Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Poetic Profile: Harriet Levin Millan
1) How would you describe your poetry?
My poetry is hard to describe because it varies from book to book. I wrote my first book after grad school, (University of Iowa Writers Workshop) so I guess I was responding to what I learned there and trying to subvert that in some way. My second book was written also as subversion, largely as a response to a reviewer of my first book, who said I should stop looking out through the "lens of rape." At first I was horrified when I read this statement. I thought, "Oh yeah, right, I do that too much." Then I thought, "No, no, I don't do it enough."
2) How does poetry fit into your everyday life?
My poetry is my everyday. I think about poetry all day long. Instead of calling the book of my life PROZAC NATION, I would call it POETRY NATION, because I'm always carrying around lines in my head. Even though I write sitting down at a table or desk, I often take walks or walk with my dog and keep writing the poem as I'm going. I'm very interested in not just describing the physical world but entering it. The poetry I like best is what I call "inside-out," meaning that their is not longer a separation between the writer and her subject. The following lines that I wrote recently illustrate this concept: "Hopeful the artist wasn't/and on my bike ride amid cars I hear/the screeching that is not confined to the road/but surrounds art/especially when the artist enters/the cluttered shade of her garage/where her first brush/was a kiss..." These lines are from a poem about the artist Eva Hesse called "Eight Legs," which was the title of the final sculpture she made as she was dying from a brain tumor. The reason I think these lines illustrate the "inside-out" concept is because it's hard to tell from them where the subject of the poem starts and the object of the poem begins. In other words, is this poem about Eva Hesse or the speaker of the poem? A preoccupation of mine, since I was a teenager has always been how to get two people to take up the same space in terms of absolute understanding, and I think all of the poems I write seek to resolve this proposition.
3) What poets and/or authors inspire you?
The poets who inspire me are contemporaries, because I like to read what's fresh and new, but probably to go back to less contemporary voices, Elizabeth Bishop more than anyone else, because I love poems that are very physical yet are completely subjective in the way I've explained above and Bishop is a pro at this.
4) How does the community of Philadelphia play a part in your poetry?
The community in Philadelphia takes up my head space and since I live in Philadelphia, it's the place I write about. If I lived elsewhere, I'd be writing about that place. I don't usually write a lot when I travel. I need to have a long-standing relationship with a place.
5) What is the last book you have read that you enjoyed? Tell our Big Blue Marble community a little about it.
The last book that I enjoyed was Martha Silano's THE LITTLE OFFICE OF IMMACULATE CONCEPTION. It's published by Saturnalia Press and I'm on the Board of Saturnalia so I helped read the manuscripts that became the finalists for the Saturnalia Book Prize, Martha's book among them. Her poems achieve the "inside-out" idea that I've talked about above in really cool ways, such as the final poem in the book which is an Ode to Gravy. Garrison Keillor chose "Ode to Gravy" for inclusion in his Poetry Almanac, so see, it is really good.
Prize winning poet Harriet Levin Millan is the author of two books of poetry. Her debut collection, The Christmas Show, was chosen by Eavan Boland for a Barnard New Women Poet’s Prize. That book also won the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award. The Philadelphia Inquirer named it a Notable Book of the Year. Her second book, Girl in Cap and Gown was a 2009 National Poetry Series Finalist. A PEW Fellowship in the Arts Winner in Poetry and a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, she co-directs the Program in Writing and Publishing at Drexel University.