Who is your favorite living poet?
My favorite living poet is Judy Jacobs, but that’s because she’s my wife. The poets whose work I keep turning to are, at the moment, and Ted Kooser. I could just as easily have said Alicia Ostriker and David Kirby, or Gary Snyder, or any of dozens of others, if you had asked on a different day. I do a weekly radio show about poetry, and nearly every week I discover a new poet whose work is worthy of admiration and envy. But for the moment I keep coming back to Hall and Kooser because they write simply and well about undramatic, ordinary, everyday life, and find meaning in it.
Who is your favorite dead poet?
Today, my favorite dead poet is William Stafford. I’ve been reading his “new” collections as they come out, and trying to figure out how he does what he does. (He’s another one who finds the poetry in the mundane.) I suspect he just had a much finer mind than I have, and a greater talent, but I still enjoy the work. I also get great pleasure from Auden and Basho and . . . well, you get the idea.
The single writer who has most influenced my use of language, however, is P. G. Wodehouse.
What is your favorite poem of all time?
I can’t even pick a poet, much less a poem. However, the one poem that I have memorized is Shakespeare’s Sonnet #18, largely because I used to teach it so often. Two that I used to have memorized, but have lost, are Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” and Yeats’s “The Second Coming.”
Current book of poetry you can’t get out of your mind?
Two books that I’ve read recently haunt me jointly: Otherwise and Without, by Jane Kenyon and Donald Hall. They are, in their ways, both writing about the same subject (Kenyon’s death) from different angles, and they are both scathingly honest in a way that most of the rest of us can aim for, but rarely achieve. Honesty in the face of extreme pain is one of the highest goals of modern poetry.
Best live, or audio, poetry reading you can remember.
The best recorded poetry reading I’ve encountered is anything by Dylan Thomas. I have the complete set of Nonesuch CD’s (in connection with the radio show I collect recordings of poets reading their own work), and Thomas’s voice is almost like music; you can listen through for the sound, then again to follow the lyrics. I’m also very fond of Yeats’s reading of “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” which he prefaces with a little explanation of why he reads it as he does, which has influenced my reading style.
The most memorable live reading is one of my first, an appearance at Rutgers by Andrei Voznesensky, the great Russian poet who was overshadowed by Yevtushenko in the American imagination. He read in Russian, with translations read by our star drama major, and what I most remember is how much of the poetry came through in a language I did not understand. It was a long time before I became serious about writing poetry, but the music of his work stayed with me long enough to establish yet another model for me to strive toward.
David M. Harris I have one collection in print (The Review Mirror, Unsolicited Press), I am working on another, an emotional autobiography told in epistolary poems to friends, relatives, and others who have influenced my life. I continue to host Difficult Listening on Radio Free Nashville, WRFN in Pasquo, TN, Sunday mornings from ten to noonCentral(www.radiofreenashville.org).