Passion — ‘the key to poetry’

Poetry aficionados regularly converge on Athens for Compendium Bookstore’s poetry readings, several of them traveling in from the provinces and islands. Some of the poets hail from even further afield. The next visiting reader to fly in from abroad will be poet and children’s author Carole Langille, a New York City native, now based in rural Canada. Langille observes and reworks the everyday world of nature and human feelings – love, loss, and regret – through the magical process of poetry, with its surprising juxtapositions and the revelations won from them. In «Too Late» she writes: «As in a cave at low tide, echoes resound / not in the spaciousness of possibility / but in limitation. And isn’t this good? / To say, ‘Yes, I haven’t. That’s right / I never did.’» The poet talked about her work and what poetry means to her in an e-mail interview with Kathimerini English Edition. How did you start writing and what made you choose poetry? My response is similar to that of other poets, that poetry chose me. I don’t always have to understand a poem to be deeply affected by it. I love poems as objects. When I read an astonishing poem, I want to write a poem as extraordinary. I want poetry that I love to become part of me. The miraculous Conversely, through writing poems, I want the miraculous, the mysterious, the ineffable, to reveal itself, layer by layer. I want to be part of this process. Of course, the mysterious is limitless. Thus the impossible predicament. Even as a child I wrote poetry. Over the last few years, I have written children’s picture books, short stories, and I just completed a memoir, but it is all in the service of poetry. I’d like to be equipped to tell whatever it is that demands to be told, through poems. There are two quotes that explain, so well, poetry’s power. May I quote beloved poets? Stanley Kunitz said: «If we want to know what it felt like to be alive at any given moment in the long odyssey of the race, it is poetry we must turn to.» Octavio Paz said poetry is going «beyond ourselves to the encounter of ourselves.» What kind of poems would you like to write that you haven’t yet attempted? I took a break from poetry and wrote a memoir for several reasons. One was the hope that my future poems would surprise me. And that happened. When I returned to poetry, poems came very fast. They spoke not in my voice, but in a fictional voice. My next book will be very different from anything I’ve written. I’ve learned that unless the writer is surprised by a poem, the reader won’t discover anything new. I’m excited about this current manuscript. But, of course, poets always want to write the next poem, the miraculous poem. I would like to write a poem that alarms the reader. Charles Simic has a poem that begins: «It’s like fishing in the dark / If you ask me: / Our thoughts are the hooks / Our hearts the raw bait.» I would like to write a poem as startling as that. Passion It’s true, of course, that poetry reveals itself constantly when we’re open to it. Vincent van Gogh would never have considered himself a poet, yet his letters are more passionate than the work of many published poets. That’s the key to poetry, don’t you think? Passion. Van Gogh said: «Whoever loves much has accomplished much. What is done in love is well done.» When I write poems, I am reminded of these words. Poets have a responsibility to their poems, to go as deeply into them as possible, not to take the easy way out. Langille doesn’t take the easy way out, but she often takes the gentle way. There’s a tender sensuality in her poems, where the tangible delights of the natural world counterpoint the pleasures of the body. In «When You’re not Here and When You Are» the speaker craves «the smell of weeds tangled in brine, and along / the inland road, honeysuckle, sharp as juice / sucked from raw crabs by the cove.» Like most poets, Langille is a keen reader of other poets. Asked which ones she enjoys reading, she says: «The poets that I turn to again and again are Czelslaw Milosz, Yehuda Amichai, Elizabeth Bishop, Charles Simic, Derek Walcott, Adrienne Rich, Seamus Heaney, Symborska, Anne Carson, Virginia Adair, Anthony Hecht.» Canada The Canadian literary scene has given Langille a warm welcome. «I am originally from New York,» she explains, «and my first book of poetry was published in the States. «When I came to Canada, established poets helped me by circulating my first book and facilitating publication of my second and third books. I was not judged on whether I was well known, but on my work. «I have won several grants in Canada and have had the opportunity to give readings throughout the country. Unfortunately, poets are not assisted like this in the US. «I know many excellent poets in the US who have not had a book published, or who have found it difficult to have their second excellent manuscript accepted.» Langille will be reading from her poetry on May 6, and from her new children’s book on May 15 at Compendium, 28 Nikis St, tel 210.322.2148. The poet, in brief A native of New York City, Carole Langille has lived in rural Nova Scotia for the past 16 years. Her second book of poetry «In Cannon Cave» was nominated for the Governor General’s Award in l997 and the Atlantic Poetry Prize in l998. Her children’s book «Where the Wind Sleeps» was named «Our Choice» by the Canadian Children’s Book Center in l996. Her recent book «Late in a Slow Time» was published in the fall of 2003 and her new children’s book «Interview with a Stick Collector» will be launched on June 18 at the Halifax Public Library. She now lives in Black Point, Nova Scotia with her husband and two sons, aged 14 and 15.

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