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3 poets, 3 questions

By Lindsey Muth
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 2, 2003

The Poetry Center will host a reading by three up-and-coming modern American poets Wednesday at 8 p.m. Olena Kalytiak Davis, Matthea Harvey and James Thomas Stevens will grace the stage of the Modern Languages Auditorium and will share their individual styles of poetry with Tucson.

"In 1959 Gertrude Stein wrote, ĪSo the twentieth century is that, it is a time when everything cracks, where everything is destroyed, everything isolates itself, it is a more splendid thing than a period where everything follows itself,'" quoted Frances Sjoberg, UA Poetry Center's literary director. Sjoberg went on to say, "Now, in the twenty-first century, Harvey, Stevens and Davis are writing a new literature that grows up between those cracks."

The Wildcat interviewed each of the poets via e-mail.

Wildcat: Why did you choose poetry over other forms of expression?

Davis: I don't think I chose poetry. I think poetry chose me. It is/was the only thing I have inside me. I think we are compatible because we don't necessarily love a story. We both like intensity, detail, clarity, confusion, digression and repetition.

Harvey: I have a coy relationship with the muse ÷ I'm always pretending not to be interested in writing a poem. However, I do keep a notebook with me ÷ currently a small brown one ÷ and write random things down.


Wildcat: How did you get your start as a poet/writer?

Stevens: I got my start as a student at the Institute of American Indian Art. I began there in sculpture, but as a Mohawk out of my element in Santa Fe, when I was told by a professor to "look at the work that sells in Santa Fe" as my goal, I switched to creative writing.

Wildcat: What does the performance element bring to your poems · having a listener vs. a reader?

Stevens: My family is a very oral-tradition family. We spent a great amount of time growing up in our log cabin in the Alleghenies. There was (is) no electricity there and when the sun went down we read to each other by kerosene lamp. It's important to me to hear the words and feel the interaction with the audience.

Davis: With the first book, I wrote the poems on and for the page. With the second, I wrote a lot of them aloud. I wrote them as I read them as I wrote them. I think of the poems in the first book more as objects and the poems in the second book more as scores of and for language · Still, turns out, despite their genesis, the new poems are more difficult to read aloud, but they are also, simply, more difficult. I don't necessarily love to give readings, usually want to only when I have something brand new in need of voicing and response; reading in public does allow me to hear the poem's imperfections more clearly, but, of course, like probably every writer, I love/pine for the perfect reader and the perfect listener. Since, ultimately they are the one I/we write for.

Wildcat: What from your personal life makes it into your writing?


Harvey: I just got back from honeymooning ÷ a fine verb ÷ in Iceland and jotted down a few phrases like "rich bathing culture" and "the book of the flat island" and "restricted vistas" which will eventually find their way into a poem.

Stevens: Some would say, unfortunately, everything.

Wildcat: What are your hopes for the future of your work?

Davis: If that is a question about what I hope to write next: that it be worlds and words and worlds from the work I have already done. That there never be such a thing as a "Olena Kalytiak Davis" poem. If that is a question of posterity: why yes, a small place, please.

Wildcat: What do you hope an audience takes away from your reading?

Harvey: There's something chemical that goes on between writing fragments down and going back to them later. The words or ideas lose their original context and in becoming strange, spark poems. I tend to try and write about worlds that don't exist but that are tethered to the world we live in. Going to Iceland was inspiring because it was like going to an imaginary place ÷ the landscape is full of volcanoes and lava fields dabbed here and there with moss, and it's populated by the shaggiest horses and sheep you've ever seen. The steam rising up from the hot water underground made everything wonderfully unearthly. In a way, that's what I want my poems to do ÷ make the world strange again.

My family is a very oral-tradition family. We spent a great amount of time growing up in our log cabin in the Alleghenies.

-Thomas Stevens, poet


Stevens: I hope they take away the understanding that everything is connected. I don't mean that in some bad-translation-of-Chief-Seattle's-speech kind of way, but we share more than we don't, and if it happened in time, in history, it affects us. I hope I'm successful in exhibiting this.

Davis: Take away? My only hope is that they will not be able to get up for a while.

What: Poetry Center's Visiting Poets and Writers Reading Series "Emerging Poets ÷ Matthea Harvey, James Thomas Stevens, and Olena Kalytiak Davis"

When: Wednesday, Oct. 8 p.m.

Where: Modern Languages Auditorium

Cost: Free and Open to the Public

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