The Academy of American Poets invited twenty guest editors to each curate a a selection of poems in 2020. In this short Q&A, Brian Blanchfield discusses his curatorial approach and his own creative work.
Poets.org: How did you approach curating Poem-a-Day?
Brian Blanchfield: When I was asked more than a year ago to curate a month of Poem-a-Day, I considered brewing up an intentional agenda. But, I defaulted to my wish to be in touch with poets I’ve long loved or recently discovered for myself, curious about what they were writing. There are my heroes, and I relished the opportunity to ask for whatever was on their desks. Merrill Gilfillan, Anne Carson, Eileen Myles obliged. Some—C. S. Giscombe, Nikki Finney, D. A. Powell, among others—had appeared in the series too recently or were otherwise committed. There are the poets whose every new book I read, and I hoped they’d be interested: Robyn Schiff, Mark McMorris, Brandon Brown, Donna Stonecipher, Simone White, for instance. And I hoped to interest several emerging and early-career writers whose first published work had knocked me out: Michael Wasson, Nate Klug, Raquel Gutiérrez, Eric Ekstrand, Jenny Johnson, Ely Shipley. Across the month is a good, wide swath of queer poetics.
To guest edit this month was to realize that, more than ever, I’m compelled by many different kinds of poems, each working on its own terms, however conventional or idiosyncratic, purposed or searching.
Poets.org: If you could direct readers to one poem in our collection at Poets.org that you haven’t curated, what would it be and why?
BB: This is a hard one, so hard that I won’t choose one. A dozen or more come to mind from this year alone, but I’ll select three, and keep it brief. Carmen Giménez Smith’s “Like an Auto-Tune of Authentic Love” may be the first great Zoom love poem; it is relaxed, unlabored, and in a mood to browse its subject, moving its figurative cursor over its subject, and because it’s so naturally paced and comfortable, it seems the speaker genuinely surprises herself that “love can happen at any part of one’s life / like the pixels deciding when to flicker into bursts.” A little O’Hara in this, for me. One of my favorites of hers.
There’s so much I love about Justin Phillip Reed’s “What’s Left Behind After a Hawk Has Seized Another Bird Midair.” As a former student of Carl Phillips’s myself, I guess first I acknowledge a family feel, in how Carl’s particular poetics, even his signature images, are extended in Reed’s own dynamic of desire and power and damage. Also, I love a poem in which all elements are interconnected; this one hums as a system, and the composition is musical, punctuated by these two-beat triples: “cruel to me,” “out my face,” “once will do,” “wrote that book,” etcetera. They’re where the mood is asserted: stung, avenging, undeceived, prevailing. It’s a great poem.
Equally charged, Juliana Spahr’s “Will There Be Singing,” excerpted at length, has, to me, the feel of a burn book, a go-for-broke account of self, and a test of poetry apart from a community of poets who seem to the speaker to have defaulted on the revolutionary possibilities of the art. I don’t understand all the references, which may be particular to the Bay Area scene and to social media tumult; but I’m moved by the self-appraisal it risks and even the literary history it accounts, and by the thinking subjectivity in lines rhapsodic and prosaic and rhetorical all at once. Candor rings its bell. I want to read the whole thing.
Poets.org: Who are you reading right now?
Poetry: Bhanu Kapil’s How to Wash a Heart, Cam Scott’s Romans/Snowmare, Alison Cobb’s After We All Died. Erica Hunt’s Jump the Clock and Emily Hunt’s Dark Green are on the way. Rereading Robert Wrigley’s Box: his best, in my opinion. If I were still hosting my old poetry-and-music radio program, Speedway and Swan, I’d have the makings of a great show with that lot alone.
And prose: McKenzie Wark’s Reverse Cowgirl, Evan Kennedy’s I am, am I to trust the joy that joy is no more or less there now than before, and Kate Zambreno’s To Write as If Already Dead: A Study of Hervé Guibert. And, among the books I’ve read recently that are still reading me: Frank Wilderson’s Afropessimism, Stephen Van Dyck’s People I’ve Met from the Internet, We Both Laughed in Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan, Tim Dee’s Four Fields, and Claudia Rankine’s Just Us.
And just this morning I read and then listened to my former student and friend CMarie Fuhrman’s exquisite new essay, “Coyote Story,” in Emergence. She must have a full book of these phenomenal essays and walks and stories by now. One of my favorite prose writers.
Poets.org: What are you working on now in your writing, teaching, or publishing life?
BB: I have been writing a third book of poems and a second book of nonfiction prose. I wish either would take the lead; neither is close to completion, but both advance. I recently published an essay that is a deep dive—to antiquity and back—into what it means when we say one is “left to his own devices.” Other essays are similarly tinted and tainted by life under the Trump administration, as well as by the cultural politics of the inland northwest and the central Piedmont, my current and childhood homes. I’ve been reading back through several recent notebooks of daily writing—mostly “morning sensibility,” in Fairfield Porter’s terms—and raising poems from that field, noticing patterns. Also, I’ve been experimenting with a couple projects of procedural writing. Watch this pace. I mean, more anon.