“The Next Big Thing”: Lisa Russ Spaar on The Hide-and-Seek Muse (Drunken Boat Media)

Lisa Russ Spaar: My collection of commentaries about contemporary poetry, The Hide-and-Seek Muse: Annotations of Contemporary Poetry, is due out this month (March 2013) from Drunken Boat Media. Featuring new work by some 58 contemporary poets, along with commentaries and essays by me, the book gathers a selection of the weekly postings about poetry that I wrote for the Chronicle of Higher Education Arts & Academe and Brainstorm blogs from October 2010 through August 2012.

SpaarCoverHSM.jpegI’m excited about the book because it has afforded me the chance to bring into conversation extraordinary poems by living poets whose ages span decades and whose sensibilities vary profoundly. Taken together, the poems in The Hide-and-Seek Muse might reflect what Ezra Pound called “the tone of the time.” Whether or not the columns and commentaries articulate the zeitgeist of American poetry at the start of the second decade of the new millennium, the poems I’ve been privileged to present are aesthetically and culturally diverse, representing fresh work by well-known as well as emerging poets from a wide array of formal, political, and other perspectives, all attuned to issues of originality, influence, debt, and innovation that have ever stalked and emboldened American poetry.

There’s also a rocking introduction by Nick Flynn.

Q: Where did the idea come from for the book?

In September 2010, Alexander Kafka, deputy managing editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education Review, asked me if I’d be interested in writing as a poetry editor/blogger for a new on-line poetry feature of the Chronicle Review. On October 4, 2010, we posted the first of what became a regular offering, “Monday’s Poem”—a weekly presentation of a new poem by a contemporary American poet, a different poet each week, accompanied by my commentary. Once every month or so, I also wrote a column in which I meditated on some aspect of contemporary poetry. From the start, the venture had no overarching design or program. My only charge was to write about current, compelling poetry for readers who are intelligent and interested in poetry but who might not necessarily be poets. The only other stipulation made by the Chronicle was that I consider for presentation poets with some sort of university or other higher education affiliation and/or who publish with a college or university press. Over time, I interpreted this instruction loosely, choosing to consider as constituting “higher education” a number of poems of inspiring poems by poets not associated directly with a college or university. It was the idea of Ravi Shankar, the innovative founder and chief editor of the on-line journal Drunken Boat to gather a selection of these weekly commentaries and monthly essays into a book, and I am grateful to him for making this happen.

Q: Under what genre(s) does your book fall?

Poetry. Poetics. Essays.

Q: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Nick Flynn will play everyone in the book.

Q: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Debra Allbery * Kazim Ali * Talvikki Ansel * Jennifer Atkinson * David Baker * Jill Bialosky * Suzanne Buffam * Jennifer Chang * Michael Collier * Randall Couch * Stephen Cushman * Kate Daniels * Kyle Dargan * Claudia Emerson * Monica Ferrell * David Francis * Gabriel Fried * Alice Fulton * Rachel Hadas * Brenda Hillman * Edward Hirsch * Jane Hirshfield * Mark Jarman * Laura Kasischke * Jennifer Key * L.S. Klatt * Joanna Klink * Hank Lazer * Paul Legault * Willie Lin * Maurice Manning * Cate Marvin * Heather McHugh * Erika Meitner * Carol Muske-Dukes * Amy Newman * Meghan O’Rourke * Eric Pankey * Kiki Petrosino * Carl Phillips * John Poch * Bin Ramke * Srikanth Reddy * Michael Rutherglen * Mary Ann Samyn * Philip Schultz * Sarah Schweig * Allison Seay * Ravi Shankar * Ron Slate * R. T. Smith * Mary Szybist * Larissa Szporluk * Brian Teare * William Thompson * David Wojahn * Charles Wright * Ye Chun

Q: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The book is published by Drunken Boat Media and is available through Amazon.com and elsewhere. You can link to the book’s Amazon page by clicking here.

Q: Who or what inspired you to write this book?

All of my muses, especially those with whom I play hide-and-seek (if not tag), and of course my children, my students, and the teachers I meet in poems, both those by the noble living and the noble dead.

Q: Regrets?

One regret of any anthologizer is the material that for one reason or another is not included in a particular book’s incarnation. Interested readers can find the poems by all of the wonderful poets I was privileged to feature while writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education Review. The poems and commentaries are archived on-line at the Chronicle website, particularly at the Arts & Academe and Brainstorm venues.

I’m also sorry that the Chronicle ended the Monday’s Poem feature before I could present work by other poets I had in the pipeline, including Tony Hoagland, Terrance Hayes, Kevin Young, Debra Nystrom, and a host of others.

Q: What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

I would just add that the book is beautifully embodied. The gorgeous cover features a photograph by the artist Allyson Clay, who lives and works in Vancouver, B.C. Canada. The cover was designed by Claire Zoghb, a poet, graphic artist, and book designer whose first collection, Small House Breathing, won the 2008 Quercus Review Poetry Series Annual Book Award. Bailey Lewis, a fiction writer and graphic designer who is finishing up her MFA at the University of South Carolina, is responsible for the crisp, readable interiors.

Finally, what is any book if not the delicious excavation of the self through others’ words? I am grateful for the concert of gracious forces that have brought this particular book into the world.

* * *

I want to thank Amy Newman for “tagging” me and inviting me to be part of “The Next Big Thing” project. I haven’t played tag in a couple of decades, and had forgotten that the real thrill of the game dwells not so much in dodging and escaping capture, but in being tapped at last and stopped for a moment in one’s tracks. I also want to add that I appreciate the “chain-letter” feel of this whole endeavor, although unlike the postcards or recipes or shower of dollar bills and blessings that never actually arrive as promised, this “viral” project appears to benefit everyone involved in a genuinely communal and generative way.

Amy’s “Big Thing” self-interview can be found by clicking here.

My abiding gratitude to poet and critic Ron Slate for allowing me to post my responses for “The Next Best Thing” as a guest blogger at his luminous, intrepid website On The Seawall. I am indebted in a host of ways to and for his unflinching intelligence, humility, talent, generosity, and example. I tried to tag him for this project, but he demurred.

Finally, I’m pleased to announce my “tagees,” the marvelous poets ...

Mary Ann Samyn
http://creativewriting.wvu.edu/creative_writing_blog

and

Kiki Petrosino https://cms.mail.virginia.edu/Redirect/www.sarabandebooks.org/?page_id=1...

and

Sandra Beasley
http://sbeasley.blogspot.com/

Femmes, you’re it!