Stephen Cushman: An Interview With Serena M. Agusto-Cox

July 6, 2011

Poet Stephen Cushman

Poet Stephen Cushman

1. How would you introduce yourself to a crowded room eager to hang on your every word? Are you just a poet? What else should people know about you?

People should know I play a mean game of Frisbee golf, am fluent in Maineglish (ayuh), am told I can make anything naughty with the lift of one eyebrow, and am the go-to person for old school drinking songs.

2. Do you see spoken word, performance, or written poetry as more powerful or powerful in different ways and why? Also, do you believe that writing can be an equalizer to help humanity become more tolerant or collaborative? Why or why not?

If I am elected Miss America, I vow to work for world peace, mostly on the written page, although I’m happy to perform or do spoken word, if I can wear my overalls. Poetry is 4300 years old; if it could help humanity become more tolerant and collaborative, it would have done so by now. And perhaps it has. Who knows? If it weren’t for poetry, we might be even worse than we are.

3. Do you have any obsessions that you would like to share?

mountains, Bible, ocean, foreign languages, other cultures, ocean, meditation, sky, high vantage points, ocean, America, good champagne, the calendar, history, ocean, Time, garlic, beauty, ocean, travel, guitar solos, did I mention ocean?

4. Most writers will read inspirational/how-to manuals, take workshops, or belong to writing groups. Did you subscribe to any of these aids and if so which did you find most helpful? Please feel free to name any “writing” books you enjoyed most (i.e. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott).

My inspirational/how-to manuals: Hendrix (any album; also Hendricks, the gin), Thoreau, Cranmer, Whitman, the mountain, world travel, the ocean.

5. Poetry is often considered elitist or inaccessible by mainstream readers. Do poets have an obligation to dispel that myth and how do you think it could be accomplished?

Emerson says, “let me record day by day my honest thought without prospect or retrospect, and, I cannot doubt, it will be found symmetrical, though I mean it not, and see it not.” Speak true.

6. When writing poetry, prose, essays, and other works do you listen to music, do you have a particular playlist for each genre you work in or does the playlist stay the same? What are the top 5 songs on that playlist? If you don’t listen to music while writing, do you have any other routines or habits?

From the room where I write, the music is silence. Or the hawk, the phoebe, a cow lowing in the pasture across the way, maybe the neighbor’s tractor. The dog panting to go out.

7. In terms of friendships, have your friendships changed since you began focusing on writing? Are there more writers among your friends or have your relationships remained the same?

As a writer I fly least turbulently below the radar. Luckily, therefore, my friendships are not related to or dependent on my writing life.

8. How do you stay fit and healthy as a writer?

I’m currently co-editing the new edition of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, so hoisting the page proofs of that around keep me pretty buff.

9. Do you have any favorite foods or foods that you find keep you inspired? What are the ways in which you pump yourself up to keep writing and overcome writer’s block?

If love be the food of music, play on. And on.

10. Please describe your writing space and how it would differ from your ideal writing space.

A laundry-room-size patch containing card table, laptop, photos and posters of family and teachers, full floor-to-ceiling books, two big crank-out windows, and dictionary is ideal.

11. What current projects are you working on and would you like to share some details with the readers?

Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, essay on the meeting of Lincoln and Emerson in February 1862, always new poems. Did I mention world peace?

Thanks to Stephen for answering my questions. Please do check out a sample of his work below, which was published by 32 Poems:

Supposing Him to Be the Gardener

Supposing this to be the sun
And this to be the rain,
Supposing clouds to be caviar
And wind to be champagne,
How can one tell divinity
From a tree turned red
Or Do not hold me from what else
Its leaves might well have said?

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