Interview: James Allen Hall (Part II)

by Kehinde Wiley

I know you have invoked Toni Morrison’s ethos for writing the kind of books you want to read. And so, I was wondering – what are the kinds of books you like to read and how has your reading life impacting your writing?

Beauty will be convulsive or it will not be, Breton is on the record as saying. I hunger for books of dynamic engagement: voices that call to be heard. The kind of poetry that takes the top of my head off strikes a balance between searing image and sonic intensity, between intellectual coherence and emotional discovery.

It is sometimes hard to see where the reading and the writing end: that’s the impact being a reader has been upon my writing life. I want constantly to be a student of poems.

“Tell me your diamonds,” Beloved entreats Sethe in Beloved. I want words as hard and scintillating as that.

I am heartened that our moment includes so many young queer poets. I’d decline to name names for fear of missing someone, but queer writers are now making elegant explosive poems all over this country. I’m glad to add my voice in the choir.

As I prepared for this interview, I noticed that Louise Gluck kept coming up in the discussion. (I have to admit, I’m somewhat obsessed with her poetry as well.) What is it about her poetry that you’ve found so inspiring?

Glück makes such entrancing laws in her poems. I love her turns toward the archetypal, her use of humor, the ways in which she turns confession on its head. She understands the drama of structure and syntax. The sexy tension that tone can achieve. They are seductive, those poems. And yet austere and biting. “You understand, the animal means nothing to me,” she says at the end of the poem “Rosy,” (in which she compares her returning lover to a dog). I love that Glück has issued herself poetic challenges in her books. And she is a writer of books, as distinguished from “collections of poems.” And, between you and me, I’m sometimes convinced that various speakers in The Triumph of Achilles are gay men.

Finally, this blog is dedicated, in particular, to emerging queer poets. If you, like Rilke, wrote a letter to a young poet, what would be some of your pointers?

“Say it clearly and you make it beautiful, no matter what,” as Bruce Weigl says in his important poem, “The Impossible.”

Sometimes living in silence is born of necessity. So the knives do not slice our throats, the bullets do not home in our chests. “My silence did not protect me. Your silence will not protect you,” Audre Lorde wrote in The Cancer Journals.

Read this interview with Eileen Myles about content. It made me stand up and cheer:

You’ll probably get many heterosexual poets in your education. Don’t be content with this.

Seek out the queer poets because you don’t want to die, but learn from them something about how to write. If the ideas are beautiful, but the language is tired as a drag queen at dawn, the poem will suffer.

In workshops, accept both praise and criticism. Relish the praise half as much but twice as long as the criticism.

Try to learn how to filter criticism that is helpful from homophobia mean to be hurtful. Often they will be packaged together.

Read poets’ writing about poetry. Too many to list here, but they’re essential.

Think about the structure of information, of intellect and emotion, in your poems. Create pattern and variation, or, as I like to say, context and epiphany.

Let your poems misbehave; write more interesting sentences.

Now tell me your diamonds.

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3 responses to “Interview: James Allen Hall (Part II)

  1. you make me want to go back and read Gluck with this quote “Glück makes such entrancing laws in her poems.”

  2. Pingback: What makes a poem gay? « ] Outside The Lines [

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