H. L. Hix: Let me start this side of our conversation by taking your advice. The welcome you extend, in Close Calls with Nonsense, to prospective readers of new poetry includes a “How to Read Very New Poetry” section that begins: “The most important precepts are the simplest: Look for a persona and a world, not for an argument or a plot. Enjoy double meanings: Don’t feel you must choose between them. Ask what the disparate elements have in common. . .”
I take that as good advice to a reader of your own very new poetry, since your latest book, Belmont, offers a world that is two worlds at once: The book’s back cover informs readers that you live in Belmont, Massachusetts, and its epigraph tells us we are entering the Shakespearean Belmont of The Merchant of Venice. In fulfillment of your advice, I don’t feel that I must choose between them, but since I have this chance to quiz the author, let me ask you what the disparate elements have in common. Why was it important or inviting to inhabit both worlds at once, the “literal” or “real” Belmont in which you live and the “mythic” or “poetic” Shakespearean Belmont? What does one learn, or what pleasures are offered, by not choosing between those two worlds, but dwelling in both?
Stephen Burt: Thanks for asking. I think we all need to inhabit at least two worlds, because this real world just isn’t enough for anybody, as marvelous as it is; because any adult life, and any child’s life (though not for the same reasons) includes wishes that cannot be fulfilled for real; because the imagination is amazing and should not be limited to what’s probable, or even possible; because there are more things in heaven than there are in Earth.