“I Am Your Little Ram”: An Interview with Mark Wunderlich

Interview conducted by Caitlin Cowan

Poet Mark Wunderlich’s third book, The Earth Avails, has won the 2015 University of North Texas’ Rilke Prize, an award designed to recognize exceptional artistry and vision in the work of a midcareer poet. Also the author of The Anchorage (1999) and Voluntary Servitude (2004), Mark Wunderlich currently teaches at Bennington College in Vermont. He lives in the Hudson River Valley. 

I had the pleasure of spending some time with Mark during his stay in Denton, Texas, where he read from his latest collection, ate migas for the first time, and may or may not have purchased a bit of Western-wear at Weldon’s Saddle Shop. We later corresponded for this interview.

CC: The Earth Avails is your first book in ten years. You noted at your Q&A at the UNT Gallery on the Square that you’re “not terribly prolific,” sometimes drafting just five poems a year. I myself tend not to write every day and draft fewer poems per year than many of my friends and colleagues, and admissions such as yours often fill me with hope and camaraderie (like the time I heard Mary Gaitskill say that she once went eight months without writing when she spoke at The New School some years back). How do you know when it’s time to write? What kinds of events, feelings, desires, observations, etc. finally drive you to sit down and put pen to paper (or fingers to keys)?

MW: First, I’m very happy to be answering these questions—thanks for this opportunity. Your question, which is about the ways in which a poet finds himself or herself sitting down at the desk and getting to work is, of course, at the center of what it is to be a poet. Is being a poet an identity? A speech act? An action? I don’t really know, but I do know that I don’t write many poems. I write every day—emails, memos, reports, comments on student work—but for me the occasions for making poems need to be created. I have described the state of mind necessary for writing poems as being a combination of boredom and anxiety—sorry Wordsworth! As a person who is typically preoccupied and over-employed, I need to plan times when I c