Sunday, July 16, 2023

Q&A with Stephen C. Pollock




Stephen C. Pollock is the author of the new poetry collection Exits. He is a former associate professor at Duke University.


Q: In Foreword Clarion Reviews, Camille-Yvette Welsch wrote of your book, “Dedicated to the beauty and frailty of life, the poetry collection Exits exemplifies the musicality of language.” What do you think of that description?


A: The first thing that struck me about that sentence was how lovely it was. It could have been drawn from a poem.


Ms. Welsch touches on several interrelated aspects of the book. I like her close pairing of “beauty” and “frailty of life.” It seems to imply that beauty isn’t limited to young healthy lives, but that there is beauty in ageing, in the wisdom that comes with age, in the inevitable decline in our physical selves, and even in loss and grief.


Most gratifying is the phrase, “Exits exemplifies the musicality of language.” To me, the sound of the lines is inextricable from their sense. When writing, I’m constantly aware of rhythm, meter, rhyme, alliteration, assonance, tone, syntax and diction. Each poem needs to sing as well off the page as it does in print.

In this regard, it’s interesting to note that the received form that most commonly appears in Exits is the sonnet (Fr. “little song”), probably because of its musicality and because it often surprises the reader with a change in perspective or an unexpected twist at the end.


If you were to surreptitiously listen in while I’m writing a poem at my desk, you would hear sounds, words, phrases, and dozens upon dozens of trial lines. Verbalizing the possibilities helps me to eliminate the 99.9 percent of unhelpful language options auditioning for a part in the poem.


Q: How did you decide on the order in which the poems would appear in the book?


A: That was difficult! I printed all of the poems and arranged them on the dining room table for what seemed an eternity. Most of the decisions regarding order were made intuitively.


That said, a few “rules” were followed: Long poems were made to alternate with shorter poems and vice-versa; more challenging poems were placed next to more accessible poems; and of the five sonnets in the collection, no two were allowed to be consecutive.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: To be honest, promotion of the book! Once the flurry of activities surrounding the launch have settled, I look forward to returning to writing.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Keep in mind that we live in a time of great uncertainty. War, climate disasters, famine, and the recent pandemic have led many to contemplate the prospect of their own death. Exits speaks to this anxiety and angst. It also may provide fresh perspective on life’s transience, the cycles of life, and the possibility of renewal.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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