TOD MARSHALL and TONY LEUZZI
Tony Leuzzi and Tod Marshall have never met, but their work has been in conversation since 2012, when Leuzzi finished Passwords Primeval, his book-length collection of interviews with contemporary poets. Marshall had worked on a similar project from 1991 – 2002; his book, Range of the Possible, explored the same genre: the meticulously researched literary interview.
What is a literary interview? Leuzzi describes the form: these interviews “are not typical in the sense that most people understand the medium. Instead of a series of quick-fire questions that call for equally quick, breezy responses, these are closer to heightened discussions—well-formed dialogues emerging through sustained development and negotiation. Thus they are also collaborations.” Both books offer sustained conversations about poetics, other poets, specific poems, and the intersections of literature and politics, religion, and other arts.
The cast of characters in each of the books includes some of our country’s most distinguished poets; each collection claims quickly recognized voices and a range of aesthetics. Marshall’s assertion about his title holds true for both collections; he writes, “Range of the Possible speaks to one of the primary strengths of American poetry [. . .] the multiple energies fueling the artistic practices.” For Passwords, Leuzzi spoke with Jane Hirshfield, Gary Soto, Gerald Stern, Stephen Dobyns, Dara Wier, Billy Collins, and others. Marshall’s project led to discussions with Linda Birds, Robert Hass, Edward Hirsch, Li-Young Lee, Lucia Perillo, Robert Wrigley, and others. Their books directly overlap in that they both include conversations with Dorianne Laux and Bin Ramke.
Leuzzi’s and Marshall’s interest in the project is probably obvious: like their subjects, they are both poets. Leuzzi’s most recent book, The Burning Door, was published in 2014, the same year that Marshall’s last collection, Bugle, was printed. Leuzzi is also a prolific reviewer of poetry and an insightful essayist on the art. As Poet Laureate of Washington, Marshall hopes to find another way to pursue his dedication to public programming in the humanities. Both teach at colleges, and if asked, both would point to their ongoing desire to learn about poetry as primary impulses behind their interview projects.
Hindsight can clarify (and blur); in preparation for their April Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) panel on the subject, Leuzzi and Marshall discussed these books, and they did so in a manner that took them a bit out of their comfort zones. What if, instead of a structured and researched dialogue, they engaged in a cross-continent cell phone conversation, a give-and-take about their understanding of the interview, the value of the interview, and why the hell they devoted hundreds of hours to making these books? That conversation follows.
Tony Leuzzi: Hi, Tod. I understand you’ve been pretty busy as the new Poet Laureate of Washington State.
Tod Marshall: Yes, Tony, I have been busy. Yesterday, I read a poem in front of a group of construction workers and government officials to announce a transportation package for the governor, and it was one of the most unusual poetry experiences I’ve had in my life.
Leuzzi: How so?
Marshall: It was just a strange context. The event was touting a big economic initiative for the community and it seemed like a weird context for poetry. I felt really awkward talking about how glad I was to live in a city that championed the arts and the humanities. So it goes.
Leuzzi: That reminds me a little of when Oscar Wilde visited coal miners on his tour through America. Were the construction workers interested in the poem you read?
Marshall: Well, if you’re really bored you can go online and Google the press release. The video expressions of the men behind me say it better than I could [Laughs]. But the governor seemed pleased. He came to the podium afterwards and shared a “roses are red violets are blue” poem with the audience.
Leuzzi: Bravo, governor! Anyway, Joseph Salvatore, the Books editor of The Brooklyn Rail, has invited us to talk to each other about our respective collections of interviews with contemporary American poets, your Range of the Possible and my Passwords Primeval. About ten years separates the publication of each book, so they seem like companion pieces that don’t really overlap. In fact, only two poets appear in both books.
Marshall: Yes, Bin Ramke and Dorianne Laux. Contemporary American poetry is so vast anyway that there’s little danger of a lot of repetition.
Leuzzi: That’s for sure. There are so many fine poets writing in various idioms, embracing different aesthetics. One can appreciate and evaluate this poetry in a lot of ways. What drew you to the literary interview instead of, say, the essay or book review, or other forms of critical assessment? What does the literary interview afford that the other genres do not?
