The Artlessness of the Interview

Carl_Spitzweg_-_Der_arme_Poet_(Neue_Pinakothek)I generally don’t care for most poet-interviews. Not because of the answers so much as the often meaningless, softball questions. Do you write longhand, or at the keyboard? What time of day do you write? Describe your writing routine. The answer to all of these questions is, of course, who cares?, but the subject – usually generous and accommodating – is forced to dignify them with thoughtful answers, and so the myth of the poet communing with the gods in his or her drafty garret lives on. Equally annoying is the question that presupposes poetry’s worthlessness to the culture at large, usually some variation of What can we do, as poets and as a society, to recover the language of poetry? The answer to which is, of course, recover from where? The language of poetry is the language of to-do lists, conversations, menus, dictionaries… just (if we’re doing our jobs) more interestingly arranged. This style of interview is not a recent development, nor is it limited to poets, as this 1961 interview with Henry Miller demonstrates. The man had just gotten his first novel published in his home country, nearly thirty years after it was published in Europe, and the interviewer asks him about (what else?) pencil-sharpening. Not far into the interview, Miller finally says, “I think these questions are meaningless.” Yes, and they still are. Here, then, I humbly submit to anyone who conducts interviews, particularly with poets, a list of questions that might yield more interesting and instructive answers:

  • Please describe your poetic. 
The Artlessness of the Interview

2 thoughts on “The Artlessness of the Interview

  1. If the questions are meaningless, the answers certainly are not at least in the Henry Miller interview.

    I believe I shall take umbrage with you, as the Guy Smiley who sells this whole series

    Even the inarticulate and misinformed interviewer can sometimes spark the interviewee to an utterance that helps other writers, or just raises our consciousness a bit. I was very inspired at Michael Farris Smith’s reading (a novel called Rivers) at Lemuria earlier this month in which he said that when he was closest to giving up writing, he had three of our interviews books, two Literary Conversations and one from Conversations with Filmmakers, on his desk. When he felt very discouraged Conversations with Larry Brown and The Coen Brothers: Interviews, kept him from giving in and quitting.

    Umbrage, sir! Umbrage!


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