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Interview with Megan Volpert

April 4, 2012

As part of the National Poetry Month Blog Tour and following up on the Indie Lit Poetry awards, I interviewed poet Megan Volpert to find out more about what leads a person to write something as wonderful and puzzling as Sonics in Warholia.  Here is what she said in answer to my questions:

Jeanne: What book has most affected you or changed your life the most, and why?

Megan: The book that most altered the trajectory of my writing career was Christian Bök’s Eunoia. This was when it first came out, in 2001. And I just fell in love with constraint–the way rules fail and succeed on the page, the way invention becomes a scientific process, the compartmentalization and symmetry of words, the terribly simplicity of it as a foundation.

I don’t know how to measure a book’s affect on me, or its ability to change my life. Perhaps I could just say that the first author for whose works I was inclined to round up the complete set was Bret Easton Ellis, and that the first among those I read was American Psycho. My newest book touches on this story, actually.

Jeanne: What would you most like people to ask you about your poetry?

Megan: I guess I’m not so much interested in what they ask. What interests me is that the asking is ongoing, that there is a readership out there excited to engage with whatever I’ve got happening now and next.

That said, there is a good deal of amusement to be had in seeing a pattern emerge in the questions. So maybe asking me what I am most tired of people asking me would be a more suitably narrow topic. I think asking me how coming up out of the slam poetry scene has influenced my work has probably been done to death.

Jeanne: There was some discussion about the genre of Sonics in Warholia; how would you characterize it yourself?

Megan: Oh, no you don’t! This is the accessibility question in disguise. I’m very glad the book generated discussion about the parameters of poetry, or essay, or whatever else to which the particularities of the argument among these judges amounted. I would not characterize it myself, except to say:

Dear judges, I hope my little book exploded many of the preconceived and congealed notions of genre that you had come to assume as fixed and proper. I hope you sometimes found yourself drawn into it as a guilty pleasure, and at other times felt ready to use it for a dartboard. I hope it made you think and it made you numb. I hope you found me by turns naive and manipulative, a vulgar and unforgettable hybrid thing with wings and claws. I hope it haunts you. I hope it does to you all the things that made Andy Warhol, holy terror that he was.

Warhol was always and never accessible. He defied any easy characterization. A less polarizing experiment of form for this book would have been a failure. Perhaps that other hypothetical book is an award-winning failure, but the bed I made is one in which I can sleep soundly.

Jeanne: What do you like most about teaching high school English?

Megan: There is a somewhat alarming trend in these questions: the superlative “most” occurs in three out of the six. It amuses me to do an interview housed by a literary contest where half the questions revolve around me declaring a winner of something–especially after that contest has declared me the loser.

In short, there is no singular best reason to teach high school English. I like making the world a better place. I like saving children from the despair of their circumstances and equipping them with some means of intelligent rebellion. I like talking about literature. I like being in the trenches.

Jeanne: If you could choose one fictional character to visit for a day, who would you want to visit and what would you do with him or her?

Megan: This is an odd question to ask an author who has never written a work of fiction. Can I still say Andy Warhol? I think there’s a fairly strong case to be made that he is a fictional character. We would do whatever he wants to do, just like everybody did while he was alive.

Jeanne: Name a skill you have that isn’t on your resume, but should be.

Megan: My above description of poetic constraints probably gave it away. That was such a German answer I gave. But anyone who spends five minutes in a room with me knows it to be true: I have a ruthless breed of efficiency in my work processes. Nothing makes my blood boil faster than sitting in a meeting during which nothing is accomplished because timid idiots surround me. At best, I become unfriendly. No one has ever in my life referred to me as “a team player.” I might really like to put “not a team player” on my resume, but I’m sure it’s already written in my personnel file. And on my face. And in my voice.

Thanks, Megan, for playing along, delineating winners and losers, and making the questioner question. I hope this interests a few of my readers in looking at more of what you write, or inspiring a little intelligent rebellion against the demand that poetry be always “accessible” or written in an easily defined genre.  And now I’m off to find a copy of American Psycho, because I haven’t read it yet.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 4, 2012 12:02 pm

    I love her answer to your question of the genre of Sonics in Warholia.

    • April 5, 2012 8:24 am

      Yes. I can’t resist liking an answer that resists the question!

  2. April 4, 2012 12:17 pm

    I like that she pushed the envelope! I was intrigued by her collection for that reason alone. I think this interview certainly sheds light on her writing style and position on “genre.” Thanks for doing the interview…the biting tone here is delightful.

  3. April 5, 2012 8:27 am

    The tone is fun, and it also seems to me an integral part of her attitude towards engaging with readers–you need to be excited. You need to be thinking. Above all, you can’t be timid.

    • April 5, 2012 11:38 am

      I think excitement and cognizant of each word in a poem or in fiction is essential to discourse. I like that she’s strong in her opinions and answers.

  4. April 7, 2012 3:10 pm

    love Bok’s Eunoia
    from Chapter A – FOR Hans Arp
    Hassan Abd al-Hassad, an Agha Khan, basks at an ashram – a Taj Mahal that has grand parks and grass lawns, all as vast as parklands at Alhambra and Valhalla. Hassan can, at a handclap, call a vassal at hand and ask that all staff plan a bacchanal – a gala ball that has what pagan charm small galas lack. Hassan claps, and (tah-dah) an Arab lass at a swank spa can draw a man’s bath and wash a man’s back, as Arab lads fawn and hang, athwart an altar, amaranth garlands as fragrant as attar – a balm that calms all angst. A dwarf can flap a palm branch that fans a fat maharajah. A naphtha lamp can cast a calm warmth.

  5. April 8, 2012 11:26 am

    Eunoia is an interesting volume. When I read it, back in February of 2010, when I was looking for a poem to read out loud, I decided that it wasn’t the volume for that, despite the pleasure of trying to mouth such lines as “If Klimpt limns it/If Liszt lilts it.”

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