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Volume 2 | Issue 3 | March 2008 | 

The Poet As An Artist
Dr.Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal

The Poet As An Artist: An Email Interview with Ann Iverson

She dreams
he returns from war
She dreams
they hug and kiss
so much
they all fall down
on the kitchen floor.
This lyrical effusion from the pen of Ann Iverson exhibits her high poetic sensibility. Senior Academic Director of Arts and Sciences at Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis, Ann Iverson has authored poetic collections like Come Now To The Window and Definite Space. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in such prestigious journals like The Oklahoma Review, Margie: American Journal of Poetry, Poetry East, Water-Stone Review, Conte, Tarwolf Review, Kritya and others. Her poetry touches the innermost chords of the reader’s heart. This awe-inspiring poetry has been appreciated by several scholars. Lawrence Sutin, the author of All is Change: The Thousand Year Journey of Buddhism To The West, writes thus about her, “Her realm is the inner experience of grief and joy, war and love. Her lines are precise and deeply felt and so readily enter the reader’s heart.” She is also a visual artist, who enjoys experimenting in her artwork. This poetess of immense imaginative and creative sensibility talks to Dr.Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal about her poetic process, connection between poetry and painting, the contribution of Laurel Poetic Collective in creating her poetic voice, Diaspora and several other literary issues.

Agarwal: You are also a visual artist. Your artwork debuted at the Undercroft Gallery at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in St.Paul. How does you artwork inspire your poetic imagery? How can a poet establish the visceral connection between the poetic and visual image? Is this relationship between the poet and the artist spontaneous? Please illumine the prospective and new poets about the art of creating an intuitive and cyclical exchange between language and image.

Iverson: The inspirational exchange between my art and poetry is ongoing and cyclical. Sometimes when I see the world I want to paint it. Other times when I see the world, I want to write it. Painting allows me to create images that words cannot and vice versa depending on the subconscious content of my heart. After spending a long day of making art, words come very easily for me because of the energy spent making images. Artists and poets are both image makers, yet both see and respond to the world very differently. I am unable to distinguish the variances between how my poet self and my artist self interpret life. Every poem has a visual partner and every work of art has a poem waiting in the shadows. One good way to connect the two arts is to experiment in the art of EKPRASIS, a term used to denote poetry or poetic writing concerning itself with the visual arts, artistic objects, and/or highly visual scenes. When a poet uses a work of art as inspiration for a poem, he or she will be led down a new path of images, into a new world of understanding.

Agarwal:In this age of stark materialism, the young people seem to have lost interest in literature and fine arts. They seem to be only interested in the making of money and wild passionate pleasures of the senses. How can the interest of the youth be restored in literature and poetry? Please enlighten.

Iverson: One way to restore our youth’s interest in the arts is to guide them to their own artistic selves. Every human has a center point of creative energy that often remains untapped. If young people are provided with effective opportunities to invigorate their own source of creativity, their passion for the arts will flourish. Young people need to be led to the river where art flows. When they arrive at the base of this river, they will be taken by current.

Agarwal:Has your teaching career been an asset in your poetic activities? Please explicate.

Iverson:Yes, my teaching career has certainly been an asset in my poetic activities. In the classroom I was able to give students opportunities to read and write poetry. As I saw them inspired, it then inspired me. The act of teaching is much like writing poetry; every question is difficult and every answer not always accessible. The act of teaching is artistic; it takes creativity and energy and passion and emotion and patience and determination, just as poetry does. Teaching makes a person alive just like a good poem does.

Agarwal:What is the contribution of Laurel Poetry Collective in the making of your literary and artistic sensibility?

Iverson:The Laurel Poetry Collective has been an amazing source of artistic inspiration. Each talented member brought with them a variety of artistic and poetic skills and were very willing to act as mentors. Because of this gifted group of highly committed and encouraging artists, my first collection of poems was published and distributed into the world. Working with that many poetically minded people added great heights to my artistic sensibility.

Agarwal:In your collection, Definite Space, you present a pathetic picture of the war. This acute realistic description of the agonies associated with war is perhaps due to the fact that your own son left for a war in Iraq. These poems show you to be nostalgic about your son’s presence before your eyes. The poems like ‘Three A.M. First Call From Baghdad’ and ‘The Fourth of July, 2003’ touch the innermost chords of the reader’s heart through the emotional treatment of the psyche of the persons who wait for their dear and near ones to come safely from the war. In a way, war is not a dream of heroes; it rather brings with itself ‘fallen soldiers’ and ‘blood and roadside bombs.’ Is there a way to check this orgy of war? Should not we have a new world order, devoid of all tussles and violence? Your comments, please.

