Chard deNiord on The Social Distance Reading Series
Chard deNiord is the author of seven books of poetry, including In My Unknowing, (The University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020), Interstate, (The University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015) The Double Truth (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011), and Night Mowing (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005). He is also the author of two books of interviews with ten eminent American poets, I Would Lie To You If I Could (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018) and seven senior Sad Friends, Drowned Lovers, Stapled Song, Conversations and Reflections on 20th Century American Poetry (Marick Press, 2011). His poems have appeared recently in Poetry, The Southern Review, AGNI. Gettysburg Review, The Antioch Review, The New York Times, The Michigan Quarterly, and Blackbird. He is a professor of English and Creative Writing at Providence College and a trustee of the Ruth Stone Trust. He served as poet laureate of Vermont from 2015 to 2019. He lives in Westminster West, Vermont with his wife Liz.
Brought to you by The Vermont School and Green Mountains Review
In the wake of book event cancellations due to COVID-19, this pop-up series is designed to offer poets a platform for launching new collections of poems. Stay tuned for a new reading each Wednesday and Sunday.
“The force that gives us meaning/is terrible, bloody and sweet,’ writes Chard deNiord in his astonishing new book In My Unknowing. DeNiord is a true spiritual visionary, which is to say there are no dialed-in answers, no self-defense, the stakes are sky-high, and everything happens in real time. The voice can be ecstatic or lacerated: it’s also funky, humane, topical, grounded. The cloud of unknowing can waft from a fine cigar. Lovers at a drive-in are moved to discover the night sky. A self-imposed chore reveals ‘[…] the lamp of internal difference that needs/the spark of my seeing anew to light its mantel.’
Always, Earth is the place of transformation. If ever there was a poet who answered the command in Rilke’s Ninth Elegy it’s deNiord. It’s thrilling how much he expects of language and experience, how little he takes for granted… In My Unknowing is charged with the pang of the insoluble mysteries: dreams, waking, the face of the one you love.”—Dennis Nurkse
“In My Unknowing, Chard deNiord’s sixth collection of poems, we find ourselves in a world beheld by the spark of seeing, on the border of Platonic emission: a world of salt sorrow and red lust, coterminous with everything at once. To read these poems is to float at a holy distance over the earth, herein recognized as the heaven it has always been, as no other place would do for living forever. It is a world about to evanesce, but is as yet legible to us in these masterful poems, which are in themselves a species of musical awareness.”—Carolyn Forché
How do you begin a new piece of writing? What conditions help your writing process?
I’ve learned to write anywhere, except my desk—in the car, my living room chair, my hammock, and my head while walking or running. I often become so immersed in what I’m writing that I pay no attention to my surroundings. My inspiration overrides my concern for comfort and convenience, so I often end up dropping my notebook or pen on the ground, or running out of paper, or ending up in an uncomfortable or awkward position. I get cramps from sitting too long in one position, and when I write while driving without looking at my writing pad on the passenger seat, I have to translate my scribble soon after I’ve arrived home in order to salvage whatever it is I’ve written. I commute two and half hours from Putney, Vermont to Providence, Rhode Island, where I work at Providence College. I’ve written the equivalent of at least two books of poems on my car seat.
What was an early experience that taught you language has power?
I started writing strange stories when I was in eighth grade, very dream-like narratives that I have since lost. But I remember them transporting me to another world I had no idea existed before I started writing. Those stories both shocked and excited me, causing me to feel possessed by a strange but powerful other, which I realize now was my muse. But I had been bitten. Nothing else interested me as much as writing and listening to Bob Dylan over and over, memorizing songs like “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” “Love Minus Zero” and “Love Is Just a Four Letter Word” without having any idea what a lot of these song’s meant, but feeling deeply moved nonetheless by their language and wanting to write just one line like “there’s no success like failure and failure’s no success at all” and “he who ain’t busy bein’ born busy dyin’.” I started reading both contemporary and traditional poets seriously in high school. Poets that kept me going back to their poems then included: Robert Frost, Dylan Thomas, William Blake, Arthur Rimbaud, Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Donne, Emily Dickinson, Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Galway Kinnell, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sylvia Plath, and ee cummings. I know I’m leaving several out.
