David Lehman: ‘Enjoy being a poet. Take pleasure in the act of writing.’

By Maryann Yin Comment

LehmanHappy National Poetry Month! All throughout April, we will interview poets about working in this digital age. Recently, we spoke with author David Lehman.

Lehman (pictured, via) has published several volumes of poetry including his most recent book, New and Selected Poems. He initiated The Best American Poetry series in 1988 and has continued to serve as the series editor. Check out the highlights from our interview below…

Q: How did you publish your first book of poetry?
A: It happened in early 1985. I had turned thirty-six the previous June and, like so many others before and since, had just about given up on the hope of ever having a book of my poems published by any but a small press. There was a rumor that the redoubtable and sage John Hollander was heading the Princeton poetry program. Princeton’s formidable list included books by Robert Pinsky and Jorie Graham. I sent in my manuscript and got an acceptance letter with editing suggestions. The judge was unnamed but was in fact later confirmed to be Hollander.

Q: Has the internet changed the way you interact with readers?
A: Yes, the Internet multiplies the number of ways you can interact with other people. The pressure is mostly in the direction of relaxing formality. This has certain obvious benefits though at the same time it sets in motion things that one wants sometimes to resist. How is that for a sentence that is not only vague but nouvelle vague?

Q: Any tips for reading poetry out loud?
A: Read slowly. Make eye contact with someone in the audience. Make sure the people in the back can hear you. Practice (or rehearse). Keep to the time limit. Respect your audience. Do not put yourself down or act as if you have no business standing there.

Q: What advice can you share for aspiring poets?
A: Work at it. Write daily. Carry a notebook around with you and jot down interesting phrases, titles, similes, whatever catches your attention. Enjoy being a poet. Take pleasure in the act of writing. Think of it as a great secret that you might elect someday to share with the world.

Q: What’s next for you?
A: I have been translating the prose poems of Charles Baudelaire. Though his “Spleen de Paris” is widely accepted as the most significant volume in the history of the prose poem, it has never been satisfactorily translated, in my opinion. I have done about twelve of Baudelaire’s prose poems so far. My momentum is strong as I just received a prize from the Virginia Quarterly Review for my translation of Guillaume Apollinaire’s great poem “Zone.” I am also working on a new book of poems called Poems in the Manner of. Some of the poems will be extensions of the title — poems in the manner of such poets as Neruda, Rilke, Auden, Cavafy, Dorothy Parker, Mayakovsky, Holderlin, Robert Lowell, Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, Charles Bukowski, Catullus. Also poems in the style of whole decades (the 1960s, the 1990s) or other entities. The book’s centerpiece will be a thirty-sonnet sequence surrounded by an assortment of other new poems.

(Photo Credit: Jason Stern)