Thursday, April 11, 2013

Visiting Writers Series: Interview with Frank Montesonti

I am happy to say I had the chance to catch up with Frank Montesonti, the featured reader for Saturday's Visiting Writers Spring Reading, and ask him a few questions. Montesonti is the author of two full-length collections of poetry, Blight, Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope, Winner of the 2011 Barrow Street Book Prize chosen by D.A. Powell, and the book of erasure, Hope Tree (How To Prune Fruit Trees) by Black Lawrence Press. A long time resident of Indiana, he now lives in Los Angeles and is lead faculty at the MFA program at National University. 

Natalie: If you had to, how would you describe the aesthetic associated with Blight, Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope? From where do these poems originate?

Frank Montesonti: Well, it will be nice reading in Champaign; the poems in Blight, Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope are mostly located in the landscapes of the Midwest--from the lush, humid summers to the bleak winters of endless miles of frozen, harvested corn fields. I grew up in Indianapolis and the quiet desolation of the Midwest has definitely infected my imagination and voice. The title is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but with a serious core. Many of the poems are heavy in humor and language play, but their ultimate goal is to earn moments of real emotional exigency. I think that is the aesthetic core of the collection, and I think definitely it comes from a Midwestern sensibility.

Natalie: What are some of your big creative influences? Who inspires you?

Frank Montesonti: Well, it would be a very long list to include every poet who has inspired me or taught me something, so if I had to choose one poet only, it would have to be Walt Whitman. It’s not just because of his innovations in American poetry, but because of his outlook on the world, his sense of praise and his vulnerability. I go back to Whitman again and again because I feel like my poems start with the same impulse, the sudden appreciation of the abundance and beauty of life. It is that impulse that gives me the bravery to break the silence of the page.

Natalie: Do you enjoy teaching? How do you interact with the process of introducing students to poetry?

Frank Montesonti: Yes, I enjoy teaching immensely. I believe poetry is a conversation, and I like to introduce my students to a wide variety of poetic voices and then listen to hear what conversations they are compelled to enter; then I try my best to be a guide for them into those conversations. I feel it is often counterproductive to insert my own personal aesthetics into a workshop too strongly, though I suppose it is inevitable to some extent. But I digress; my point is that I enjoy helping students find their own voices and their own artistic projects. That is the primary source of joy in teaching to me.

Natalie: What kinds of poems are you working on right now?

Frank Montesonti: The poems I am working on now are quite different from the poems in my first or second books. They involve a series of overlapping scenes that build and develop each other interspersed with a series of exuberant love poems. The collection’s title is For Oh, Yvonne, I Am!

Natalie: If you could have dinner with any poet, living or dead, who would it be?

Frank Montesonti: Forget dinner, I just want to hang out in a dive bar with John Berryman.

Thanks again to Frank for taking time off during his book tour to answer my questions. Once again, don't miss his reading this weekend!

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