What poets or writers do you continually go back to?
Probably Emily Dickinson, Shakespeare, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Walt Whitman’s. As far as contemporary poets: I would certainly list all the poets I’ve interviewed over the past ten years for my two books of interviews titled Sad Friends, Drowned Lovers, Stapled Songs and I Would Lie To You If I Could. They include: Galway Kinnell, Lucille Clifton, Ruth Stone, Jack Gilbert, Maxine Kumin, Robert Bly, Philip Levine, and Donald Hall) and I Would Lie To You If I Could (Natasha Trethewey, Jane Hirshfield, Carolyn Forché, Peter Everwine, Stephen Sandy, Stephen Kuusisto, Galway Kinnell, James Wright’s widow, Annie Wright, Martín Espada, and Ed Ochester). Other contemporary poets whose work I love include Thomas Lux, Deborah Digges, Brigit Pageen Kelly, Ethridge Knight, Li-Young Lee, Jeffrey Harrison, Natalie Diaz, Gerald Stern, D.A. Powell, Denise Duhamel, W.S. Merwin, C.K. Williams, Louise Gluck, Sydney Lea, Ross Gay, C.D. Wright, Robin Behn, Joy Harjo, David Tomas Martinez, Elizabeth Powell, Jane Miller, Bruce Smith, Dennis Nurkse, Charles Simic; oh the list becomes too long and those I’ve left out are just as important to me as those I’ve included.
International poets who haunt me include: Yannis Ristos, Nazim Hikmet, Paul Celan, Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetaeva, Osip Mandelstam, Robert Desnos, C.P. Cavafy, Zbignew Herbert, Fredrico Garcia, Carlos Drummond Andrade, Pablo Neruda, Antonio Machado, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Nicanor Parra, Fredrico, César Vallejo, Garcia Lorca, André Breton, Rene Char and Rumi. With regard to Asian poets, I love Po-Chui, Li Po, and Tu Fu. Sam Hamill’s book, The Poetry of Zen, is on my bedside table.
I must also mention that biblical poetry has influenced me deeply. I majored in religious studies in college and then went to divinity school before pursing an MFA. I’m enthralled with the language of the first three chapters of Genesis, the Psalms, the Prophets, Job, The Song of Songs, and the Gospels, especially the Gospel of John.
What is your favorite childhood or adolescent book?
The foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains where I grew up in Bedford County, Virginia were my first books, along with the James River. I didn’t start reading seriously until I was a junior in high school, and then I immersed myself in Joyce, Dostoevsky, Frost, Job, Camus, Kierkegaard, Melville, Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Catullus, and Horace. I also loved Mother Goose.
What are your thoughts on social distancing?
I live in the woods by choice, but very much enjoy the company of my friends and acquaintances in stores and around town. I miss going out, but like Dickinson, find “freedom” behind the door of my study. Unlike Dickinson, however, I enjoy socializing in town with no suggested distance barriers. I can’t praise The Vermont School and Green Mountains Review’s Social Distance Reading Series enough in their initiative to bring people closer together with readings, poems, and voices that transcend the plight of the Coronavirus with memorable language that is immune to it.
Where can we find you? Link to your blog or website.
The Social Distance Reading Series
Brought to you by The Vermont School and Green Mountains Review
We’re thrilled to host The Social Distance Reading Series, a collaboration between Green Mountains Review and The Vermont School poets. In the wake of book event cancellations due to COVID-19, this pop-up series is designed to offer poets a platform for launching new collections of poems. At this point, we are focusing on collections by poets whose book events have been cancelled between January through May 2020.
Stay tuned for a new reading each Wednesday and Sunday.
–Didi Jackson, Major Jackson, Kerrin McCadden, and Elizabeth Powell, series curators.
–Kylie Gellatly, editorial assistant, interviewer.