Example poetry

Diane Seuss on Reading Philosophy, Art and Poetry

SEUSS: I have become a very selective reader. When I was a kid I read anything, but now I don’t read so much for fun except for the fun of getting what I need for my job. For this, I am currently obsessed with “Keats: A Brief Life in Nine Poems and an Epitaphby Lucasta Miller. It’s this cool mix of literary criticism and biography. Keats grappling with the death of his brother and his own impending death, and how that impacted his poetry is very important to me. C t’s probably because of my father’s death when I was young, the friends I’ve lost to AIDS, the pandemic and now my own aging. Keats is an object lesson in how the death can impact a poem and not make it scarier but more courageous.

BOOKS: Have these formative deaths in your life inspired other readings?

SEUSS: I read tons of contemporary poetry because it’s my job, but what nourishes me are books from the past. It’s probably because my father died when I was 7. My relationship with him was based on my imagination so my relationships with past writers are easy for me. I have a very strong relationship, for example, with Emily Dickinson. I read his poetry and all the biographical material I can. Richard B. Sewall”The life of Emily Dickinson” is unrivaled in scope, if somewhat dated. I love “Cynthia Griffin Wolff”Emily Dickinsonand Susan HoweMy Emily Dickinson.”

BOOKS: Who are the other writers with whom you feel this connection?

SEUSS: I was really interested in Sylvia Plath when I was a young poet. Plath nurtured me because I understood her fierceness as well as her sense of abandonment, but she was a hard role model to follow because of the way things ended for her. Always reading his poems and his biographies have been important. Most recent, Heather Clark’s”red comet“, It’s incredible.

BOOKS: Which contemporary poets have you read?

SEUSS: I just read “Concentrateby Courtney Faye Taylor. It’s edgy aesthetically but it never leaves the speaker’s lyrical voice behind. Michael Chang’s”Almanac of Useless Talentsis just bold as hell. It cracked me up and made me think. Trevor Ketner’s “The Wild Hunt Divinations: A Grimoire” takes all of Shakespeare’s sonnets and revamps them into something contemporary.

BOOKS: What do you read for non-fiction?

SEUSS: I love reading art history, especially if it has a particular point of view, like “Look at the forgottenby Norman Bryson. It was a still life book that shook my world. I love to read philosophy. Roland Barthes, love, love, love, especially his “Lucid Camera.” I also like to read Hélène Cixous. The philosophy of reading has the most impact on my writing.

BOOKS: What kind of reader were you as a child?

SEUSS: I started reading when I was 3 years old. It was one of the few things I remember about my dad that he was really proud of. When my father died, my mother decided to go to university and major in English. She brought real books into the house, like “Mrs Dalloway” and “Finnegans Wake.” I can still see the slices of all those books in my head.

BOOKS: What are you reading after Keats’ biography?

SEUSS: “On weavingby artist Anni Albers, who was part of the Bauhaus. I find his essays on weaving almost allegorical. I have a poem in my next book that was inspired by reading the Roman poet Catullus. I would like to read Daisy Dunn’s biography on him. I also have the Booker-winning novel, “Evening discomfort” by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld. I started it, then I made it disappear. It would be more fun to read and I do not allow myself. I always feel like the clock is ticking, so I have to use my reading time wisely.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter @GlobeBiblio. Amy Sutherland is the author, most recently, of “Saving Penny Jane” and can be reached at [email protected].


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