Iverson:When writing the poems in Definite Space I wanted to ensure that the emotions were transferred to the readers’ hearts with a certain immediacy, so I honored brevity for this purpose. When writing the poems in Definite Space I desired that they could be understood by a large audience, not just a poetic audience, so I honored a simple vocabulary. I believe the simplistic images help to clear away the confusion that innately hovers around any war. War is not a dream of any sort and war does, indeed, bring more sorrow than we can ever comprehend. Definite Space is one story out of billion war stories. It is important that we document war days, as these documents become part of human history. We all strive for peace: world peace, local peace, and inner peace. We must continue to strive for peace. We must commit ourselves to peace by starting inside our very single hearts.

Agarwal:T. S. Eliot in his essay on Yeats had held that a poet, ‘out of intense and personal experience, is able to express a general truth.’ Eliot means to say that the poet universalizes his personal experiences. What personal experiences, besides the movement of the son to the Middle East, have made your poetry possible?

Iverson:Ah, Eliot on Yeats, a wonderful quote. When a personal truth/experience is made universal, or when a universal event/experience is made personal is when the reader is made whole, is when the reader is enlightened Every human experience that I witness and/or experience informs my art. I also believe that the making of my art informs the way that I live my life with truth. Art instructs. The personal experiences that have influenced my poetry the most are the deaths of my parents, and, of course, my son’s deployments.

Agarwal: What is the significance of the animal imagery in Come Now To The Window?

Iverson: Animals play a significant role in my life because they teach the unequivocal lesson of unconditional love. I have always tried to honor the creatures in my life by including them in my work. If I did not do this, I would not be true to the natural flow of my surroundings. A good poet takes everything in and, in my case, the animals must have their place in my work for they symbolize an innocence and a truth that human beings are not capable of.

Agarwal: The cover artist of Definite Space, Shelly Leitheiser is currently exploiting how technology can enhance the creative process. Can Information Technology really substitute the human mind? I think computer can rarely match the creative process of the human mind. It can calculate, provide information, store data and do certain other mundane things. But, it can never create a poem. A poem is written, when there is the spontaneous overflow of emotion in the poet. Poetry is nothing but the overflow/exit/ drainage of the excessive emotions in the poet’s heart. And a computer is devoid of emotions. So, how can it be creative or stimulate the creative process? Could computer ever have created Mona Lisa? Can it create a new and imaginative play or a novel, despite all the repertoire of information it has. It is only the human mind which can create the monumental works like Hamlet, Paradise Lost, The Waste Land and Ulysses etc. Your views, please.

Iverson:I think you mean she is “exploring” how technology can enhance the creative process. Many artists do this, but I don’t think that any one of them is asking if technology can substitute the brilliant and intuitive nature of the human mind and heart. We all know what the answer is to that. A true artist will live his/her life in a constant search of new ways of expression. I think the key is that, perhaps, technology can enhance the creative process, not replace the creative process. Technology is emotionless but the user of technology is not. Emily Dickinson wrote with a quill and ink; at that point in time, that was her technology. Sometimes I process poems on a computer; sometimes I write with a pencil in a journal. I tend to like the latter best because I like the sound and feel of the pencil scratching on fine paper.

Agarwal:As the Senior Academic Director of Arts and Sciences at Dunwoody College of Technology, you must have met certain students, teachers and persons of Asian/ African origin. What are the psychological problems of these diasporic persons, living in alien lands? Are they nostalgic about their homelands? Do they feel alienated and dislocated in the American social order? Is there any racial antagonism between these foreigners and the natives of USA? Or is this racial conflict a global phenomenon? Please throw light.

Iverson:Yes, in my years of academia, I certainly became acquainted with a number of faculty and students who were from another part of the world. While some of them are challenged with the notion of acclimating to a new culture, many of them become quite settled in the American culture. Some students did write of their homesickness as well as their struggles in adapting to new customs, etc. As a writing instructor, I was often highly impressed with their deep and explorative thinking, as well as their search for a personal truth. The faculty members from other cultures add a wonderful dimension to the school. Their personal experiences help to enrich all of us. I consider them a valuable asset. I think racial conflict is a global phenomenon and will remain a challenge for every member of the human race.

Dr.Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal is Senior Lecturer in English at Feroze Gandhi College, Rae Bareli, (U.P.),India. His poems and articles have appeared in a number of prominent magazines and journals. Currently, he is editing a book on Stephen Gill, the Poet Laureate of Ansted University.









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