“Be patient. Surprise yourself” – Interview with Poet Michael D. Snediker
Michael D. Snediker was born in New Canaan, Connecticut. I met him recently in a traditional artistic residence in Saratoga Springs, close to New York City. We were both working on our next poetry books, trying to focus on the strophes during the day and forget about them with alcohol at night. I was curious about his poetry, so I talked with him a few days before his departure about intercalating old and new poetries.
Michael’s poems appear in Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, The Cream City Review, Court Green, Laurel Review and Pleiades. His manuscript, Castor & Pollux, was a finalist in the Yale Younger Poets competition and the Lena-Miles Wever Todd contest. He wrote a book of criticism titled “Queer Optimism: Lyric Personhood & Other Felicitous Persuasions” (University of Minnesota, 2009), as well as “Nervous Pastoral” (Dovetail Press) and Bourdon (White Rabbit Press). His latest poetry book, “The Apartment of Tragic Appliances” (Peanut Books, 2013), can be found on Amazon or Punctum Books where you can download it for free.
Michael was also professor at Queen’s University in Ontario and recently moved to Texas to teach in the English department of Houston University.
WIDBOOK – Recently you spent some time in an artistic residence. Can you tell us about the work that you were inspired to write?
MICHAEL D. SNEDIKER – I’m imagining my current poetry manuscript as a loose translation of Henry James’s novels into lyric poems. I like to think that for all of James’s experiments in genre (short story, novel, theatrical writing, essay), he never delved into poetry in part because his prose — in its jettison of conventions such as plot — already was a sort of poetry. I imagine my poems as complications of genre, but also as an exercise in close reading pushed to its devoted limit.
WIDBOOK – Do you remember your first piece of poetry? How has your poetry changed since then?
SNEDIKER - I do remember my first poems — or at least the first poems that really felt like poems. It was 1997 and I was in my third year of college. Those poems were more straight-forwardly personal. They were committed to telling a particular story, to documenting a moment in my life.
WIDBOOK – Many critics used to say that contemporary poetry is so diffused that the only thing able to connect them is the fact that a connection doesn’t exist. What’s your perception on the present literary moment?
SNEDIKER - What most interests me about this literary moment (though the same could be said for any literary moment, I suppose) is the many ways in which writers imagine and subsequently articulate poetic stakes. Writing is being allowed to matter — is coming into being as mattering — in all sorts of surprising ways. But in the poetry I most admire, there’s always a sense of necessity and urgency.
WIDBOOK – How do you define your poetry? Is there any major reference from any author that relates to your verses?
SNEDIKER – I sometimes think about my poems, at least my current ones, in terms of intensity and rigor. Ralph Waldo Emerson says in his essay “The Poet” that every thought is a prison. What, then, does poetic utterance look like when it’s on the verge of thought, just before or after the safety (and bondage) of crystallization? If thought is a cage, then poetic utterance is like a hand reaching through the cage (although Emerson, cagily as it were, doesn’t say what side of the thought-prison we’re on). There are lots of other authors to whom I’m indebted: Henry James, obviously. And Emily Dickinson, Paul Celan and Gertrude Stein.
WIDBOOK – You are a professor at Houston University so you are in touch with many new writers. Does this influence your poetry?
SNEDIKER - I love discovering new writers, and look forward to doing so in Houston. Being in conversation with all sorts of different poets, at various stages of their careers, keeps one from becoming too comfortable, in terms of the questions one asks one’s self about writing. The more vantages from which one can see one’s writing, the more deftly and deeply one can inhabit and re-inhabit it.
WIDBOOK – Do you have any tips for the writers and poets who are trying to write their very first lines?
SNEDIKER - Be patient. Surprise yourself.
Read more of Michael’s writings below:
By Jr. Bellé