Kathy Fagan
April 2005


Kathy Fagan is the author of the National Poetry Series selection The Raft (Dutton, 1985), the Vassar Miller Prize winner Moving & St. Rage (Univ of North Texas, 1999), and The Charm (Zoo, 2002). Her work has appeared in The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, Slate, Field, Ploughshares, and The Missouri Review, among other literary magazines, and is anthologized in Under 35 (Doubleday, 1989), Extraordinary Tide: New Poetry by American Women (Columbia, 2001), and The Breath of Parted Lips: Poems from the Robert Frost Place (CavanKerry, 2001). Fagan is the recipient of fellowships from the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Ohio Arts Council. She is currently Professor of English and Director of the Creative Writing Program at The Ohio State University, where she also co-edits The Journal.

Statement of Poetics

Last year, while reading through two decades’ worth of my own poems for a chapbook manuscript I was invited to submit to a local publisher, I found myself startled all over again by the demands of poetry, by its possibility and elasticity. When I began writing poems—I mean seriously writing poems—I wanted to tell stories. Or rather, I wanted to sing stories. My grandparents were Irish immigrants; everybody in the family could tell a story or sing a song—except me. But I had verse. My early influences, introduced to me by my grandfather, were Edgar Allan Poe, W.B. Yeats, and Dylan Thomas. On my own, as a teenager, I discovered the confessional poets. And as an undergraduate and graduate student, I was largely reared in and trained by the free verse narrative poets of the 70s and 80s. Certainly those influences mark my first book, published in 1985. In poems since then—due to age perhaps or to influences outside the realm of poetry—I’ve been more interested in experimenting with traditional and innovative verse forms, in mixing up the lyric and narrative modes, in concentrating on lives other than my own. I’d like to think I’m still singing, but no longer strictly a song of myself, to borrow a phrase. It’s been important to me and to my development as a poet to allow levels of structural and thematic complexity to enter my poems. I hate above all to be bored by poetry, so I try very hard to reject the facile, the self-indulgent, and the didactic in my work and strive instead for the "slant" perspective Dickinson spoke of. That slant, or good strangeness, can be achieved, for me, through a turning outward, through the use of metaphor, personae, portraiture, and through the formal and rhetorical challenges individual poems present in composition. I like best poems that stump me, that keep me guessing, that keep me wanting to keep guessing. I’m not a proponent of the obscure or abstract in poetry, but I do desire difficulty, serious play, and inexplicable sonic joy. Poems, like life, surprise me every day, and poems I love wake me up, make me laugh at some fresh turn of phrase or deft use of language, make me hungry for the experience of themselves over and over again. I am in awe of that poetry, and humbled to find myself a practitioner in and apprentice to the craft.

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