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Michael Blumenthal

Read a Q & A Session with Michael Blumenthal


Etruscan Press: What kinds of things inspire your writing?
Michael Blumenthal: Being in love, not being in love, nature, death, beauty of all sorts, classical music, jazz, sitting in a comfortable chair and staring into space (I do LOTS of that, as Freud suggested for poets), the desire to be loved (of course), a total disinterest in whether I am loved or not (of course), a desire to shake up without shocking, a total disregard for received wisdoms, the need to think against myself, a word (like, say, “callipygian”) that I’ve never before heard and feel deserves to be in a poem, the sudden discovery that two things I thought had nothing in common have very much in common indeed, a general desire to be perverse toward what most poets are considered to be like and what usually passes for poetry… and so on.

What is your writing environment like?
When I was starting out I always wrote on a beautiful bench beneath a beautiful tree (osage orange) in a beautiful park (Montrose Park, DC) in the wee hours of early morning, best of all between 5-8 a.m. Then, as slowly I moved from a legal pad to a portable typewriter, to a monstrous IBM with proportional spacing, and then, reluctantly, to the computer, I moved to desk, usually facing out a window which I try NOT to stare out of too often. In my study in my house in Hungary, I write at a large window facing out upon a beautiful chestnut tree. I need to have NO ONE in my immediate presence, and no sounds beyond those that naturally occur… but I find the sounds of birds very helpful, especially song birds. I NEVER write at night, and I am largely incapable of writing in hotels and motels. Mostly, I am a great creature of habit and prefer to be in the same place at the same time in the same house and the same town. When I was younger, of course, I wrote EVERYWHERE, but now I am older and grouchier and pickier about everything and everyone.

Tell us about a poem, story you’ve written that has special meaning to you?
The poems that ALWAYS have the most meaning to me are the ones in which I have/had the feeling that I have somehow been blessed by receiving dictation from the gods, whoever and wherever they may be. This has happened to me numerous times in my life– in the poems “Fish Fucking,” “Habitation” (in my new book), in my entire books “Laps” and “AND,” and on numerous other occasions. I am still one of those old-fashioned people who actually believe in inspiration and in being “chosen” (perhaps ill-chosen?) by some spirit to write poems. As you grow older– witness Keats, Shelley, Byron, etc., all of whom were inspired, then died– this happens less and less, I must confess, but it STILL happens, and those moments/poems always have a special meaning to me. MANY years ago I wrote an essay entitled “LSD in Mid-Life,” which was about exactly that (the LAST time, not to worry), and writing it, as well as the experience itself, had a profound meaning to me. Generally, I try not to write ANYTHING, be it poetry or prose, that I won’t believe has, or will have, some “special meaning” to me… Why else bother?

Who are some of the authors you like to read?
I suppose I like many of the usual suspects– Frost, Bishop, Yeats, Keats.  But also Neruda, Yehuda Amichai, Fernando Pessoa, Henry Miller (thought I’d toss that in now, lest this get boring), Montaigne, a few wild Hungarian by the name of Frigyes Karinthy and Gyula Krudy, my friends C.K. Williams, Stephen Dunn and Grace Schulman, the Hungarian George Konrad, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson (of course), along with a young essayist named Robert Vivian, Mark Doty’s prose, Sherwood Anderson, cookbooks (really), almost anyone who writes about primates. Then there’s also Howard Nemerov, whose work I long adored, Anthony Hecht, Richard Wilbur, Kenneth Koch, Nabokov, Chekhov, Rilke, Seamus Heaney, many many Russians and, more and more, books that are short and don’t have many characters in them, like Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach.

What things do you like to do to get away from pen and paper?
I LOVE to sleep, especially and almost exclusively at night (I go to bed very early, and rise equally early), which seems to me to solve all the world’s problems, including my own. (“Courage and sleep,” said Vachel Lindsay, “are the principle things.” Although, alas, I’m not very courageous). When awake, I love to swim and ski and I used to love playing tennis, until all the crucial parts of my body necessary to do so began to conduct a coup d’état. I love to sit in a chair (I think I said this earlier) and gaze out at the world. Like everyone, I think about sex obsessively (“except,” as my old friend Howard Nemerov put it, “during the act, when the mind tends to wander.”) I love to mow lawns… I only wish I had more of them. The smell of fresh-cut grass both takes my mind off of writing AND makes me very happy. I also love to cook and bake, especially without recipes.

What do you hope readers find in your writing?
Beauty, peace, an appetite for living, a desire to read more of it, a stay against confusion (Frost), or at least a more interesting way to be confused, an appreciation for their own bodies and that of the man or woman they may love, an interesting way to confuse the sacred and the profane.

Anything else you’d like readers to know?
If it’s not already contained in, or suggested by, one of my poems (or books of prose), I probably don’t want them to know it.


Michael Blumenthal is the author of seven previously published books of poetry, the novel Weinstock Among the Dying, and the memoir All My Mothers and Fathers, among other books. Formerly Director of Creative Writing at Harvard, he is currently Visiting Professor of Law at the West Virginia University College of Law and lives in Morgantown, West Virginia, and Hegymagas, Hungary. For more information, please visit www.michael-blumenthal.com/

Read an article about Michael Blumenthal on wvliving.com.