Poetry plays a minor role in the United States: An online interview with William Allegrezza

William Allegrezza edits the e-zine Moria and teaches at Indiana University Northwest. He has previously published many poetry books, including In the Weaver’s Valley, Ladders in July, Fragile Replacements, Collective Instant, Aquinas and the Mississippi (with Garin Cycholl), Covering Over, and Densities, Apparitions; two anthologies, The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century and La Alteración del Silencio: Poesía Norteamericana Reciente; one critical book, The Salt Companion to Charles Bernstein; seven chapbooks,  including Sonoluminescence (co-written with Simone Muench) and Filament Sense (Ypolita Press); and many poetry reviews, articles, and poems.  He founded and curated series A, a reading series in Chicago, from 2006-2010.

Dupur Mitra: Do you think poetry plays role in your society? If yes how and if not why?

William Allegrezza: Poetry plays a minor role in the United States.  It is taught in schools, and that is probably the last time most people run across it, outside of music lyrics and the occasional funeral poem or greeting card.  I wish that it did have more of an impact, and as a writer, I write with politics and cultural change in mind.

Dupur Mitra: Who are your major influences as a poet?

William Allegrezza: My list of influences has changed over the years fairly greatly.  Many contemporary poets, including some close friends, have had a great deal of influence over my writing.  Still, probably the most steady influences on my work include Walt Whitman, Pablo Neruda, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Dante, Charles Bernstein, and Eugenio Montale. Others have influenced me at key moments, like Denise Levertov and Charles Olson.  So many other poets are on my list of influences, like Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Paulo Leminski, Nicanor Parra, Li Po, Basho, Sheila Murphy, Peter Gizzi, Rae Armantrout, Eileen Tabios, and many, many more.

Dupur Mitra: What does being a poet mean to you?

William Allegrezza: A poet is someone who is fascinated with language, with how words mean, with how they sound, with how they look, and with their histories.

Dupur Mitra: What is poetry?

William Allegrezza: I don’t have a set definition.  Here are several that are close to my heart.  1. Poetry is language condensed.  2.  Poetry is, to expand on Ezra Pound, a social/personal energy exchange system.  3.  Poetry is whatever we consider poetic, which really means that we can recognize it when we see it without being able to define it (rather like some emotional states like love).

Dupur Mitra: How do you write your poems?

William Allegrezza: My process depends heavily on the collection, and I do typically write with a collection or some grouping in mind.  Still, I do not plan the poems before writing.  I typically write and explore where the writing goes.  I write a lot and then start to trim heavily.  The hardest pieces that I have ever written have been the ones where I had something very specific in mind beforehand, and I do not think they were necessarily the best ones that I have written.

Dupur Mitra: Where do your ideas come from?

William Allegrezza: Largely from literature but also just from trying to pay attention to language being used around me.

Dupur Mitra: What part does music play in your poetry?

William Allegrezza: Music plays a large part.  In fact, sometimes I focus much more on the sound than the meaning of a piece.  Ultimately, the sound leads me through the writing on a piece.  I sometimes grow very attached to poems that my readers don’t seem that excited about, and mostly, I think it is because I hear a sound to the poems that I might not have conveyed for the reader.

Dupur Mitra: Do you get inspiration from your readers?

William Allegrezza: I get motivation from readers much more than I get specific inspiration.  I usually like to hear from readers about pieces, and I’m often excited when they write with a question that shows a deep examination of a piece.  There have been moments when I read something about my poetry and think the reader pulled something out that I didn’t consciously see but that is clearly there, and there have been great moments when someone mentions or writes something that shows an awareness of what I was aiming for when writing the poem.

Dupur Mitra: What was the first poem you wrote?

William Allegrezza: I’m not sure.  I came to poetry from music, so it is hard to distinguish when the song lyrics turned into something more.  I remember the first poem that I published as a teenager, but I did not publish much between the time it was published and the time that I started to publish more regularly as graduate student.  In the intervening years, I developed a style and an awareness of other poetry.  Most of what I wrote during those years I consider preparation for more intentional writing.

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