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On 'Almost Biblical: An Interview with Michael Waters'

WatersphotocreditMichael Paul Thomas
In a recent interview with Matthew Guenette for Southern Indiana Review, poet Michael Waters discussed his own stylistic progression and some of the factors that he feels influence his writing. When asked about the evolution of his own aesthetic, Waters stressed that structurally, he has moved from loose free verse to a style that centers "more and more on the integrity of the line... One reason I haven't attempted much prose fiction is that the sentence as an integral unit interests me much less than the line does." The line, Waters continues, is an essential, complete component of the poem, that, while difficult to bring into being, adds to the poetic virtues of clarity, sound work, and cleanliness: "A line should have balance and heft. Each line should be interesting and evocative in itself, holding each of the preceding lines in the foreground while anticipating the lines that follow... I try to avoid clutter in my lines, any unnecessary articles ans pronouns that often disrupt a poem's music and become tedious in their repetitions." Waters' awareness of sound work and the density of his lines is all the more impressive when he discusses the influence (or lack thereof) of the concept of a reader on his texts. Clarity in his poems is juiced from words and the way they make their own meanings known, rather than being extracted from an expectation of what "readers" may understand. He says, "What guides me between narrative and lyrical modes is my ear. I want poems that flow upon and beneath a musical surface, so try to allow syllables, words, and phrases their distinct currents, letting them course and chime down the page... A poem should announce itself unselfconsciously, as poems by Dickinson and Frost, for example, often do. They enter us, then surprise us with their staying power." In light of this comment, Waters' explanation of the creative process in relation to other influences is all the more interesting. Working on only one poem at a time, Waters focuses on the commanding solidity of line and language and builds from traditions of fresh and innovative language. the influences  encompass pop narratives from the late 50s and early 60s and the street slang of Brooklyn, the continued presence in his teaching of American literary greats, and the "beautiful eccentricities" in the works of contemporary poets like Gerald Stern, Maxine Kumin, Philip Levine, Lucille Clifton, and Ruth Stone. The "heft and weight" of Waters' long-developed style culminates in his identification of the erotic as a critical element of poetry, citing Audre Lorde's description in "The Uses of the Erotic" as "the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy, in the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, harkening to its deepest rhythms." The potency of words and the voice in one's head, the "unselfconscious" self-proclamation of poetry, and the staying power of those brief, clear expressions of those before us facilitate a creativity for Waters that is original, dynamic,  and distinct; a creativity that, Waters concludes, "...remains in close proximity/to erotic receptivity." To view work by Michael Waters, visit the BOA bookstore here.
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