Following up on earlier posts about the new anthology Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poets for the Next Generation, the editors Lynn Melnick and Brett Fletcher Lauer recently announced that all 100 (!) author interviews are now up on the book’s Tumblr site, linked under “Archive.” (There are 102 interviews, actually, since the editors have interviews included as well). If you’re planning to teach from the book, this is a fantastic supplementary resource. The interviews lend themselves to quick–sometimes just one or two word–answers, but I can see them as a fabulous jumping-off point for a kind of artistic treasure hunt, exploring contemporary poets’ influences and passions. Dawn Lundy Martin’s favorite artist: Kara Walker. D.A. Powell’s favorite artist: Federico Fellini. Tarfia Faizullah’s favorite motto/quote: “Dwell in Possibility” (Emily Dickinson).
Please Excuse This Poem is a gorgeously contemporary anthology, and I can imagine younger readers finishing it and asking what’s next. This archive of influences highlights the non-linear, beautifully haphazard nature of reading for pleasure, which high school and even college age readers who are used to reading from assigned reading lists might find particularly thrilling.
Reading Tarfia Faizullah might lead you centuries back to Rumi (she cites The Collected Poems of Rumi as her favorite book of poems). Reading Shane Book might lead you to discover great prose authors (his ever-changing list includes Julio Cortazar, Patrick Chamoiseau, Roberto Bolaño, Michael Ondaatje, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Murray, Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant) or great hip-hop artists (what’s been on his headphones lately includes Chance the Rapper, Danny Brown, Kendrick Lamar, ASAP Rocky, Busdriver, Drake, Flatbush Zombies, Frank Ocean, Kool A.D). While these influences and interests might not have an obvious connection to the writers’ anthologized poems, they give the sense of lives lived, and the sense of each poet’s voice as a composite of passions and experiences.
Browsing these interviews made me think of Rescue Press’s fabulous “Safety Book” series, which just celebrated its fifth birthday and fortieth entry this month. On September 14, 2010, Rescue Press posted the following:
Rescue Press is curious about those moments in time when a book in the world has made a profound impact on a single reader. We are interested in the specific, unutterable, and occasionally unrepeatable euphoria that occurs when ONE reader falls in love with ONE book, and how that falling, like all great falling, is influenced by a time in one’s life, a cultural moment, an aesthetic, a politic, an excitement, a seduction, a song, or an impulse. We are interested in the ways in which a single book might contain memories more real than our own, language that directs our thinking, or images that we are bound to seek forever after.
To this end, we’ve asked a series of readers to comment on a specific book that they love—one that has influenced their work or thinking, surprised or disrupted their day, lent them strength, made them laugh, given them pause, illuminated a vision, or possibly even changed their life. We then ask our readers to send a copy of this book to someone else who might enjoy it.
We will post these mini-interviews/essays/responses on this blog.
And post they did, building an archive of life-changing reads and influences. Beginning with fiction writer Madeline McDonnell’s “Safety Book #1” (September 15, 2010), Sophie’s Choice, beloved for “its largeness . . . its large-heartedness, its generosity not just to its characters but to its reader,” and continuing on through poet Bridgette Bates’s “Safety Book #40” (September 25, 2015), The Collected Poems of Weldon Kees, whose “crystalline prose-like lines unnerved [her] with their precision.” While not all of the writers recommending their “Safety Books” are Rescue Press authors, many of them are, and I daydream about a mixed-genre course in which one might read the Rescue Press authors alongside their “lifeline” texts. Even without the structure of a course, it is well worth investing in the Rescue Press catalog and spending some time with the “Safety Books” as well.