Interview with William Doreski

posted by Joseph Lukpata on Jul 24 2020, 8:14 pm

Why did you start writing poetry?

A high school teacher asked us to read E.E. Cummings. I said, “anyone could write this stuff.” He said, “Try it.” I did and found that Mr. Cummings deserved more respect than I had given him. I just kept writing, fueled by reading Alan Dugan, Robert Lowell, and Wallace Stevens.


You are widely published in reputable magazines. How did you feel the first time you had a poem published?

My first professional publication was three poems in New Lantern Club Review. I was still an undergrad and was thrilled. I felt suddenly world-famous.


Whose poetry has inspired your style?

Alan Dugan’s flat affect and subtle tones attracted me. Wallace Stevens, once I got the hang of him, seemed to me the most profound of poets. But Hart Crane, from the moment I first read him, seemed to me the epitome of the modern poet.


How do your poems develop? Could you please guide us through the stages of writing a poem?

Stages? I just sit down and place one word after another until I reach some sort of stopping point. Every poem has its own imperative—the problem is how to recognize, respect and follow that. It may come in one sitting, or it may evolve over several days. Revision is often a greater challenge since it may require junking something I like. That sometimes takes more courage than I can muster.


Is there an image that seems to reoccur throughout your poems?

I’m not sure. Probably—I think all poets have them. Many of my images come from colors and textures that linger in my mind. Brick and stone, running water, steel, bronze, glass. Things of definite texture more than of fixed form.


Do you prefer to keep it simple or you like it when your readers dig out the meaning? What is your take on poetry and obscurity?

I think my poems mean exactly what they say. Whatever that is—I’m not always sure. Poems usually don’t seem obscure to me once I understand their general drift. People think Stevens is difficult, but if you remember that all his poetry negotiates between the imagination and reality most of the difficulties fade. It’s trite to say that a complex world demands a complex poetry (and art, in general), but it’s true. But then complexity doesn’t mean obscurity. Careless readers may confuse the two.


There is this talk about a good or a bad poem. What do you think makes a poem good or bad? Are there some criteria for judging poetry?

When I review a collection of poetry, I try to understand what the poems set out to do. If I think that the poems are doing what they want to do in a memorable (or at least interesting) way, then I’m happy. If the poems bore me, I am never happy. If the poems are interesting but unsuccessful in what I take to be their aim, then I’m sympathetic if disappointed.


What are some of your favorite literary magazines?

I read a lot of web journals, like Otoliths, Bond Street, Nixes Mate, 2River View, Home Planet News, Sky Island, and so on that are lively and interesting. Some of the prestigious print journals, like Poetry and American Poetry Review, have gotten too stale to read. I glance at them, but only occasionally does something stick.


William Doreski has published three critical studies and several collections of poetry. His work has appeared in many print and online journals. He has taught at Emerson College, Goddard College, Boston University, and Keene State College. His most recent books are Water Music and Stirring the Soup.