In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Ann Keniston
1. Tell us about your poem in Volume 20. How did it come to be?
I have been thinking and writing (in scholarly ways) about post-9/11 poetry for years, but I could never figure out how to write a poem about that topic. Thinking about the Rapture as an allegory for 9/11—as it is, I think, in Tom Perrotta’s novel The Leftovers, to which I allude in the poem—helped me begin the poem, and my experience visiting the 9/11 Memorial Museum gave me specific imagery to work with. The poem originally had another, interwoven part relating to neuroscience and hysteria, about which I’d been writing a lot, but I eventually separated the two parts into their own poems.
2. What was an early experience that led to you becoming a writer?
My experience in third grade with Mrs. McCabe, who encouraged us to write poems and then compile them into “books” (complete with covers decorated with potato-stamp designs) helped me understand how much pleasure writing poetry could give me. It didn’t help that that same year, my babysitter, who was a poet, regularly read my poems at readings and told me that people were impressed that I was only eight years old!
3. How has writing shaped your life?
Like many poets, I read a lot in childhood, especially during long, relatively solitary summers. I always wanted to be a poet, but it was also difficult to take that impulse seriously in myself and to live in a way that offered lots of what my teacher Sharon Olds called “poem food,” experiences that made me feel like writing poems. Writing isn’t easy for me, or rather, I draft fast and revise seemingly endlessly. But that process allows me to stay in touch with the often hidden part of me that, like writing poems, sustains me.
4. What books, writers, art, or artists inspire you and your work?
Because I’m a professor of literature, I’m very lucky, because reading poetry is part of my day job. Among the poets whose work has been important to me are Louise Gluck and Brenda Hillman, but there are many others. When I’m working on poems, I often try to read poets whose work will push mine to be a little wilder—I tend to seek out work that is illogical or nasty or associative. I also read widely in recent news and feature stories on a variety of topics, and I often find that this material gives me ideas for poems. I’m also really interested right now in the relation between the arts, and especially in the ways that poetry resembles and differs from fiction, nonfiction, dance, music, and visual art. Experiencing these other art forms sometimes gives me ideas for my own poems.
5. What projects or pieces are you working on right now?
I’ve recently started writing a series of what I call “hybrid essays” that try to bring together my scholarly interests with my preoccupations as a poet, often in the context of themes and events from my childhood. I’ve also just started what I hope will eventually be a new volume of poems related to visual art, forgery, and the art market. This work in some ways echoes my current scholarly project, which is a book about the ways contemporary economics informs recent North American poems.
Visit Ann’s website here.