| The Poet As
An Artist: An Email Interview with Ann Iverson
he returns from war
they hug and kiss
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
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
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,
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.