Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sandra Beasley

Sandra Beasley won the 2009 Barnard Women Poets Prize for I Was the Jukebox, selected by Joy Harjo. I Was The Jukebox is out this month from W.W. Norton.

From her Q & A with Vrzhu:

Vrzhu: I like the going back to older poets you mentioned. Who's the earliest poet you find yourself going back to, or sympathetic with? Besides just experience, is there some way you have these poets (like Hopkins or Eliot) come alive for you?

Sandra Beasley: In Fall 2009 I taught a writing class at the Corcoran College of Art + Design; teaching is an exception, rather than the rule. I soon realized that contemporary poets who I found interesting, based on the ferocity of voice, did not engage the students; what they liked were poets who offered something structural they could unlock. William Shakespeare, Seamus Heaney. On one hand, they disdained the technical terminology of meter and rhyme; on the other hand, they sat up in their chairs when I could prove that the craft techniques served a higher thematic purpose. The week we looked at elegy, we considered poems by both Dylan Thomas and Marie Howe. Thomas's villanelle is all about thundering imperative; Howe's is all about ambivalent dialogue. I love Marie Howe, but they preferred Dylan Thomas. It was a challenging dynamic, and it made me think a lot of which "older" poets I loved, and why. I think T. S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams have a lot to offer with repeat visits. They also have just enough texture in their biographies to provide grit, without so much drama (a la Anne Sexton or Ted Hughes) as to be distracting.

Through a series of coincidences, 2009 was also a year of Emily Dickinson for me--scads of exposure to her biography--which makes me newly aware of her feistiness, her pride, her calculations of correspondence with Thomas Wentworth Higginson. She was no fool and no simple recluse. Those short, lyric poems must be understood as telegrams, composed in the Morse code of a rock skimming along the surface of a much deeper lake. Whitman, on the other hand, took some basic philosophical beliefs and stretched them out on the loom of societal experience. I think he was as savvy as he was smart. It's funny how often these two poets are paired in literary critique as an asexual Odd Couple. They come alive to me in the sense that the older I get, the more I understand their writings in the context of biographical pressures. Some days it feels like a great insight. Some days it feels like a terrible fallacy.
Read the complete interview.

--Marshal Zeringue