Elton Glaser
March 2004

 

Elton Glaser, a native of New Orleans, is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English and former director of The University of Akron Press, where he now edits the Akron Series in Poetry. Nearly five hundred of his poems and translations have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies such as Poetry, The Georgia Review, and The Pittsburgh Book of Contemporary American Poetry. He has published five full-length collections of poems: Relics (Wesleyan University Press, 1984), Tropical Depressions (University of Iowa Press, 1988), Color Photographs of the Ruins (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992), Winter Amnesties (Southern Illinois University Press, 2000), and Pelican Tracks (Southern Illinois University Press). He coedited, with William Greenway, I Have My Own Song for It: Modern Poems of Ohio (University of Akron Press, 2002). Among his awards are two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, five fellowships from the Ohio Arts Council, the Iowa Poetry Prize, the Crab Orchard Award, and the Randall Jarrell Poetry Prize. In 1996, he was presented the Ohioana Poetry Award in recognition of his contributions to poetry as a teacher, publisher, and poet. His poems have appeared in the 1995, 1997, and 2000 editions of The Best American Poetry, and in Scanning the Century: The Penguin Book of the Twentieth Century in Poetry.



A Few Scattered Reflections on the Art of Poetry

John Keats: "The excellence of every Art is its intensity. . . ."

                       *****

I want to write poems in which something important is at stake, in which something seems to matter so urgently that expression becomes crucial to survival, or at least to my own balanced being in this world.

                       *****

I used to think of myself as a poet of hyperbole, intensifying my poems until they felt larger than life. And then I realized that nothing could be larger than life itself: all I was doing was jacking up the world so that we could better see what was underneath it, the systems that made it move.

                       *****

Billy Collins: "The poet knows that the poem—every poem—is about one thing only: its own development and completion."

                       *****

I don’t have a self I am trying to express. I have an art I am trying to practice.

                       *****

I belong neither to the avant-garde nor the derriere-garde. In the poetry wars, I am a conscientious objector.

                       *****

Wallace Stevens: "People ought to like poetry the way a child likes snow."

                       *****

I could call myself, as a poet, what Denis Donoghue calls Joyce, a "comedian of discrepancy." I also see in my work, in Simon Callows’s phrase, "a flamboyant stoicism." Passion and control, freedom and discipline: the necessary twins of art.

                       *****

My best poems seem to come from some triangulation of forces, vectors of influence and experience: what I’m reading at the time of composition; where I’m living, its landscape and weather and customs; and what I’m thinking and feeling, that knot of memory and attitude and rumination.

                       *****

David Mamet: "Art is not educational, and it is ennobling only as and to the extent that joy may ennoble."

                       *****

My concern is with, as I say in a poem, "The ecstasy of the actual." I want to affirm that the pleasure principle and the reality principle are the same thing. I hope to reveal that moment when everything is both itself and something else, so that, finally, we can see there is no difference between identity and transformation—there is only the higher release into ourselves.

                       *****

In almost all my poems, I’m trying to write in such a way that readers will feel an intimacy with the subject, will feel the speaker’s breath warm on their faces.

                       *****

Lytton Strachey: "It is not the nature of poetry to be what anyone expects; on the contrary, it is its nature to be surprising, to be disturbing, to be impossible."

                       *****

In many of my poems, I’m attempting to say something raucous in an elegant way, putting a sheen on gnarly images, outlandish voices, metaphors strong enough to stop a runaway truck. Sometimes this means I’m satirical and lyrical at the same time, confident that there can be a music of mockery and rebuke, that wit can both sing and sting.

                       *****

My poems come from an incitement of language, the excited possibility of carrying a line, on its own thrust and harmony, on to the next line and the next, the inner world reaching outward, the world beyond my mind impinging with its images and hints, so that the poem becomes an experience of the whole, until I can’t tell where I leave off and everything else begins, that place where there is no I and no other. If life is constantly breaking down, falling to pieces, it’s also continually repairing itself, coming together in the most unexpected and comforting ways. It’s not that happiness is either foolish or essential; it’s that we don’t have a word yet to express this experience that is always incomplete and always conclusive. That’s what poems do (and all the other arts): they satisfy, within the sensations of flux, the feelings of finality. In art, the provisional will provide.

                       *****

Paul Desmond: "I wanted to sound like a dry martini."

Back to PoetryNet