Marshall: Well, when I was younger and resplendent with energy, I tried to pursue all of those modes—reviewing, essaying, and interviewing. I think that the review is a great place to test one’s aesthetics; I think that the essay is a great place to show one’s own wide-ranging concerns. The interview, I think, is especially good at revealing the wide range of a poet’s considerations: Li-Young Lee’s metaphysical perceptions, Brenda Hillman’s enthusiasm for the music of the Pixies, Yusef Komunyakaa’s take on modernism. In a good interview, the subject of the interview is foregrounded; the questioner vanishes—even when asking really smart questions, really insightful questions. No one comes to an interview to read Tod’s or Tony’s amazing questions: we have to vanish, in some ways, for the interviews to be really good. I’d also add that an interview has an organic energy and spontaneity that even flexible essayistic writing can’t hope to have.
Leuzzi: I see them as heightened dialogues.
Marshall: Yes, or mini-essayistic forays; much more than just conversations. I enjoy going back and forth between poetry, the large subject, and the individual poet’s work. There are so many different takes on what poetry is, and I think reading twenty different visions on what constitutes poetic language is fascinating. And then to delve into what the individual poet does and what that poet’s individual conception might be is amazing.
Leuzzi: For most, poetry requires a little more mediation than other literary genres. One can just pick up most books of fiction and begin reading without needing to know how to go about reading it and what to look for, whereas many come to poetry eager for any tips or insight the poet can give. One of the things our interviews try to do is help readers understand poetry a bit better by allowing poets to articulate their conceptions about poetry.
Marshall: What are the identifying markers for a poem? For many readers in 2016, that’s a really challenging question. Having poets offer different visions of how they might answer that question shows that plurality might be compelling rather than befuddling.
Leuzzi: I wonder if a hundred years from now people will look back on the poetry of today and think the act of defining poetry in our age was so much easier than in theirs [laughs]. But you’re right: today almost anything goes in terms of what a poem can be. It’s therefore helpful and instructive when one reads a number of authoritative voices that ponder the issue.
Marshall: How familiar were you with examples of the literary interview before you began interviewing poets for Passwords?
Leuzzi: Initially, I only had a limited understanding of the literary interview. My primary exposure to interviews was through music journalism. I read Len Lyons’s book The Great Jazz Pianists several times over, plus a number of interviews by David Breskin for the now-defunct Musician magazine of the mid-’80s. When I was in undergraduate school, I read two interviews with William Faulkner, placed side by side in a book whose name I can’t remember. These cracked me up because of the contradictions between them. There may have been less than a year that separated the two conversations, but his answers to very similar questions often canceled each other out. I had also done a number of interviews with writers, filmmakers, entertainers, and political figures throughout the ’90s when I was writing for The Empty Closet, New York State’s oldest LGBT newspaper, and for Gerbil, a queer zine I was working on with visual artist Brad Pease. I once did a disastrous interview with Ginsberg six months before his death. Looking back on it, I can see that my questions were fairly naïve, but he was also more interested in self-promotion than real dialogue and got testy with me when I tried to probe him about certain passages from various poems. Years later, I read Interviews and Encounters with Stanley Kunitz. Those discussions became an important model for me. Kunitz always said things so beautifully; the people interviewing him were also prepared from the outset. There was no screwing around. Both parties—the interviewer and the interviewee—were there because they were embarking on a genuine conversation about literature. How familiar were you with literary interviews before you began Range?
