An Interview with William Doreski

William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He has taught at several colleges and universities. His most recent book of poetry is Mist in Their Eyes (2021).  His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in various journals.

William’s poem Tyrannus Rex appears in Pinhole Poetry’s launch issue.

Would you like to tell us a little bit more about your poem? For instance, how or why you wrote it, or perhaps provide some extra context? 

The poem is entitled “Tyrannus Rex” (tyrant king) to suggest the dinosaur but not insist on the comparison until it is developed two thirds of the way through the poem. The comparison of literary scholars (as well as the president) to dinosaurs is gratuitous, but I couldn’t resist it. The “elaborate flake” refers to the fellow in the orange wig as well as to the wanton elegance of snow. I guess I thought it would be fun to have Donald Trump elected president of the Modern Language Association. What would he do with all that literacy?

Do you have a collection of poetry or even a single poem that acts as a touchstone or a lodestar? 

Wallace Stevens’s “The Man on the Dump,” and everything else he wrote. Alan Dugan’s first two books. Robert Lowell’s “For the Union Dead” and “Waking Early Sunday Morning.” Andrew Marvell’s “The Garden.” Alice Oswald’s Dart. Yeats’s “The Wild Swans at Coole.” Milton’s “Lycidas.”

If you didn’t write poetry, how do you think you might access the same fulfillments that poetry offers in your life? 

I would have to find another way to explain the world to myself. Maybe I would become a religious fanatic of some obscure sect. After that, I might devolve into a politician.

What are you working on now? 

A group of ekphrastic poems based on landscape photographs a friend has shot from Amtrak trains. We did a book together a 
few years ago entitled Train to Providence. Our new book will be more focused on railside scenes.

How or where or with what does a poem begin? 

A phrase, a line, a sentence, a single image.

Are there other art forms that inspire or inform your poetry? 

All of them, especially painting and photography, but also music.

How do you make space for poetry in your daily routine? 

I set aside time first thing in the morning, before breakfast or shower or whatever. Now that I’m retired, I have more free time in theory, but in practice I find I must maintain that daily discipline. 

Have you ever received advice (or has there been something you’ve learned on your own) about writing or revising poems that has made you a better poet? What was it? 

How could I possibly answer this? Every day I learn something new about poetry by reading it. I swap poems with friends, and we engage in lengthy critiques. I studied with Robert Lowell in my misbegotten youth. I’ve learned various things from my students. A seminal moment was reading Ted Hughes argument that the real meter for English language poetry isn’t syllable-stress but accentual. That changed everything. It helped make sense of the later Yeats’s meter, for example.

Do you belong to a writer’s group? If not, where do you find poetry community and feedback? 

I do but get no useful feedback from it. It’s too miscellaneous a group. “Poetry community” is … what? Writing poetry is a solitary occupation, and regardless of sharing with friends (see above) or participating in workshops, the poet is responsible to oneself and cannot write to please others. 

In terms of poetic style or craft, is there a big question you are trying to find an answer for?

No. While I agree with Stevens’s claim that all poetry is experimental, I don’t consider myself a stylistically experimental poet. I just sit down and write while listening to the rhythms in my head. Every poem I write is experimental only in the sense that when I begin I have no idea where it will go or how it will end. Those are big enough questions for me.

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