Anthony Caleshu is an American poet with three published poetry collections, a novella and a book on poetry criticism to his name. His poetry collections The Siege of the Body and a Brief Respite (2004) and Of Whales: in Print, in Paint, in Sea, in Stars, in Coin, in House, in Margins (2010) were both published by Salt Publishing. In 2010, he received The Boston Review Poetry Prize for the first five poems in the then ongoing collection The Victor Poems which has since been published in full in 2015 by Shearsman. He is also currently a professor of poetry at Plymouth University.
One Giant Read Project Coordinator Michelle Phillips caught up with Anthony recently to ask about his work, and the world of poetry ...
What inspires you to write poetry?
Language – a word, a fragment, a phrase – and story. I try to privilege the imagination and to take narratives into far-flung places. The language and substance of the stories I’m turning into poems can come from just about anywhere but often comes from my reading. At the moment, I’m reading a wonderful article on the beginning of time, ‘the physics and metaphysics of the universe’, as Alan Lightman’s article, ‘What Came Before the Big Bang?’ puts it.
At One Giant Read we’re interested in exploring the relationship between science and literature. Can you say, does science play a role in your work and how do you see the relationship between science and poetry?
I’m a big believer in the interrelationship between science and poetry. In terms of process, scientists aren’t afraid to fail. I love the idea of establishing a hypothesis and testing it. That’s how I begin most of my poems: as tests of language, tests of story. Sometimes they fail, but poetry as failure isn’t always a bad thing… sometimes it’s a whole lot more interesting than the poem that ‘succeeds’ on easy grounds.
Beyond process, I’m interested in the hard sciences for both their language and their advancements (in terms of categorization etc). In my second book of poems, Of Whales: in Print, in Paint, in Sea, in Stars, in Coin, in House, in Margins, I took the lead from Melville, who was, of course, completely invested in cetology – those chapters in Moby Dick where language is in a sea of science are stunning linguistic experiments in prose form. I hoped to capture a bit of that.
My most recent book, The Victor Poems, is set in the Arctic, so I read lots of work from ecologists and marine scientists; a lot around climate change. A frozen/melting white landscape serves as a sort of tabula rasa for me – a blank slate – which I walk and write my characters through.
Are there any particular writers or poets who influence the way you write or think about poetry?
Pound, Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and Williams are the big Modernists I go to in order to understand poetry as a manifestation of the imagination, not to mention poetry as a ‘response’ to poetry. Three contemporary writers I keep returning to (and am about to publish in our new Periplum Poetry Series, published out of Plymouth University’s English and Creative Writing Department) are Mark Ford, Peter Gizzi, and Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin. I’ll also mention Mary Jo Bang and Anne Carson – both who can write in that hybrid place lyric and narrative.
How did you go about selecting these poems from The Victor Poems and what was the inspiration behind them?
The three ‘Victor Poems’ I’m reading for One Giant Read very much begin with a semblance of some sort of Science-like enquiry – the optical phenomenon of fata morgana in one, ideas about what it means to map territories in another, and in the third, speculation about a sci-fi like possibility that comes when the Earth is spun on its axis so putting those in the Arctic in the Antarctic, geometry and geology affect human biology in the poem.
Having written The Victor Poems – a collection which features a quest narrative – can you imagine yourself going on a space odyssey such as the one Tim Peake is currently on for his six month mission to the International Space Station?
Wow, I’d like to imagine it – but by that I mean I’d like to write about it. The reality of going where Tim Peake has gone is, I think, that bit beyond my comfort zone – even in the pursuit of new poems.