Who would you have nominated for this anthology? Is there a poem you have in mind that you could link to?
Many writers who I would have nominated are actually in this project, which—I can’t lie—makes me feel better about it. But one writer who is not is Joy Priest out of Kentucky. I think she is doing really interesting work with the lyric and space and fracturing and, in terms of voice and perspective, distilling the “new South” while maintaining some connection to its gothic past, its violence, and the particular ways that bears on the female psyche.
Do you find the literary landscape in America to be different from other places? What do you think is missing from American poetry?
The same thing that is missing in America at large is missing from American poetry. Equity for minority and marginalized groups but also more introspection and exploration (even deconstruction) of privilege by dominant and majority groups—be that gender, race, sexuality, physical ability, etc. It’s one thing for the oppressed to continue to detail and illuminate their oppression (and even feel unfairly obligated to do so), but progress, I believe, looks like more people who contribute to or benefit from that oppression finding creative and human ways to confront that. And how do writers and editors and teachers encourage that? Getting people to write “I’m bad for doing xyz” isn’t it. There really aren’t good or bad people. Being human is a process, and, relative to that process, there are open and closed people. So more opening on the page—which obviously would require some vulnerability—is what I think is missing, particularly on behalf of those who benefit from and dominate the American literary scene.
Do you differentiate between poetry/art and “political” poetry/art? If so, how do you make that distinction?
I differentiate between art and propaganda, and the distinction comes down to intent. All that is personal is—as long as we live in a world where we battle to have our full personhoods recognized—political. The thing is, though, you can’t force anyone, intellectually or emotionally, to side or sympathize with your position, but that is what propaganda seeks to do—to forcibly change minds. And we all know, and rightfully so, human beings are resistant to being told to change their minds. I’d argue that art instead presents an opportunity for one to change their own mind. Art creates these little caucuses within humanity where an artist can come to an audience and, as sincerely as possible, say “this is what being human is like for me, dealing with all I deal with,” and then those of the audience can ask themselves “where am I in relationship to that condition” or “what role to I play in creating that position.” Sometimes there is growth and sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes members of the audience need to challenge each other on their interpretations of the art for there to be growth. It has to be a dialogue, though, for it to be real. Propaganda isn’t interested in a dialogue (even when its cause is right).
KYLE DARGAN is the author of four collections of poetry, Honest Engine (2015), Logorrhea Dementia (2010), Bouquet of Hungers (2007), and The Listening (2003)—all published by the University of Georgia Press. For his work, he has received the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and grants from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. His books have also been finalists for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and the Eric Hoffer Awards Grand Prize.
This interview series is conducted with authors from the anthology, Bettering American Poetry 2015. As Bettering’s editors wrote in their call for nominations, “Our efforts will intentionally shift favor so that the literary landscape within this anthology reflects a ranging plurality of voices in American poetry and illuminates the possibilities of sharing space … This anthology represents just one concerted effort to better American poetry, but it is one that we hope will resonate.”
Bettering has sought to delve deeper with the poets selected for the anthology. These questions are composed collectively by the editors, with the belief that the literary community needs a polyphony not only of poems but of poets’ voices.