Donald Revell: A Poem Is An Utterly Intimate Communication
I met Donald Revell (left) at the Indiana Writers’ Conference at
As I recall, the late Bill Matthews was a workshop leader at that conference, providing a vibrant counterpoint to Revell’s lectures. In a few brief days, Revell and Matthews dazzled me with the magic of poetry.
Afterwards, I followed Revell’s career through several poetry collections, a series of columns in the American Poetry Review, and two collections of his prose work that echoed many of the themes from his
The essay collections “Invisible Green” and “The Art of Attention, A Poet’s Eye” were based on a broad knowledge of philosophy, literary theory, poetry and history. With each collection, his poetry grew in experimental daring and technical power, fulfilling his early promise and securing his place as one of the most original and dynamic voices of his generation.
In preparing for this interview with him, I looked again at his early standout collection of poems, “The Gaza of Winter” and rediscovered that he had autographed the book for me at
Alas, we haven’t met since, but have reconnected through this
I was entranced by your concept of poetry and reading as “friendship.” Could you define what you mean by this?
For me, a poem is an utterly intimate communication, probably best understood as something whispered by the poet to his poem. (My poem is the only audience I can actually imagine.) Hence, the friendship, as friendship is a sacramental and disruptive intimacy, like a poem. Jesus forsook his family in favor of friends, and he required his friends to do the same.
In “Invisible Green” and “The Art of Attention, A Poet’s Eye,” Henry David Thoreau and Guillaume Apollinaire are seen as major influences, or “friends.” Do you see them as similar or different? Thoreau proposed the sanctity of "walking;" Apollinaire proposed the sanctity of errer, i.e. of walking around
with no destination. I hope to follow. Paris
You often describe feelings of ecstasy in reading and writing poetry and in experiencing life and nature. At the end of “Invisible Green,” you speak of “mindfulness.” Are ecstasy and mindfulness related? Are they religious and mystical in nature, the basis for a broad approach to living?
In ecstasy I believe we find our mind, i.e. our New Mind, and perhaps a good word for such mind is God.
In “The Art of Attention,” you describe your growth as a poet from your more formal earlier work to freer, more experimental later poems. In what directions is your poetry moving at present?
Just now, I am looking for a language of humanity's aftermath, trying to make poems in which there is no difference between an alphabet and clouds in the sky.
I enjoyed your “Homage to John Frederick Peto” and commentary upon the poem in the April issue of Poetry. The poem reflects your affection for an earlier
, the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the country was growing economically, industrially and artistically. You see it as a youthful time of hope and optimism. Although from an earlier time, your vision of America Jeffersonlooking down upon the Shenandoah Valleyembodies this ideal of peace and harmony. Has this been irrevocably lost, and could it be recovered?
I have no hope for the former
I was touched by your portrait of your father in “Invisible Green.” You say there and in the April Poetry that your father was unable to read but wanted you to. Was your father able to witness and enjoy your literary success?
My father would have had no notion of nor any use for success. He loved his children, creme de menthe, and listening to opera on a gaudy Victrola late into the night.
You’re a poet, critic/philosopher, translator, reader and teacher. How do these relate to each other? What brings you the most satisfaction?
My satisfaction, when I can feel such a blessing, comes from having been of some help to younger poets. If I have any future, it is they.