Marshall: I knew Bellamy’s book, American Poetry Observed; he spoke with many poets who sort of came upon the scene in the 50s and 60s. I read the interviews in American Poetry Review (APR) and The Paris Review. I also knew the University of Michigan’s series—Poets on Poetry. I watched all of Bill Moyer’s enthusiastic but bad interviews on PBS. My project didn’t really begin as a project; in 1991, two of my poetry world idols were going to read for my writing program. Robert Hass and Czesław Miłosz were coming to Spokane to give a reading, and my friend, Nance Van Winckel, was editing Willow Springs. She said that she’d love to print an interview with them, and I said, “Sure, I’ll do it.” My friend, Greg Dunne, and I stayed up for several nights, including one actual all-nighter, cramming to prepare to talk to the Czesław Miłosz: what the hell do you ask someone who lived through the Warsaw occupation, was a Soviet diplomat, wrote one of the most important early works on creativity and totalitarianism, and was heralded as one of the most important writers in the world? We did our best to get ready, but Czesław ended up bailing (I think that he was hungover). We got to speak with Hass, and Bob was amazing and generous, and his attitude taught me a great deal about how the interview can be very heuristic. I worked on the technique and process for the next ten years, and my book certainly shows my obsessions—modernism, literary lineages, the intersection of poetry and politics, poetry and religion—but I hope that I got better as I did more of the interviews, and I became a facilitator rather than anyone with too obvious of an agenda. But the first interview book I stumbled on was a pamphlet that has this great photo of Gary Snyder on the cover called Blood, Bread and Poetry, which was a conversation between Snyder, Whalen, and Welch. It was pretty cool how far ranging they were. They talked a lot about poetry and politics and poetry and religion. That would always interest me, observing poets talking about other subjects.
Leuzzi: Me too. That means, however, that we needed to do a lot of preparation.
Marshall: Preparation was everything. I’m not smart enough to wing it and create something that I think will be interesting to an audience. Hence, nothing is more important than getting ready. I’m an obsessive type. In preparation, I read everything that I could find. Certainly all of an author’s collections of poetry, any other interviews that had been published, essays by (and about) the poet, and reviews of particular works. I read good chunks of Hass’s dissertation. During the preparation period, I would scribble down threads that seemed important to the poet’s work; I’d then create something of a script from those threads: questions connected to poetry, questions connected to the particular poet’s work, questions that overlapped with subjects I’d considered in other interviews, and then I’d try to be open to whatever might happen.
Leuzzi: Yes, open is a good word for it. I did so much preparation so I could guide the interview subject towards other areas, when necessary. Each interview has its own scope and tone. This was determined largely by my reading and by each poet’s temperament and accessibility. In a good interview, the subject of the interview takes center stage. I didn’t want to force my conception of a poet’s work into the discussion. Instead, I wanted to be whatever the poet needed me to be in order to get the most penetrating insights from him or her. I tried to be agile. Preparation makes agility possible. You become so steeped in the work that, like a good improviser, you can react fluidly and spontaneously. If you don’t have the right amount of preparation, you won’t be able to do it.
Marshall: And we have to stay invisible. Our readers—God bless them—don’t care so much about Tod or Tony. You have to read as many things by the poet and about the poet as possible. If you don’t do this, the questions tend to stay pretty superficial.
Leuzzi: Agreed, but an interview informed by a lot of preparation brings other challenges. Most people reading the interview will not have read everything the poet has written, so sometimes more general or even superficial questions will allow for a discussion to emerge that they can understand. Where is that line between too specialized and too generic?
Marshall: That’s a hard line. There’s a distinction between an enthusiast and an academic. Who do you conceive of as the prospective audience for your interviews and how did that conception directly inform your questions?
Leuzzi: I imagined my audience was people who love and/or study poetry. I wasn’t trying to justify poetry to lukewarm readers, but I did make deliberate attempts to be as accessible as possible. I wanted to have discussions anyone interested in heightened discourse could savor. As a result, I believe a precocious high-school student can enjoy Passwords almost as much as the expert. Still, it was my love for the poets’ works that influenced how I proceeded. What audience did you imagine?
Marshall: I started the project not knowing what the heck I was doing. I just had a chance to speak to Robert Hass and I thought, “Wow, this is awesome, I’ve got to take advantage of this.” Then Yusef Komunyakaa was coming along, so I made that interview happen, too. Then I did a few more and started to figure out that these could develop into a book, and that became the standard of my interview, after those first few forays. But I guess in my approach to everything academic, I’ve always tended to have a more generalized audience in mind. It’s always important to invite gestures towards any audience who is interested in literature.
