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This interview is taken from PN Review 90, Volume 19 Number 4, March - April 1993.

in Conversation with Eleanor Wilner Sujata Bhatt

Sujata Bhatt: How did you start writing?

Eleanor Wilner: More or less by accident. I never had the intention to write poetry. I was in my late 20s, functioning as a critic, top-heavy with intellect. In a graduate course in literature, I read all of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, one volume after another, and when I'd closed the seventh volume, I started writing poems. It was an unplanned vocation.

Probably it was necessary to back into the practice of poetry; it would have seemed presumptuous or pretentious to think of myself as being 'a poet'. I still avoid the label, except as an expedient to discourage strangers in bars, who lose interest in conversation the minute they hear the word.

So then there was something deeply satisfying about writing poetry as opposed to writing critical essays?

Actually, I enjoy doing criticism, though mainly for my students because it is useful to the growth of their poetry. For poetry is the living matter on which criticism depends, isn't it?

Yes. That's a very unusual conversion and journey, from critic to poet. I think it's more common for poets to become critics later and to write less poetry. Also nowadays, many students of literature at American colleges and universities grow up, so to speak, with creative writing courses and consequently they write poetry before they develop their analytical and critical skills.

Maybe the way poetry happened to me ...


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