PictureNon-Sensuous Similitude: An Interview with Kathleen Graber

Interview conducted by Robert Haines 

Kathleen Graber is the author of two collections of poetry, including The Eternal City which was a finalist for The National Book Award and The National Book Critics Circle Award, and the winner of The Library of Virginia Literary Award for Poetry. She is a recipient of fellowships from The Rona Jaffe Foundation, The New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation.She has been a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University and an Amy Lowell Travelling Scholar. She is the Director of Creative Writing at Virginia Commonwealth University. Recent poems have appeared in Best American Poetry (2012, 2014) and The Pushcart Anthology. New work is forthcoming in AGNI and The Literary Review.

The following interview was conducted over email during November and December of 2015

.Robert Haines: One thing I greatly admire about your work is its intertextuality. Each book is marked by your experiences as a reader and the responsibilities those experiences compel. Could you elaborate on the importance of reading to your process?

Kathleen Graber: Fortunately, my own life is fairly simple. Like everyone, I do, of course, have my share of sorrows and joys, but they are hardly extreme examples. For this reason, many of the events in my life are simply events of reading, encounters with texts. Sometimes when I do not know how to begin a poem or how to move forward a poem that has stalled on the page, I simply walk over to a bookshelf and open a book. I read until I catch myself thinking—until I catch my mind wrestling with the mind of someone else—and then I simply write down whatever thought it is that has popped into my head. This is, as you would guess, a pretty good way to begin; it is a less good way to make meaningful advancements. Though, because I believe that each person tends to have a somewhat predictable range of interests, it works out more often than one would think.

I find that reading not only helps me to generate my own thinking in response to texts, but that thinking about the experiences rendered in those texts helps me to place my own thoughts and my own experiences into meaningful contexts. This is true even, or especially, of the newspaper, for my own experiences (which understandably seem to me immense) are reduced considerably in their presumptive significances when placed beside global horrors and concerns. At the same time, I do not want to diminish the urgency of our daily lives, and that tension is often very productive. I am also a very, very slow reader, and I like to think that a part of that methodical pace is at times related to the real pleasure that I take in simply riding along the natural rhythms of the language and to the delight I take in the masterful execution of syntactical pacing. In this way, reading can also be a kind of ear training or retraining. Sometimes when I am tired of my own voice and, what seems to me, its predictable patterns, I intentionally read something I find to be outside my style in an effort to subtly insinuate something that feels different.

RH: One other primary concern of your work is collecting. This concern is evinced in the content—collectors appear: Cornell, Benjami