Leuzzi: I didn’t realize I had a book on my hand until about ten interviews were done. At first I was just searching out poets I liked and then it was more mindful thinking about whom I could put alongside the writers I already had.
Marshall: In your introduction, you talk about the fact that not all of your interviews could fit in the book. In hindsight (that great clarifier), what would you have done differently—both in terms of the entire book and in terms of the content/focus of individual interviews?
Leuzzi: Whenever I look at one of my books of poems I dream about going back in time and making certain changes. I think that’s pretty natural. I don’t feel this way about Passwords Primeval. I’m pretty satisfied with how the book turned out. Because my work on it was very gradual and deliberate, I had plenty of time to conceptualize and revise. I also had a great editor—Peter Conners at BOA Editions. Before I gave him the manuscript, I had already made substantial revisions. Then, he suggested a number of edits throughout (all very manageable). That extra pair of eyes really helped. The focus of each interview depended upon the poet and my experience with his or her work. Therefore, my discussion with Arthur Sze spanned his entire career, whereas when I spoke with Karen Volkman we focused specifically on her sonnet sequence, Nomina: it was so rich and deserving of close attention. In hindsight I do wish I’d had time to interview Mary Ruefle for Passwords. I was introduced to her work as I was completing the book and didn’t have time. I have since interviewed her and it was, unsurprisingly, an illuminating conversation. In your view, what are some specific challenges unique to conducting any interview—and how do you attempt to meet these challenges?
Marshall: It’s important to be open to abandoning threads, letting go of where you’d hoped to go, what you’d hoped to ask about. To be perfectly honest, I had to often overcome some pretty severe insecurity: some of these poets are so smart; I was in graduate school or just barely out when I did most of the interviews, and I think that it was often very intimidating to meet some of these writers. In hindsight, this feeling might be silly, but if I’m honest with myself, it’s true: I was pretty nervous. Logistics also proved to be a challenge. I didn’t have unlimited travel resources, and so that fact shaped the contents of my book; I got grants on a couple of occasions, and those grants let me travel to talk with Gillian and Brenda, Ed Hirsch and Dave Smith. But the truth of the matter is that there were several poets with whom I had hoped to speak that I just couldn’t figure out logistics—Jorie Graham (we talked about it on the phone several times, but it just never happened). Several others.
Leuzzi: On looking back at your interviews, do you experience wonder and surprise at the conversations that took place?
Marshall: The Li-Young Lee chat blew my mind. Toward the end he said something like, “There are not two people here. I experience this conversation as one person talking, Tod, and that one person is God.” He also riffed in pretty heavy ways on the logos and the importance of poetry; those riffs were pretty far out and awesome. I walked around thinking “I am God,” feeling all Whitmanic for a while after that. The Hirsch interview also struck me as pretty cool; he was so adamant about avoiding partisanship in poetry, about being open to so many different poetries. That was a very different attitude than what was “in the air” in the mid-’90s. There are other moments—Chris Howell on the experience of reading a poem, Nance Van Winckel on voice, Brenda Hillman on the aesthetic-erotic impact of a poem. Great stuff. Which three of your interviews do you find to be the most compelling and why?
Leuzzi: Well, naturally, I enjoyed interviewing all of those poets, but there are some that stand out as remarkable experiences that have since transformed the way I see poetry. Gary Young’s poetry is so unpretentious that one might think his intellectual curiosity and aesthetic concerns are rather circumscribed. This is not true at all. He is widely read and possesses a sophisticated understanding of the world. His approach has challenged me to reexamine my own aesthetics against what he calls “horizontal poetry,” which dismantles artificially inflated language through the elimination of quotation marks, titles, and line breaks. Like Gary Young, Scott Cairns is a modest person with a voracious reading habit. He is, for lack of a better term, a “religious poet” whose personal journey from a childhood spent among Baptists to his adulthood conversion to the Eastern Orthodox church has informed his work in surprising ways. We both deeply respect the Rabbinical teachings and are heavily influenced by the poetry of Yannis Ritsos. These commonalities, as well as others, excited me. He was like a much smarter and wiser big brother. Dara Wier is in a class all by herself. The months I spent reading her remarkable poetry were marked with surprise and excitement. Speaking with her was equally rewarding. Some of the most quotable moments in Passwords come from her words, including a passage featured on the back cover of the book: “[T]he story of an idea is as dramatic as the story of something we typically call anecdotal, like coming across a dead body in the park and trying to play detective to figure out how that happened. You can also come across dead love and do a little detective work to figure out how that happened.” Every time I read that I want to sit down and start writing out the story behind some of my own ideas or notions.
