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David St. John: ‘My advice would be for most poets to read more slowly.’

Happy National Poetry Month! All throughout April, we interviewed poets about working in the digital age. Recently we spoke with National Book Award finalist David St. John.

St. John has written and edited several volumes of poetry. He serves as a creative writing professor at the University of Southern California. In March 2012 he released a new poetry collection entitled The Auroras.

In this book, the poet divided up his poems into three separate parts. The first explores sensuality, the second deals with the past and the third talks about mortality. Check out the highlights from our interview below…

Q: How did you publish your first book?
A: My first book was solicited by Jonathan Galassi for consideration for the Houghton Mifflin New Poetry Series, which he was just starting. Galway Kinnell, a Houghton Mifflin poet, had sent Jonathan some of my poems without telling me, and then Jon asked to see a full ms. That book, Hush, became the first of Jon’s choices for that series. Originally the book was supposed to be published by my friend Tom Lux‘s small press, Barn Dream, but their funding collapsed. Funny how things work out.

Q: Has the Internet changed the way you interact with readers?
A: Only in that I am now able to hear comments and responses more directly, without the filter of a publisher or journal. I like having work and interviews online, as I know there will be a more immediate audience for whatever gets posted.

Q: Any advice for reading poetry out loud?
A: Well, I love reading out loud, and I love the engagement with that kind of audience as well. My advice would be for most poets to read more slowly; people always come up to me after a reading to say how grateful they are that I didn’t race through the poems the way others they’ve heard do when they read.

Q: What advice can you share for aspiring poets?
A: Write for yourself at all times. If you ever write for some imagined editor somewhere, well, you might as well pack your bags. But, try to listen to your friends when they suggest edits or cuts. They are the ones who know you and your work best, and they probably know what your ambition for your work is. Don’t forget: ambition for one’s work and ambition for oneself are very different things. The first is cool; the second often cripples.

Q: What’s next for you?
A: I’m already at work on a new collection of poems, and I’m also in the process of editing The Uncollected Poems of my old friend Larry Levis, whose Selected Poems I edited not long after his death. In my own work, I just try to go forward — poem by poem.

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