Sunday, April 12, 2009

MFA Greensboro Alum Interviewed at "I Thought I Was New Here"

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Oversized Strangeness:
An interview with David Blair

…but Ishmael bobs up out
of wreckage. With oversized strangeness,
you will too. (“Students Sleeping on Trains”)

David Blair grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His poems have appeared in The Boston Review, Ploughshares, Fence, Verse, The Greensboro Review, The Harvard Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Southern Poetry Review, Barrow Street, Fulcrum, and the anthology Zoland Poetry. A graduate of Fordham University and the creative writing program at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, Blair is an associate professor at the New England Institute of Art. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, with his wife Sabrina and their daughter Astrid.

GL: The title of your book Ascension Days refers to Jesus’ literal departure from the world, and this biblical story represents, I think, a fundamental spiritual impulse of ours: to escape the world without having to die. It is an interesting symbolic cornerstone for this collection since your poems appear to be so fascinated by and committed to the terrestrial. In fact, these poems are full of an almost religious admiration for the world below: “Turn off the lights / because anything could happen” and all of its strange quotidian miracles. Why, then, chose a title with so many otherworldly connotations?

DB: My reason for titling the book Ascension Days had a lot to do with my feeling that the title sounded celebratory. On the whole, I was happy when I was working on the poems in it—so many poems written based on things that I saw while driving around with Sabrina. The poems in this book are optimistic about the imagination and the ability and good of capturing consciousness in words, even in the midst of the massively unpleasant and tragic circumstances of contemporary life. This has been a terrible decade, but there has been a lot of work for satirists.

Broadly speaking, I don't really see much of a contradiction between the terrestrial sensibility and the spiritual sensibility. For me, that goes back to studying philosophy in a department with an old-fashioned core of Thomism and Aristotelian naturalism. For me, it was a lot harder to make Aristotle and Plato fit together than it was to read Aquinas' commentaries on Aristotle and Walt Whitman at the same time, in terms of attitude towards the physical world. So escaping the world never occurred to me as some sort of thing that could cause "ascension" such as appreciating sensation and history. I thought of the title's mock-apocalyptic possibilities, and I thought of how it suggested spiritual enthusiasm as well as worldly striving, and all that seemed to open things up in a lot of directions. Though speaking in the plural evokes time immemorial, one thing I wasn't thinking about was the precise meaning of Ascension Day in theology, such as you would get from Bach's Cantatas for Ascension Day. The direct inspiration for the title poem was being in Austria on the Feast of the Assumption ("Maria-to-Heaven Day" in German) and not being able to get to a travel agency on time to buy tickets for the next day. If I had called the poem "Assumption Days," it would have sounded as if I was talking about people making assumptions about stuff, which would have been all wrong. I wanted to evoke not having a made-up mind beforehand. I also liked that it somehow evoked a world both parochial and arcane.

Read the entire interview here:

No comments: