Interview with a Gatekeeper: Wave Books’ Matthew Zapruder
On Music, Translation, and How he Came to Understanding Poetry
Matthew Zapruder, Editor-at-Large at Wave Books, is tired. He’s not only finishing up a prose book he’s worked on for four years (Why Poetry), but he’s the poetry editor at the New York Times, teaches at St. Mary’s MFA program in Oakland, California, and is involved in other editing and writing projects. He and his wife also have a two-year-old son. But he’s always got enough energy to write poems, and I find him, as usual, working on a new book, which will be his fifth. He shares a new poem, which feels related to part of our discussion that follows.
I Wake Up Before the Machine
I wake up before the machine
made of all the choices
we are together not making
lights up this part of Oakland
it’s dark so I can imagine
another grid humming in the east
already people are deciding
I lie in the western
pre-decision darkness and almost
hear that silent voice
saying go down there
the coffee needs you
to place it in the device
its next form will help you remember
daylight is coming
but dreams do not go away
they just move off and change
your mind is a tree
on a little hill
surrounded by grasses
that look up and say
loves moving through you
Kerri Arsenault: I want to talk about your poems, but I want to begin with your editing. How did you come to editing? Did editing and poetry come at the same time?
Matthew Zapruder: Not exactly. When I was in grad school at UMass Amherst in the mid to late 90s I was getting an MFA in creative writing. I liked editing my classmates’ poems and my own poems. I liked that whole analytical supportive space with someone else’s work. I found it generative and also just fun, and it helped me make my own work. I wasn’t thinking about that as a possible job or anything, it was just one of those things that I liked doing. My classmates and I did a lot of it together. We’d meet up, look at poems outside of workshop, and talk about our poems and other people’s poems, how they worked, why they worked the way they did, and what was working and what wasn’t. A friend of mine who was at UMass at the same time, Brian Henry, had taken over this magazine called Verse. He and Andrew Zawacki were these young, cool editors. To make a long story short, Brian and I had talked earlier about starting a press together, so through a series of unlikely events, we ended up starting a publishing house around 1999. The first book we did was Joe Wenderoth’s Letters to Wendy’s. It’s kind of a legendary book written on these comment cards to Wendy’s restaurant, about this gradually disintegrating guy who just goes to Wendy’s and eats there all the time. It’s really dirty and funny and smart. Then we ran a little contest, judged by Tomaz Salamun, and we published the winner, a book of poems by a young poet we didn’t know, Richard Meier. We didn’t know what we were doing. All these books showed up at my house in Northampton—boxes and boxes of books—and we had no distributor or anything.
It was a cool time because it’s when desktop publishing became very cheap and available so it was easy to make books. I mean, people had been using email for a couple years but suddenly, somehow it was easier to send big files so it was easy to communicate with authors. And of course the web was just starting to get going so we were able to advertise and communicate with people and get the word out about our books. So all that stuff was happening right around the turn of the 2000s. That’s one big reason why all these small presses started right around then. Publishing options were so few and there was so much good work being made, but then this series of technological things happened in really short order which made it possible for people to start little presses. By the early 2000s, there were a fair number of these small presses and there started to be more and more. We are living the results of that time now. The small press explosion started going strong then and we were at the beginning of it. Not because we were . . .
KA: Early adopters?
MZ: We just happened to be there at the right time. We didn’t have any responsibilities. It didn’t cost very much for anybody to do it. The technology allowed it to happen. Then when Brian had kids and a full time job, he couldn’t really do the magazine and the press, so I took over the press and he continued working on the magazine, which I had never worked on. The magazine is still going, and it’s great. About four to five years later, Verse turned into Wave Books.
KA: Was Verse Press your only job at the time?
MZ: It wasn’t really a job. We didn’t get paid. We had a big space in a warehouse in Western Mass, the same place our band practiced and had shows. People worked for free or for very little money. It was more like a collective. Pretty early on people like Joshua Beckman and Matt Rohrer got involved and a lot of other people, too. So many great authors we came across and many of whom we still work with today. Authors would trust us with their books. One of the big things that happened was Dara Wier started publishing with us. Other people came along, too, and it was just a really wonderful couple of years doing our own thing. It was awesome. I learned so much. And I made a lot of mistakes.
KA: Like what?
MZ: I think I had talent as an editor but I wasn’t experienced yet. There were times I might be overly meddling in someone’s manuscript or not handle a personal situation quite right. In the effort to be nice or communicate well, I would somehow do the opposite and hurt someone’s feelings or string someone along because I was afraid to say “no” or string someone along because I didn’t say “yes” fast enough. I was a young editor with no mentor, out there on my own, which is true for a lot of young editors. We all had to teach ourselves. It’s not like we came up through New York publishing houses. I never had contact with that world at all. I didn’t know anyone in those worlds, and I didn’t know anything about how publishing worked. Those rules were not applicable to what I was doing.
KA: Was that a benefit?
MZ: I’m sure it would have been helpful in some ways to have the experience of a person who had been working at Knopf or FSG for 25 years, but it wouldn’t have helped me that much just because it was a totally new world.
KA: How did Verse become Wave?
MZ: That’s a long story. Basically what happened is that we met this guy, Charlie Wright, a philanthropist and businessman from the Pacific Northwest who had, among many other interesting things, been one of the main founders of the Dia Art Foundation in New York. He was very supportive in the art world, had done some stuff in publishing, and wanted to get back into supporting poetry. Again, through a series of events, he came across Verse. Eventually he just decided what he wanted was to take over Verse and for us (along with Joshua Beckman, who had been involved with these discussions from the beginning, even before I met Charlie) to transform it together. We needed to do that anyway. I mean, nobody had healthcare, people wanted to start families, and our authors needed more. It was very different to work with authors who had never published a book or maybe published one book than it is to work with an author that has a couple books out. As an author, expectations change, you want different things, and you need a more professional organization. So we were coming to the time when we needed that anyway. It just happened to work out. Charlie is this amazing and really smart awesome guy and a wonderful supporter of poetry and Wave. He and his wife have become family to all of us.
KA: It seems like editing poetry is almost anathema to poetry itself. How do you remove or change already carefully selected words? Where do you start?
MZ: First, it’s what I do. Poetry has been my life for 20 plus years so I’m immersed in what poems are. It’s like any other editing: you bring your understanding of what someone’s doing in the work to their work and try to help them move it in the direction . . . you help them be the best selves they can be as artists in whatever they are doing, whether it’s a poem or a manuscript. That usually involves some degree of pointing out something they may not be totally aware of or might not know about their work. So you’re shaping the work with them. You’re in service to their imagination, to their art, but you don’t defer completely. Just to take as an example, somebody may show up with some poems that may be doing the same thing as other poems in their book but not quite as well. Or they have a little tic in the poems, a little thing they do that they just don’t really notice, or that they think is doing something but it’s not really. It takes a lot of trust. The authors I work with—I really know their work really well. They hopefully trust me when I point something out. That doesn’t mean they always agree or do what I say or whatever, but it’s also important to work with people you believe in or have a connection with. I can’t edit someone’s book if I don’t believe in their work because I won’t know what to say to them. I won’t know how to help them. So yeah, there’s been times when I probably edited someone’s book and deep down I didn’t think it was there yet so I might have started almost trying to rewrite it for them. It’s because I wanted their book to be published. It can be sort of like a how you are when you’re in a romantic relationship. You want them to be different than they are so you do some combination of convincing yourself they are different or trying to make them different and that obviously never works. I made that mistake early on, but now I try to be more honest with myself. If something doesn’t seem like it’s right, I won’t work on it.
KA: Each word in poem is so significant that if you delete one, the meaning or tenor of a poem could change; whereas in a novel, you might be able to get away with deleting an entire paragraph or a chapter.
MZ: I’ve never edited a novel, but I talk to a lot of people who have. Editors and agents make suggestions all the time like, I think the ending of this should be totally different or from a different point of view. Or you make this plot choice here, and it should be this. They make these big changes structurally. As an editor I’m pretty sure I’ve never suggested a new word in someone’s poem. I would never do that. The most likely things I’d do as a poetry editor are to point out a moment of confusion or blurriness in the poem. Like, it’s moving along great and then it gets to this point and it seems like it lost focus or the poet forgot because it’s from an older draft. So I point out weak spots. It’s also possible in the context of a book, a perfectly good poem might be slowing down the book for those reasons. Sometimes an author can’t see it because they think, that’s a really good poem and it was published in X magazine. And I’m like, yeah you do this nine times elsewhere, the same thing, and so by the time you get to this, it feels repetitive. That can happen with a single line, too. There’s nothing wrong inherently with the line, but in the poem, it stops the momentum or distracts the reader.
I would never say use jacaranda tree where the poem said juniper bush. I would never start meddling in someone’s imagination like that. The most I would say is—and only very rarely—maybe there are two poems and actually that is really one poem; I’d suggest recombining things they’ve already done in ways they would not expect it. Because that’s how I work too. There’s a continuity to someone’s imagination, and so it’s not strange that a poem someone wrote one day and then a couple days, months, or years later that they write another one that might belong together in the same poem. It’s not that weird that that would be the case. The discretion of the poems is kind of arbitrary sometimes. Looking at my students’ poems, however, is very different.
KA: Let’s talk about that. You are teaching in the Saint Mary’s MFA program. What’s different about working with students and working with poets.
MZ: The students are coming to me for something for something different. They are at a different stage in their artistic lives. If I blow up one of their poems or throw away everything except for one line, well, that makes sense. At this point in their lives they are so much more in process.
KA: How do you teach poetry?
MZ: Usually there’s three components to teaching poetry. There’s the workshop, which everyone is familiar with; you bring a poem to class and everybody talks about it. I guess I would also include in this individual mentoring, which every poetry teacher I know does a lot of. It’s the part of the teaching poetry that has to do with directly talking with students about the work they are making. But that’s only one part of teaching poetry. There’s also a second part, the literature courses. It’s obviously so important to read. I mean, everybody’s so woefully under-read.
KA: Not obvious to everyone.
MZ: I was super under-read when I got to graduate school. I spent the whole time catching up. Right now I’m teaching a craft course, which I would say is the third component of the coursework. I really like teaching the craft classes because I feel like I’m sharing all my tools. I think in a lot of ways that can have more of an impact than the workshop. The workshop can be great, but it can be difficult to navigate because it’s such an artificial and weird situation. You bring in your work and no matter what you say to someone there’s pressure to feel like it’s got to be good. I think some of the pressure is helpful for a young artist but too much of it can be problematic because it can stop people from wanting to mess with their own work and change things and feel light and free in relation to their own imagination. I like the craft classes better because it feels like the stakes we are working on are so low. I’ll have them write something in class as an experiment and that material, they’re just not attached to it, or as attached to it as they are to something they’ve worked on and worked on and handed out and are waiting for everybody’s reaction to. This is something they’ve dashed off so we can talk about their work or their imagination in a different kind of way. I enjoy that the most. Workshops, again, can be wonderful, exciting, but if I had to pick my favorite thing, it would be the craft courses.
KA: Any other tools you can share with aspiring poets?
MZ: Really all I’m teaching them is how to read poems and to, in a way, abstract what the poets or poems are doing and then to imitate or practice those things so they can try and incorporate or adapt those techniques into their own work. Obviously, because I’ve been doing this for so much longer than they have, I have access to a lot more information to good poetry than almost all of them do. For instance, next week we’re reading W.S. Merwin’s 1967 watershed work of poetry, The Lice. Many of them have heard of Merwin, maybe vaguely read some of his poems, but they don’t know this book, and it’s a radical book in terms of its approach to poetry. So we’re going to read it, try and figure out what he’s doing, why he’s doing it, and then I’m going to have them do their version of what he’s doing to see how it feels to be inside his work. They’ll take what they want from that. I tell them that maybe even if they hate something, there’s that one moment when you need to do something in your poem you’ll have the technique to do it and this exercise will help. And even if you hated the way that poet did it, you might use your own version of it.
For example, if I show them someone who writes in really, really, really flat language, like Tao Lin. I love his poems, but they’re very flat. They read like emails. Maybe they are. Some students love it and some hate it. It really bothers them. They’re like, what is this shit? And I say, it’s okay. There may come a time in your own poetry where you need to just say something in that way, to help get you from one place to another. So you have that feel or that sense that it’s possible in that kind of poetry. That’s what I’m trying to give them. There’s a million things like that. You can look any good book and learn a bunch of things from the poems. I’m ultimately trying to teach them how to do that on their own so they don’t need me. That’s all I do; I pick up books from my shelf and try to learn, figure it out.
I teach with Brenda Hillman, too. She’s a genius. I have all these visiting poets come in as well. It’s a great program. The main problem is it’s in the Bay Area so, as you know, the question is how to live in the Bay Area, how do you afford it? But they figure it out.
KA: Yes, I know that dilemma well, having lived there for three years.
MZ: Sarah [Karlinsky, Zapruder’s wife] and I are fine. We both work, but life would be easier if we were living in a giant house somewhere cheap, out in the country or whatever.. My students figure it out. Many of them are kids too, so they can live in some hovel and work at Whole Foods. They don’t have the same kind of responsibilities that we do. And the ones who do have families and jobs have usually figured out how to live anyway, so they are okay too.
KA: Let’s talk about your position as Poetry Editor at the New York Times.
MZ: I’m the Editor of the poetry page for the New York Times Magazine where they have a little corner page almost every week set aside for poetry. The way they’ve set it up is really smart. It’s an annually rotating position. I only choose poems from books that have recently been published. People seem to think I am—because they send me poems all the time—reading new poetry, but I’m not. I’m picking and reprinting things. So I’m reading a ton of contemporary American poetry right now [points to the piles and piles of books on his desk]. Now when someone mentions a new poetry book, I’m like, yeah, I read that.
KA: In your introduction in the New York Times Magazine, you wrote that when a poem enters someone’s life “Most of the time, this happens in expected situations: a classroom, a wedding, a funeral.” It seems like lately, poetry has entering the mainstream consciousness, or at least having a modern moment, by evidence of a weekly poetry corner in the New York Times and by fact that these three books have made it to my desk. What do you see from your side of the desk?
MZ: I think that’s true. You put your finger on what has been a change. Definitely within the past five to ten years, the way poems find their way into the lives of people seems to have changed. I honestly think it has a lot to do with the Internet. Poetry is a very easily, sharable kind of thing. There’s a bunch of other factors, too: strong institutions that are trying to get poetry out into the world, like the Poetry Foundation, the Poetry Society of America, or Academy of American Poets. Another thing that’s happening is there’s a generation of poets who have been working for 15-20 years on their own poems and writing about poetry so there’s a real . . . I mean these poets are coming into . . .
MA: Yeah, or they’re midcareer. So now they have things to say and poems worth reading. And also obviously over the past several years, I think, the literary landscape has become more diverse. People are reading a much wider range of work by many, many different types of people. We have a long way to go with that, especially in terms of class as much as other types of diversity, so I don’t want to say that it’s done by any means. But I think anyone would agree things have at least started to open up in a way that’s made more people able to connect with poems and be interested in them. It’s a big mess, obviously, which is how any living, vibrant art form emerges.
I also think our language has become so degraded that there’s something about reading a poem, and if it’s a really good poem—it brings precision and its attention to what things mean.
KA: Poetry slows things down?
MZ: For sure. That’s a very welcome experience to anyone, any person who is alive right now [laughs]. It’s a good time for poetry.
KA: What’s the prose book you are working on now?
MZ: It’s called Why Poetry and is due to be released in August 2017 by Ecco/Harper Collins. It’s kind of a combination memoir and an explanation of what poetry is for and how to read it. It’s doing several things at the same time, kind of braided together. I wanted to write a book for a general audience on how to read poetry, but it seemed impossible to do that without talking about my own life, about coming to read poetry and coming to write it. So the book is personal in those ways. And I’m sort of trying to do the same thing with this book for readers as I do for my students: tell them what I have I learned from reading poems and what have I come to understand. Ultimately, the book at its heart is a genre argument. It’s an argument that poetry does something different than all other forms of writing. The point I try to make at the beginning is that if you don’t have a sense of what poems are for, it’s very easy to read them in a way that’s very unhelpful, like they’re essays. Or editorials. Or like they’re secret little messages. That’s not what they’re for. The book tries to explain but also enact different kinds of readings, but it also incorporates my own life because I came to poetry pretty late. I wasn’t someone born into poetry, or some prodigy, or whatever. I remember what it was like to not understand poetry and then come into the understanding of it.
As an undergrad, I studied Russian language. I lived for a year in what was then the Soviet Union. When I came back, I lived in San Francisco for a while. I wanted to go back to school, so I worked on my Ph.D. in Slavic languages at Cal. I was in the early stages of becoming a scholar. I write about all this in the book. But I didn’t want to be a scholar. I wanted to be a writer. I was in my early 20s and can remember what it was like to want to read poetry and be coming at it from a scholarly point of view but realizing there was something insufficient about that for me. I was teaching myself to read poems at the same time I was teaching myself to write them. Hopefully writing about that experience will help readers also go through some version of that process. Coming closer to poems. Understanding how to read them. I don’t know if it works. I guess we’ll see.
I’m in the copyediting process now. I have my last crack at the manuscript, so of course I’m panicking. Right now I’m in the phase of: I hate it. I failed. I totally did everything wrong. I wrote an email to a friend of mine the other day and said I wanted to inhabit and sing through all these ideas about poetry in some musical but totally clear way, and I feel like I just ended up blundering past that. Knocking up against it and now the ideas are over there, and I’m just sort of wandering off like some kind of oaf. There’s nothing like prose to make you look in the mirror in some unpleasant ways. And I’m not even talking about the content, but about how the way your minds works is completely revealed. It’s horrifying. I hate it. it’s so awful to see my worst tendencies revealed. Hopefully people will like it because right now I don’t [laughs].
KA: How long have you been working on it?
MZ: Years. I’ve been thinking about it for over ten years. But really intensely working on it for four years. I also had to figure out how to write prose. I had written essays, but a book is different.
KA: You are a good storyteller though.
MZ: I don’t feel like I am.
KA: Speaking of music, are you still playing guitar in your band? Do you blunder your way through music, too? Or does that come easier than writing prose?
MZ: Yeah [laughs]. I was never a trained musician. I just use my instincts. I play lead guitar for a group called The Figments. My role is to try to help the song get fleshed out.
KA: Which is what you do as an editor and teacher.
MZ: My own poems are the center of my creative life. It’s a very solitary activity. It’s me and my imagination. It’s what I do. It’s what I’ve always done. And it’s what I’ll always do. Ultimately it’s the most interesting thing I do. The other stuff I like–put it this way, I’m not the kind of person who only likes to do stuff for myself, by myself. I like being with and working with other people or being in service to other people. When I’m playing guitar, I like to help other people’s songs be better. I don’t do that instead of my own work, but in addition to it. I think sometimes there can be the worry that, oh, are people going to see me primarily as an editor? But I can’t control that. I have to live my life, do what I do, and the poems have to stand on their own. People are going to like them or not. I can’t get too worried about everyone’s perception of me. That’s an unproductive road to go down. I try not to think about that. I do what I want to do and do the best I can while doing it. The poems in the end, they are the constant work and the work that can’t ever go away. There may be a time when I don’t edit anymore; I can certainly imagine that. And I can certainly imagine not writing any more prose [laughs].
KA: Writing is never done. There’s no day off. It’s 24/7. It’s kind of like having a kid. As a writer, do you feel like when you are not writing you should be?
MZ: Yeah, I feel like that all the time. About everything. It’s horrible. The nice thing about having a kid, especially a baby, is you can’t work when, for instance, I have Simon this afternoon. No work gets done during that time. No meetings, no phone calls, no nothing. You do that too, right? You block out time when you are gardening or whatever. You have to find a way to do that. Part of the problem with my life is that because of my jobs and responsibilities, I’m very vulnerable to the Internet. It’s really horrible, and I look forward to the day, in the not so distant future, I become a lot less available in that way. It’s so time consuming and ridiculous. We are the last generation dumb enough to answer every email.
KA: Have you read John Freeman’s book The Tyranny of Email?
MZ: No, but I already agree with everything he says just from the title. My motto is “email begets email.” I used to be one of those people who if someone emailed me, I would immediately email them back. Then they email you because they felt like they have to respond, then you have to respond and there’s ten emails when there could be just one email. I deliberately wait, because if you wait a couple days, they also wait a couple days then the pace of communication slows down. You can weirdly make it mimic the US Postal Service if you impose that on it. But it’s a desperate measure to try to control the flow of communication. I’m still pretty bad at it. I’ve taken a lot of things off my phone, definitely any social media. There’s no point. Who cares? I have to be on social media for Wave, it’s good way to get the word out, but I hate it.
KA: You could try doing what my father-in-law does. My husband and I will send an email to him and he never responds. You know why? He gets an email, reads it, then nods, yep, got it.
MZ: [Laughs]. I love people who print out their emails. It seems dumb but it actually may be brilliant. I have a fair amount of correspondence through the mail, people I write letters back and forth with. Not as much since we had the kid. That kind of correspondence I enjoy. On the other hand, it’s either cool or horrifying, probably both, but because of email I will pretty much have an exact record of everywhere I was and everything I’ve done since 2000. I’m sure there there were times I didn’t send or didn’t have access to email, but for the most part if I wanted to know—and this has happened—where I was on a certain day, I just search my email and can figure it out. It may be interesting or useful at some point.
KA: Like if you commit a crime.
MZ: That’s the other problem with these emails. Before I would write in email things like, I hate that book! That guy’s an asshole! Now I would never write that kind of thing. My emails are full of, I mean nothing like Trump’s videotape, but there’s probably some unsavory stuff in there. Embarrassing things too.
KA: Talking about committing a crime, your sister Alexander Zapruder, is coming out with a book that is on my long list to read, Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film.
MZ: She is. It’s a great book.
KA: Did being the grandson of Abraham Zapruder affect your life? Did those 26 seconds make a difference in your life?
MZ: That’s what her book is about. I have a younger brother and sister, and they are twins. My younger brother is a composer and musician. He’s down in Austin getting an advanced degree in music composition, basically a Ph.D. in music. He’s a very talented musician, and my sister, she’s a writer. Read her book and see. Obviously we are talking about the Kennedy assassination and the film my grandfather took. People don’t believe this, but it was not a big deal for us when we were kids. We knew about it, but it wasn’t something our family talked about. It was only when I got to be older that I really understood the significance of it. But I never gave it much thought. While that may sound disingenuous, it’s true. It’s just not something we talked about. Maybe to a fault. That’s in my sister’s book.
