“Is poetry a place where you want to be restrained, or is a poem where you actually get to exercise some freedom?”
A series of deaths and personal losses in 2018 hang over Mark Wunderlich‘s poems in his new collection, God of Nothingness (Graywolf Press). We talk about that writing, how living through it unwittingly prepared him for the past year in Pandemia, and how the current situation compares with his arrival in NYC at the height of AIDS. We get into the uses of autobiography in poetry (his editor refers to his poems as “fiercely autobiographical”), Mark’s queerness being tied to his poetic-self, the inspiration of James Merrill and his mentorship by JD McClatchy, the notion of a poem as a created environment permitting freedom, why his poems go from longhand to typewriter to computer, his experience conducting a Rilke course by snail-mail in 2020, his pandemic-adjustments as director of the Bennington Writing Seminars MFA program, and more. Give it a listen! And go read God of Nothingness !
“The thing that I love about poems is that they felt like worlds I could enter into. Reading a poem like Rilke’s First Elegy is like going into a house and knowing where everything is. They seem so alive still, but speak about things that are eternal.”
“It’s hard for me to think of any writing as being anything other than some sort of fiction. When we’re constructing a version of ourselves in print, how can the first person pronouns stand in as a representative of selfhood, with all that we are, all that we know, all that we have done and experienced?”
“There was certainly mentorship when I arrived in New York, and a bridge to another world, but it was a bridge that was on fire. That really marked my experience.”
“A poem is trying to fix something in time, along a kind of axis of the self’s movement through the world.”
About our Guest
Mark Wunderlich is the author of The Anchorage, which received the Lambda Literary Award, Voluntary Servitude, and The Earth Avails, which received the Rilke Prize. He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, and elsewhere. He is the director of the Bennington Writing Seminars graduate writing program and lives in New York’s Hudson Valley. His new book is God of Nothingness.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Mark by Nicholas Kahn. It’s on my instagram.