Saturday, February 11, 2023

Q&A with Wade Stevenson




Wade Stevenson is the author of the new poetry collection In the Country of the Peregrine. His many other books include the memoir One Time in Paris. He lives in Buffalo, New York.


Q: Over how long a period did you write the poems in your new collection?


A: Thank you so much for your interest in my new book titled In the Country of the Peregrine, published in January by BlazeVOX and available on Amazon or BlazeVOX. You ask me how long did it take to write the 87 poems in your Peregrine book? I would put it somewhat differently and say: “How long did it take for the book to write me?”


I’ve always sensed that the mind has many layers and over time what’s buried, latent, or hidden, or simply not yet developed, not yet fully formed, tends to emerge. A human birth, of course, is nine months, but there’s no real time for the birth of a book.


My first book, published with the help of John Ashbery by Tibor de Nagy, Ice Cream Parlors in Asia, was written in a few days on scraps of paper while I was holed up in a curious underground studio in Paris. My memoir, One Time in Paris, which is more or less a love story that takes place in Paris in the swinging ‘60s, I started it around 1970 and it took me more than 20 years to finish it and see it published.


When I finished my last book, Love at the End, in 2021, I had no idea what would come after “the end.” There’s a phrase in italics on the last page of that book, “Hurry up, hurry up, your time has come.” I was having some medical problems so I truly felt, perhaps for the first time, a sense of urgency.


Then Covid came and Russia invaded Ukraine. I had visited Kyiv once with my amazing Maria, whose mother was Russian and who had died in the camps. I had written about Maria in my novel The Electric Affinities and I could feel her phantom presence urging me to write something about all the lost and displaced people, not only in Ukraine, but around the world.


I myself had lived under difficult circumstances and had an enormous empathy for the lost, the dispossessed, the placeless. Words that corresponded to those feelings began to manifest themselves, and lo and behold, there was a manuscript.


I provisionally titled it “To the Homeless” and sent it my good friend and publisher Geoffrey Gatza. He was quick to point out that although my intentions were in the right place, I myself had never actually been homeless and it would be a mistake, he felt, to use the idea of  “homelessness” as a metaphor for a spiritual state.


He loved the blood and bones of my text but he suggested I look at it in a different way, as if I were observing it from above, or flying over it, like a hawk, for example. And voila, the symbol of the “Peregrine” was born.


As Charles Rammelkamp, the reviewer for the London Grip Poetry Review, pointed out, “the concept of the peregrine ---the traveler, nomad, pilgrim --- is the ongoing, organizing principle that unifies these poems.”

I quickly fell in love with the idea of the peregrine. It’s an incredible bird, one of the fastest of all falcons, and if you would like to know more about the bird, I highly recommend The Peregrine, 50th Anniversary Edition, by J.A. Baker.


Of course I used the “peregrine” as a symbol, and perhaps connected with my own personal sense of wandering and of being in exile. A reviewer of one of my books, Songs of the Sun Amor, was kind enough to refer to me as a kind of contemporary troubadour, thank you very much.


The peregrine is also a raptor, a bird of prey, and as I wrote, “How swooping down swiftly from / both above and below / There’s no limit to love, life’s vertical flow/”


Q: The writer Rachel Abramowitz said of the book, “Wade Stevenson’s In the Country of the Peregrine collapses the two meanings of ‘peregrine’ that open the collection: this book both wanders the landscape of the heart and makes of it a meal.” What do you think of that description?


A: I appreciate the comments of the writer Rachel Abramowitz, who talks about how in my book the peregrine both “wanders the landscape of the heart and makes of it a meal.” The “landscape” is the total emotional feeling which flows through each of the poems and leads to lines such as “We’ll make it sublime / caught in transit / a convulsive tremor in time / free flying, flying high / as the flash of the flight /  of the peregrine soaring / on the solar winds of Amor.”


There is also the “meat,” the nitty-gritty of the relationship: “I finally found a word so raw / like a sliced open still beating heart.” To the peregrine, to his concept of an absolute Amor, the heart becomes red meat.


The peregrine poet is in a last desperate search for the meaning of his life. It’s both deadly serious and also playful, as the poet asks at the beginning, “Tell me what it’s for / is it the whisper of a flicker / or a full-fledged flame? Is there an  afteror before? / Does it even have a name? …? What the fuck is it all for?”


Q: How did you choose the order in which the poems would appear in the collection?


A: In the Country of the Peregrine was written to be encountered from beginning to end. It is verboten, for example, to read the first poem and then out of impatience or curiosity, jump toward the end. The end in a way becomes its own beginning, but the reader must do the work of reading the whole book to find that out for himself.


The book functions on several layers, but ultimately it is about the search of one man, who could be me, or you, in a glorious quest to find something that perhaps is unnamable. On a simple level, it’s about loving to live, and loving so as not to die.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from these poems?


A: I try to make each poem stand on its own, with its own unique signature and emotive impact, and at the same be connected in a vital way not only with the one that comes after, but with the totality of all the poems.


Considered this way, my hope, my goal, is for them all to contribute to a final rising crescendo. That is the ultimate mysterious and profound feeling I would like my readers to take away from In the Country of the Peregrine.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: It’s not easy to end, so I have a little feeling this book will not be my last one. I think Peregrine should be balanced by a text that more directly concerns the life-enhancing aspects of Amor in both a physical and spiritual sense. I even have a title: “Vertigo Poems of Amor 8Sublime.”


Thank you for reading.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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