The subject of this interview is Waldrop’s book The Not Forever.
Rusty Morrison: It was such a delight for me, when you offered Omnidawn The Not Forever! I couldn’t believe our great good fortune. As I wrote in the book description that we are using for our press materials, “These poems take not only mortality, but also the impossibility of truly assessing mortality, as their endlessly inexplicable subject.” These poems “assess the quintessentially human inability to exact knowledge from the existence that we live, as well as from the inexistence that we each are veering toward.” The poems frightened me, and yet they “friend-ed” me too: they are ferociously generous in their candor. I want to ask about your relationship to these poems. Can you tell me a little about your intentions for the book?
Keith Waldrop: I think you have gotten the book right. I couldn’t express it better.
RM: I’m curious about your conception of the book. Did it begin, in your mind, as a “project”? Which poem or poems were the first you wrote?
KW: By the time I thought in terms of a project, that is, of a book, many of the poems were either more or less finished or in progress. Or, for a large part, were simply words or phrases that might possibly go somewhere in something I might (eventually) write. Gradually some words gathered into lines, and I tried to see where they were leading me, and to what extent they might suggest lines, and then poems.
Much of what I collect in this manner is eventually dumped and other parts are put aside for later looks. This sort of thing goes on continually and I have large batches of what may turn out to be used some other time.
I am usually slow about trying to decide what I am actually doing. What I put into files in the computer (I no longer write by hand, because I find it hard to read my handwriting) gets too large, so I often throw out portions. This is not a way I decided to write—it’s simply what I’ve found myself doing. I do occasionally get something down onto paper.
RM: I have many thoughts about the book’s title. Again, as I said in the book description, I see you as “a master at discerning what is recognizable within the ‘not’ of our attention, whether it is an attention to the future, the past, or to that instant we call the present, which is the most impossible to grasp.” That “not” of the title seems so central to my thinking about these poems. I wonder if you could tell me anything of your thinking about the relation of the title to the text.
KW: Many passages in the book are negations, sometimes of biblical texts. For instance, the page beginning “Time’s bric-a-brac.” I don’t think that needs to be brought out.
RM: Manuscripts often undergo revision before reaching their published form. Would you discuss your relationship to revision?
KW: I revise endlessly. Most sections of the manuscript are umpteenth versions of a text now buried.
RM: Who are the authors with whom you feel a kinship? Were there any authors whose work influenced The Not Forever? And/or who are you reading currently?
KW: A difficult question. Pound was very important to me for a long time. Also H.D. One of the last courses I gave before my (fairly recent) retirement was on Beckett, several of whose plays I have produced and played in. Also I have learned something from certain French poets (whose work, in some cases, I have been much involved in translating, such as Claude Royet-Journoud, Anne-Marie Albiach, Raymond Queneau). I’m not sure how much that is relevant to this particular question.
RM: Would you tell me a bit about yourself? Anything you are willing to share that might not be in your short bio that is published in the book?
KW: Just at the moment, nothing that I can think of.
RM: You generously let us use one of your terrific collages for the cover image of this book. In many ways, the image speaks for itself. If you’d like to comment on the choice, I’d love to hear. But mostly I want to thank you for letting us use it.
Keith Waldrop (born Emporia, Kansas, 1932) is retired from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he still lives and, with Rosmarie Waldrop, edits the small press, Burning Deck. His recent poetry books include the National Book Award-winning Transcendental Studies, The Real Subject and a trilogy: The Locality Principle, The Silhouette of the Bridge and Semiramis If I Remember. Siglio has published a book of collages, Several Gravities. His novel, Light While There Is Light, has been reissued by Dalkey Archive. He has translated Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil and Paris Spleen, as well as books by contemporary French poets Anne-Marie Albiach, Claude Royet-Journoud, Paol Keineg, Dominique Fourcade, Pascal Quignard and Jean Grosjean.