Hi Craig! You're a poet, professor, and editor, as well as a prolific literary critic. How do you balance and manage these pursuits? When and how do you carve out time to work on your own poetry projects?
Whenever I get asked anything, I get asked this. I’m the kind of person who is a lot saner if I’m writing than if I’m not, and I’d rather feel some of my professional time with writerly work where I can. I try to review books I want to read anyway, and I’m lucky that a few outlets are interested enough in those reviews that I get to do them. Teaching is a pure joy--it gives me lots of energy and pleasure; I’d rather be teaching than doing almost anything. I write poetry in the little minutes I get at night--again, I’d be miserable if I didn’t. Of course, I’ve got two little kids, so the real miracle is that I manage to do anything.
You are married to the poet Brenda Shaughnessy, the titular Brenda of your first book, Brenda Is in the room, and Other Poems. She appears frequently in your poems. How real is this version of Brenda - how do you meld the personal with the public?
The implications of using real names--and real people--in poems has fascinated me for a long time. It’s why I remain so engaged with the poetry of the middle generation, especially Robert Lowell, who took the practice of using real people in his poems thrillingly too far. Of course, the Brenda in my poems isn’t Brenda my wife, it’s a projection of me, used in the service of my own poetic ends. She’s very understanding about it. My kids are increasingly in my poems, too, and that’s more complicated. I hope they’ll understand when they’re old enough.
You recently served as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Tell us about this experience and how uprooting yourself (and family?) from New York affected your teaching and writing, if at all.
It was wonderful. My family was desperate for a change of pace--we actually moved to New Jersey upon returning to the East coast because we got used to being out of NYC. The students there are of course very talented, and further mentally from the crazed pace of the New York writing community. And Iowa City is lovely, a college town with a river running through it. We had a great time.
How did your own formal education as a graduate and undergraduate student prepare you for your career as a poet?
Well, I think, if we’re lucky, we come to poetry early and then take advantage of our educational opportunities to spend our classes geeking out on what we love. So that’s what I did. I had two incredible early teachers--an honors English teacher in high school who helped me wake up to the idea that literature is a way of life that I could be part of; and a marvelous poet-professor in college named Robert Farnsworth, who instilled in me a deep love of contemporary Irish poets, Elizabeth Bishop, and teaching. In general, I feel lucky that there have been courses to take and teach in what I want to be thinking about anyway.
Who and/or what are you reading these days?
I’m reading a bunch of upcoming books: Shane McCrea’s new one, and the next book by Juan Felipe Herrera, our new Poet Laureate, whose tenure I’m excited for. And then I’m doing a dive into Dante--I haven’t read The Divine Comedy deeply since college and I’m having a great time with it in Clive James’ new translation.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on three books. My next book of poems is coming out in 2017 from BOA. Graywolf will be doing a collection of essays in 2017 or 18, depending on when I get it done. And I’ve edited a selection of the available and out-of-print writings of Delmore Schwartz, which also includes some never-before-seen things, which will be out from New Directions in April of 2016--I’m very excited about it. It’s been hard to assess Delmore Schwartz’s career based on what’s been available in the last few decades, so I’m hopeful the book will win Delmore some new fans.
Got a favorite cocktail you'd like to add to The Mackinac's liquor list for Issue #7? How about a song for our playlist?
Does beer with more of the same beer mixed in cound as a cocktail? For a song, how about this wonderful tune, “I Lost My Mind” from the new Titus Andronicus album.