I don’t think it was formative for me, but I can think of other things that were a lot bigger deal to me and had an effect on me, personal things, things I saw and experienced that are private. Maybe in a way I am also drawn to poetry because it asserts that those moments can be equally meaningful as the so-called “big” moments in life, that they can achieve a symbolic resonance that is full of significance for the poet and for the reader that is maybe even more important than those big moments. I just thought of that, but maybe it’s true. I know of course that for other people the film is formative, because it’s associated with that important event. And yes, it would sound stupid for me to say that some other experience I had in my life was more important than this, but it’s true.
My sister’s book is about the history of the film itself and it’s a lot about my father and grandfather. There’s all this information in there I didn’t even know. So now when someone asks me about it, I can say, read her book.
KA: Are you doing any translating these days?
MA: The last thing I did was with Valzhyna Mort. She and I worked on a poem by Marina Tsvetaeva, one one of her later long poems. We had this idea that maybe we were going to do a book of translations by 20th Century Russian poets. We worked on one poem but then she had a kid, and I had a kid. We got too busy. I translated one book of Romanian poetry by Eugen Jebeleanu, which came out with Coffee House Press in 2008, and have done other kinds of translations here and there. Someday I see coming across a really cool project and doing it with somebody when I have a little more time. The book of Romanian poetry by Jebeleanu I did when I was in graduate school—I didn’t know this when I was doing it but it was really a master class on how to be inside poems. I learned so much about the architecture of poetry from the inside. It was so instructive to me. I remember I would work on these poems, and the poet would have done things I resisted as a poet. I just didn’t want to do them. But I had to. It was so cool because it changed my ideas about what I could do as a poet.
KA: Because you were looking at language in another layer of scrutiny?
MW: Right. So I’m translating one of the poems and I might feel resistant to a line he writes. Like, I might not do that myself if it were my own poem, my sense of what is good in poetry would not allow for that to happen. But I had to do it because he did it. It was really a physical experience of being changed and learning. I also learned how to get inside a poem. When I say inside, I mean it’s like being in a space, in a house. I have a friend who was studying architecture, and this was before I was in graduate school. In order to learn how to build houses they built these little models of houses. They needed to be inside those spaces to see what worked. When they did this or that they needed to see what happened or how you moved through a room. I think that’s what poems are like too. You move through them. Your mind moves through them, its shape and everything about it. I write about this in the Why Poetry book, but it’s like being haunted, haunted by another voice. You have to learn how to make those spaces as a poet. It’s architectural. You can’t learn that unless you get outside what you usually do. For me, translation was a huge huge part of that. It also just reminded me how little I know. Whatever I think should be done is only a tiny, little version of what can be done in poems. I am always reminding myself of that.
KA: I love that idea. Imagining while writing wandering around these different houses: a big farmhouse, a midcentury house, an apartment in Portugal, a split level in Wisconsin.
MZ: Right. And you might not choose to live in some kind of house but you might think it’s cool to be inside one and there’s someone who might want to live in that house. This is not an original thought, but the actual words we use to describe poems have to do with physical movement. Stanza comes from the Italian for room. Verse means to turn. It’s an agricultural term; it’s the end of a furrow in a field. Go back. To turn. Again, this is not an idea I came up with on my own. The terminology is physical and there’s a reason for that. There’s an intuitive understanding poets have that they are moving through a space.
KA: I also understand you are writing an introduction to the anniversary edition of The Lice.
MZ: I know what I’m going to say, but I have not actually put words on a page. The book will come out with Copper Canyon Press next year in 2017 for its 50th anniversary, which will also be my 50th anniversary of being alive.
KA: I thought you said you were done with prose.
MZ: Now that I’m done with this prose book, I’m happy to be back writing poems. I’m a little rusty but it’s nice to be in this private space of writing poems.
KA: Are you working on a new poetry book?
MZ: I’ll write poems for several years and see what I have and wonder, is there a book there? I have a lot of poems; I’ve not yet thought of them as together in a book. It’s a little early for that. I need another year to just write and see what happens. I’m on sabbatical next year. I’m sure I’ll be traveling for the book, but a lot of what I’m excited to do is write poems. And play more music.