Dan Veach: A Vision of a More Humane, Accessible Poetry
Dan Veach has devoted much time and energy to building the poetry community in Atlanta. A fine poet and editor of the Atlanta Review, he and a small group of poetry supporters developed Poetry Atlanta, founded in 1985 and well-known for its directory of local poets and writers. www.poetryatlanta.com and www.atlantareview.comAs editor of the Atlanta Review, devoted to poetry, he's also extended the local community nationally and internationally. His well-received special international issues have given much attention to writers from around the world, many of them struggling to have their voices heard against the violence of repressive regimes. He's also helped local poets find an audience and develop their art through his involvement in the poetry reading series at Callanwolde Arts Center, housed in the 19th century mansion of a Coca-Cola founder and the promoter of arts from music to painting, sculpture, photography and writing.
Having retired from a distinguished career as a librarian, Dan remains busy with a range of literary and musical pursuits, including editing the Atlanta Review. He's also a world traveler. He took time from his busy schedule to participate in this Southern Bookman interview.
The “Atlanta Review” has entered its impressive 16th year of publishing. What do you feel you have accomplished with the journal?
From letters and conversations with readers over the years, it seems Atlanta Review has really done what it set out to do: provide the kind of deeper and more human communication that we all long for but don't always find in our everyday lives. Along the way, we've been able to encourage hundreds of wonderful poets and do at least a bit to encourage international understanding, especially of places like
, Iraq and Iran where it's needed most. China
You have a strong record of publishing international poets, with a series of special issues from different countries. With
readers reportedly lacking a global outlook, how have these issues from around the world been received? U.S.
Our International Feature Issues every spring are far and away our most popular, selling well for many years afterwards. At the AWP conference in
we actually paid for our $900 booth by selling IRAQ Issues at $5 a pop. The IRAQ Issue was so highly regarded, in fact, that it was brought out as a book, “Flowers of Flame,” by Michigan State University Press, and won an Independent Publisher Book Award for Poetry in 2008. Atlanta intends to do the same for this spring's IRAN Issue. These issues are also very well-received in the featured countries. People's University in Michigan State held a major conference devoted entirely to our recent CHINA Issue. The Australia Council and Beijing ’s Goethe Institute generously funded our Australian and German Issues, and the British Council distributed the Great Britain Issue to all their cultural centers worldwide. Germany
During your years of editing the Atlanta Review, what stylistic or thematic changes have you perceived in your poetry submissions? What do you see from younger poets?
When we began Atlanta Review, we had a vision of a more humane and accessible kind of poetry, one that could appeal to every educated reader, not just to academic specialists. I also hoped we could help turn the page on the recent past, when the only "career path" for a poet seemed to be drunken self-destruction and suicide -- all for the amusement of said academic specialists.
American poetry has in fact turned the page toward a healthier, more human, more life-affirming art. It will take time to change the image of poetry as something forbidding and esoteric. But today's poetry welcomes and deserves a wider audience, and the public is beginning to sit up and take notice of this fact.
Your poetry is often light-hearted, whimsical. Do you believe that most contemporary poetry is too serious?
There are certainly things to be serious about in today's world, and AR has always supported poets willing to tackle them. But the aim of art is to help us master these problems, and not simply be depressed and overwhelmed by them. And often the most serious things can be best approached indirectly and with a light touch.
Humor has a grace that offers both consolation and a fresh way of looking at the world. Some of my own poems that bite the deepest, like "God Spelled Backwards," approach a truth that is really tragic through humor -- perhaps because, as we find in King Lear, "the worst returns to laughter."
You have supported poetry readings at places like
’s Atlanta . What are your thoughts about poetry as a performance medium? How does a person hearing a poem spoken aloud react to it differently than when reading it on the page? Callanwolde Arts Center
Poetry began as an oral art, and even in print we can only stray so far toward a "disembodied poetics" before we need to return to our roots. But it's undeniable that there are differences between written poetry, musical song, and now a third form: performance poetry.
I always like my poems to be read aloud, because this is the only way to fully savor their rhythmic "body," their intimate echoes and connections. But a written poem has the advantage, because the reader can linger on it, of being able to support a denser texture than a song lyric, which must be grasped at a single hearing.
Performance poetry lies between the two. It demands the most intense concentration from the listener. A temporal art like music, it too makes effective use of emphasis and repetition to help the listener grasp the structure at one hearing. But this torrent of words can do things song lyrics never dreamed of. Each "word art" offers its own special pleasure -- we should treasure them all.
, Chicago and San Francisco have vibrant poetry scenes. How would you compare the poetry scene in New York and smaller cities? Atlanta
I'm willing to bet that Atlanta has as much going on poetically as any American city except New York -- and (given the huge difference in population) much more per capita than even New York.
is not only a great poetry city but a great city for poets. Poets of every persuasion actually like and support one another here, amazing as that seemed to me at first. Atlanta
What are your future plans?
I just finished my own collection of poetry and Chinese ink painting after a mere 33 years. (Will anyone dare publish such an oddity?) I'm also enjoying translating Chinese and Anglo-Saxon poetry these days --
is publishing my “Wang River Poems” of Wang Wei and Pei Di. I'm working on the scherzo of my second symphony. (I'm retired -- can you tell?) And of course Atlanta Review is looking forward to its 20th anniversary soon. Hopefully a new generation will keep it going long after that. Michigan State