, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Robert Hass, Homer, Jean Valentine, Philip Levine, lucille clifton, Saul Bellow, Grace Paley, David Rivard, David Ferry, Maxine Hong Kingston, John F. Deane, Jane Hirshfield, James Carroll, Martha Collins, Nick Flynn, Afaa Michael Weaver, Jenny Barber, George Kalogeris, Joan Houlihan, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Mary Szybist.
Tell us a little bit about your new collection(s): what's the significance of the title(s)? are there over-arching themes? what was the process of assembling them? was it a project book? etc.
Said Not Said is the title of my new collection, and what I'd like that title to suggest is the dynamic relation within poetry (or any art) between what is explicitly available in the medium, and what is implied, suggested, glimpsed, hinted at. In other words the poems in this book, as I see them, hover at the horizon of what can be said, and sometimes offer some element from beyond that horizon. The topics in the book range across a spectrum of experiences that one might say are in some way fundamentally unacceptable. My sister's lifelong struggle with mental illness is where the book begins. It radiates outward to consider the violence of war and the consequences that follow. Some poems probe the nature of violence, while other poems weigh the burdens of grief. The final poems of the book assay what it means to be at "home" in a world such as ours. Underneath all these poems is a steady and skeptical affirmation that despite the suffering and sorrow, there is the possibility of insight and understanding. This is what poetry (and art in general) can give us, and this is what these poems hope to achieve.
Read a sample poem from Said Not Said :
'Below the Fold'
someone in Benghazi with a hose in one hand
uses his free one to wipe down the corpse
water flows over the body and down
a tilted steel tray toward the drain
what washes off washes off