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This interview is taken from PN Review 254, Volume 46 Number 6, July - August 2020.

in conversation with Douglas Crase Ian Pople
Q: An initial question I’d love to know the answer to is the very clichéd: ‘When, how and why did you start writing poems?’

A: Clichéd maybe, but it’s still hard to answer it precisely. A lot of life intervened and I was nearly thirty before I began writing the poems in The Revisionist – although I can’t remember a time I didn’t want to be a writer. My first lengthy attempt was a novel, written mostly on the school bus when I was ten. I grew up on a farm in Michigan and loved the place, the animals, fields and woods, the freedom. So my novel was about a boy and his horse (talk about a cliché) who save their local forest from illegal logging. A favourite great aunt saw this effort and the next year gave me a real book – I would have been eleven – her own copy of Leaves of Grass. It was bound in green with blades of grass in gold along the spine. By the time I’d read as far as the ‘mossy scabs of the worm fence’ I knew the world had changed. I hadn’t heard of sermons in stones or tongues in trees, but from that moment on the whole farm spoke to me in the voice of Whitman. As you would expect, the next thing I wrote was a bad imitation of that voice, my first poem.

The truth is, I never thought there was anything unusual about this experience of mine. It seemed to me that all Americans must grow up reading Whitman. After all, he says ...


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