Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Next Big Thing: A Meme about New Books

Beloved poet and editor Don Share has tagged me to participate in "The Next Big Thing," a meme in which people are interviewed about our upcoming books.  Here are my replies to a bunch of questions about a book of mine due out in a matter of weeks, The Poet Resigns.

What is the working title of the book?

The Poet Resigns: Poetry in a Difficult World

Where did the idea come from for the book?

This isn’t really a book written, as Dwight MacDonald would say, “in cold blood” — that is, I didn’t sit down and plan to write it.  Instead, it gathers essays I’ve written on poetry and poetics over the last decade or more.

The individual essays were really on whatever topic was getting under my skin at the time.  Is there a connection between formal and political radicalism?  Why are most poets on the political left?  What are we really asking for when we demand a greater public role for poetry?

I’ve had the good fortune to talk to historians of culture and communications theorists and sociologists, and that’s really helped me to approach these issues.  I have a lot of people to thank for hashing out the ideas with me over the years.

What genre does your book fall under?

Literary Criticism.  But some of it is a bit more autobiographical than you might expect.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Let’s see.  Charles Bernstein comes up a lot, and so does Jeremy Prynne.  Although there’s not much physical resemblance, I think Alan Arkin could pull off a good Bernstein act.  And Prynne?  Ian Richardson.  I mean, come on.

Jeremy Prynne

Ian Richardson in the British version of "House of Cards"

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

We often want more from poetry than it can give, but there are good reasons why we do.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

A few of the essays are a decade or so old, so I suppose the most literally correct answer would be "a decade or more."  But I don’t feel like I really wrote this book: it just sort of happened.  That said, when I read the galley proofs, I realized that the larger theory of poetry I’ve been developing for the book I’m working on now, Making Nothing Happen: Poetry, Autonomy, Society is implicit everywhere in The Poet Resigns.  So maybe I was working on The Poet Resigns when I thought I was working on Making Nothing Happen.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

For me, the biggest inadequately answered question about poetry in our time is ‘what is this stuff for, and why do we write it?’ — and I wanted to look into it, since I've devoted much of my life to reading, writing, and teaching poetry.  I knew I couldn’t give a complete answer, but I felt I could do a lot better than some of the attempts I’d seen.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Here’s what some people I really respect have to say:

Robert Archambeau's book, The Poet Resigns: Poetry in a Difficult World, is a fascinating study of what it means to practice the art in a new century. Archambeau is a wise and honest writer in assessing the pitfalls of poetry, and the shifting nature of the poet's role as public intellectual or private mutterer in the larger, noisier culture that has never really privileged poetry to the extent that the myth and history of its privilege purports. His personal touch and winning tone make the book suitable to those who favor a rich and friendly discussion of the social and cultural implications, and possible obligations, of poetry in our age. —Maxine Chernoff

"Archambeau is one of our smartest poetic sociologists, and he tackles the biggest problem facing poetry in our time: the dwindling of its audience and the growing divide between poets and a mainstream literary readership." —Norman Finkelstein, Contemporary Literature 

“If you want to see somebody having fun while thinking provocatively about contemporary poetry, try Archambeau: I always do.” —Stephen Burt

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The crack team at the University of Akron Press will be putting it out, just in time for the AWP in Boston.  Big thank-yous to Mary Biddinger, Amy Freels, John Gallaher and the whole UAP crowd.

Make up a question you think is pressing in way of poetry today.

Don Share was asked this, and came up with “Why do we think American poetry is so important?”  I think that’s a good one.