Marshall: Some people are really smart, and they come across as such, but they also make everyone around them feel smarter. Which poets made you feel smartest (while interviewing him or her)? Which one made you most insecure?
Leuzzi: I didn’t feel smart at all. I mention in the Passwords “Introduction” that I occasionally misread passages or made faulty conclusions. In such cases, a poet’s clarification or correction enhanced the discussion. My moments of ignorance were often useful in pushing the discussion further, allowing the poet to say what might not have been said had I not stumbled. I rarely felt insecure. Before I approached any poet, I read his or her work so deeply that I knew I was armed with that, at the very least. Preparation gave me confidence. My biggest challenge came while preparing for the Bin Ramke’s interview. His work has undergone such dramatic transformations over the years, and each iteration is so dense and fully realized that I often felt out of my depth. I enjoyed that. You can’t grow as a reader if you’re always reading what you already know.
Marshall: Did you encounter a poet who elevated the discourse instantly without making you feel stupid, even if you didn’t know as much as they did?
Leuzzi: I encountered poets who elevated my discourse in such a way that they made my stupidity sound intelligent.
Marshall: [Laughter] And they don’t lord it over us. I occasionally possessed only a superficial understanding of what a poet was referring to. In such cases, certain poets evinced capaciousness and generosity. I remember Robert Hass gave me that feeling.
Leuzzi: I would say Gary Young gave me the feeling you’re describing. He has that kind of personality. He’s so widely read and knowledgeable, but he isn’t pretentious. He forgave my ignorance and made me feel pretty smart talking to him. Bin Ramke was also magnanimous, even though I never got a chance to communicate with him beyond email—the only example of such restriction in Passwords. I sent him fifteen rather involved questions and in less than twenty-four hours he answered all of them beautifully. I followed up with a couple of clarifications, but we never needed to speak on the phone. I suspect his thoroughness was a way of avoiding that kind of contact.
Marshall: I did get an opportunity to visit him face to face. He exuded that shyness during the interview. I felt like I was hurting him by making him speak in person. But he is so brilliant. I’m glad I had the opportunity.
Leuzzi: His poetry, particularly the later work, is so rich and dense. But he never made me feel stupid. I always let the poet see the interview before I sent it anywhere for publication. Did you do the same?
Marshall: Yes. There were never radical changes about tonality or content. But giving the poets a chance to make themselves a little more coherent—the Kundera quotation from your “Introduction” to Passwords is a good one. You’ve got to give people a little bit of breathing room. Off-the-cuff responses are good, but they can be a bit jumpy and sound like sound bites rather than intelligent discourse.
Leuzzi: Unlike most of the interviews in Range, my interviews were done during the internet age. The email age. Many of the poets I met face-to-face, but there was always an email follow up afterwards. So it really changed the way the interview format could work. We could really strive for expansiveness without a heck of a lot of wait time between drafts.
Marshall: You’re kind of making me sound like I started my project back in the forties. [Laughs]
Leuzzi: Not intended! It’s just that your first interview was done in 1991, and then, over a ten-year period, you compiled the rest of the book. I don’t think of the internet as really taking over until about 2000. It was in such a nascent stage while you were working on yours.
Marshall: No, you’re right. I did the last two interviews through email, but the rest were done the old fashioned way. I remember how slow and frustrating that was, sending drafts back and forth through the mail. It took forever.
Leuzzi: About a year or two after Passwords came out, I got a chance to interview Mary Ruefle in person. She did not want to use email for follow-up editing, so we had to do it the old way—hard copies back and forth with margin notes and post-its. It took about three months just to do cosmetic editing. I can’t imagine putting an entire book together that way. One significant difference in our approach is that you appear to have had much more of a conceptual arc for Range than I did for Passwords. You focus on how those then late-20th century poets reacted to modernism. I didn’t realize my arc—a Walt Whitman through-line—until I was more than halfway done with the book. I saw that so many of the poets were referencing Whitman and went with it. But my attack throughout was very much close readings of individual poems and locating certain passages in each poet’s work that might posit their poetics and aesthetic, whereas you were much more honed-in on how contemporary American poets in the latter half of the twentieth century were reacting to modernism.
Marshall: I don’t know if it was the right approach. If I could do it all over again, I maybe would rethink that dynamic since I did feel in some of the discussions that I was pushing the poet in that direction rather than, as you say, finding some more organic similarity later on.
Leuzzi: Well, if it makes you feel better, by the time I realized Whitman would be the through-line, I began to make sure we talked about him in the interviews. I noticed, too, that our geography influenced the books we did, too. Many of the poets you interviewed were based on the west coast, whereas most of mine were in the east. Was this accidental for you?
Marshall: I guess I didn’t see that at first because so many of the poets I interviewed had moved around so much from job to job, and I don’t know if a regional sense of place played much a role in their writing. In many of them, I didn’t really see their work that way.
Leuzzi: You weren’t interviewing “regional” writers, per se. You were interviewing poets who were linked in some way with the academy.
Marshall: Yes, citizens of the world. Like Donald Revell—straight New Yorker to the bone but he was at Utah in the proximity of a lot of Mormons and then he went to UNLV in the midst of the desert. I definitely saw him more as a citizen of the world of poetry rather than a desert dweller.
Leuzzi: I live about a six-hour drive from New York. It’s easy to get there. I interviewed a lot of people stopping through there.
Marshall: That is helpful. As you know, I started the interviews in 1991. From 1992 – 96, I was doing my doctorate at the University of Kansas. My primary field was modernism, so that’s where all that comes from in the book. I went from there to Memphis from 1996 – 99, so I had to apply for a lot of travel grants to go places or jump in the car and drive long distances to when a poet was at Sewanee or in Iowa City. There was a catch-as-catch-can dynamic with the people that are in Range. Sometimes I had to make decisions based on what was logistically viable. How many conversations could I have when I went to the Bay area, for example? I did four interviews while there. Three of them wound up being in Range.
Leuzzi: Most poets I approached for an interview were happy to participate. Did you experience this?
Marshall: Yeah. About 90%. I mean we probably both have our legend of white whales for interviews that never happened, despite our persistence.
Leuzzi: Who was one of your white whales?
Marshall: I tried to interview Jorie Graham for years, Tony. A lot of near misses.
Leuzzi: Mine was C. K. Williams. He committed and backed out three times. He’s unfortunately dead now, so I never will get the chance to talk with him.
Marshall: One thing I think about with regards to preparation and my own writing: Range of the Possible appeared in 2002, when my first book of poems published, so I learned as much I think editing the interviews than I did anything in my literary life. It was an incredible education. I encourage my students to find a poet and to pursue an interview like that because 1) it will enrichen their lives and 2) poets are incredibly open with their time, for the most part. I remember when Josh Edwards at Canarium Press was at Oregon and he started Canary Magazine and he just contacted Ashbery and got a poem. Most poets are not going to say no.
Leuzzi: It’s such a marginal field anyway. Even the most well-known poets in this country are still—thankfully—just ordinary people who welcome the attention. Notwithstanding some poets who were shielded by agents, most of the poets in Passwords were easy to locate and contact. At most, a poet may have wanted to see some samples of my interviews before committing. I remember Jane Hirshfield asked for that. I totally respect such a request: it makes sense to know what kind of person you’re working with before stepping in it. Here’s another question: since the scope and coverage of literary discussions are contingent upon the time when they were conducted, when does a book like yours or a book like mine cease to be a relevant document? Or is it always a relevant document?
Marshall: I can answer that question pretty well. I want to connect it with sales. Range of the Possible sold pretty well at first, but now it seems pretty stagnant. There are only about 150 copies left. The original press run was 3000. Carnegie Melon now has the rights to the book. When I asked them about a reprint, the editor said when those remaining books get sold they’ll reprint it.
Marshall: I don’t know. I mean at the current sales rate that that might happen in 2022! I think the internet has a lot to do with the slowing down of sales. There are so many interviews available online, why would one want to buy a book? I did an anthology of poems that went with Range. Five poems by each poet interviewed. I thought it would make a good study tool to have the two books together. We sold out of those, but it’s not in demand anymore.
Leuzzi: The question I asked about relevance goes beyond book sales. Say you interview a poet in 1998, for example. Is that document in and of itself passé or does it still have relevance? It’s a question I often think about. The earliest interviews in my book came out in 2006. I’m wondering if the earliest of those might, for many, be too dated now.
Marshall: I see what you’re asking. I tried to balance the book—I had my own confusions and obsessions that may have limited the book in some ways but I was interested in this generation of poets that was more at the tail end of modernism really, maybe reacting against the mid-century poets. All that literary history and those notions of lineage inform many of my questions, which I hope create some literary-historical thread that might not be limited in terms of story; and I tried to ask all the poets questions about poetry and religion, poetry and politics.
Leuzzi: If I were to consider my own question it would be that our interviews, no matter when they were conducted, endure as important documents, the books themselves, even though they are specific to the times in which they first appeared. One characteristic of a good interview is that it is always interesting, no matter when you’re reading it. I mean, you could read an old interview with a poet who isn’t widely ready anymore, a mid-sixties interview with George Starbuck, for instance: it would still be interesting to read. It might not be as relevant in some ways, but it wouldn’t have lost a certain fascination with capturing the ideas and conceptions of a poet through conversation.
Marshall: Yes, I think that’s the idea that we were both striving for and that we both achieved such moments. That’s all we can pray for. Do you still want to do more of these interviews? Do you think you might want to put out another book like Passwords?
Leuzzi: Absolutely. I love the work. I just have to pace myself. Right now I’m working on my own things, but in fact I never tire of working on interviews with poets.
Marshall: It’s a fantastic opportunity for learning and self-growth. Going back to what I said earlier, doing all that preparation and guiding the interview subject in a way that foregrounds them and makes you invisible, that’s good work. But it’s hard! All that preparation! And the transcriptions! It’s a labor of love, but I wonder if it’s the work of the young, Tony. [Laughs]
Leuzzi: I’ve always seen myself as a student. I will until I’m dead.
Marshall: Oh, I agree. I’m always learning and I love to explore poets. But there are a couple of steps you have to take to get an interview into shape and that work is mainly in my rearview mirror.
Leuzzi: I know what you mean, but when you think about it, all forms of scholarship in the academy are long-labored and thankless. Planning a critical article can be just as daunting, but you slog through all of the unsexy aspects of the work for the love of the finished result. I daren’t peer through my rearview mirror just yet!
TONY LEUZZI's books include the poetry collections Radiant Losses, The Burning Door, and Meditation Archipelago, as well as Passwords Primeval, a collection of his interviews with twenty American poets.Tod Marshall
TOD MARSHALL was born in Buffalo, New York. He studied English and philosophy at Siena Heights University, earned an MFA from Eastern Washington University, and graduated with his PhD from The University of Kansas. His three books of poetry are Dare Say (University of Georgia Press, 2002), The Tangled Line (Canarium Books, 2009), and Bugle (Canarium, 2014). He directs the writing concentration and coordinates the visiting writers series at Gonzaga University where he is the Robert K. and Ann J. Powers Endowed Professor in the Humanities. In February, he was appointed the Poet Laureate of Washington State for 2016-18.